In the first vice presidential debate matching Catholic candidates, abortion received substantial attention — and led to one next-day clarification from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.During the Oct. 11 give-and-take on abortion, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican candidate, tangled on the federal Health and Human Services mandate that most religious employers provide free contraceptive coverage to employees."They're infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals," Ryan said."No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide," Biden replied. "That is a fact.""That is not a fact," the USCCB replied in an Oct. 12 statement, quoting from Biden's debate remarks but not attributing them to the vice president.Catholic employers "will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients," the USCCB statement said. "They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations — and their employees — are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries."The mandate's limited religious exemption applies only to those Catholic and other religious organizations that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. Also there is no conscience clause for employers in the mandate.More than a dozen lawsuits against the mandate were filed in May by more than 40 dioceses and Catholic organizations. Since then the other dioceses and Catholic entities have joined in those suits or filed their own. Another 10 suits have been brought by various Catholic and Protestant colleges, organizations or individual employers.The Washington Post's Josh Hicks and N.C. Aizenman, part of the newspaper's Fact Checker team, said Biden "went a bit far" to say it was "a fact." "Biden was instrumental in brokering that accommodation in an effort to quell an outcry from Catholic leaders otherwise sympathetic to the Obama administration," they said.The "accommodation" offers suggestions for ways religious employers could provide the mandated services without having to pay for them directly — by using a third-party payer.In addition to complaints from religious groups that they could still wind up paying indirectly for contraceptive coverage, Hicks and Aizenman said, "the Obama administration said in March that it will come up with an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers that self-insure, but it has not yet decided how to handle that seven months later."Regarding abortion, Biden, who supports keeping abortion legal, said in the debate, "I accept my church's position on abortion" that "life begins at conception in the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life," before adding, "But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.""You want to ask basically why I'm pro-life? It's not simply because of my Catholic faith," Ryan said. "That's a factor, of course. But it's also because of reason and science."Ryan added, "The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."The Catechism of the Catholic Church says church teaching on "the moral evil of every procured abortion" remains "unchangeable." "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.... The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.”Biden said: "I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and (that of) the Supreme Court, I'm not going to interfere with that."Earlier in the debate, Biden and Ryan squared off on the economy. Ryan, in his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee, drafted the last two budget bills to pass the GOP-led House; they went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. He also authored a plan, "The Path to Prosperity," which he said would cure U.S. economic ills.The plan has been criticized by a wide cross-section of Catholics, including two committee chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, theologians, social justice advocates and college faculty members.—CNS{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1019/debate/{/gallery}