In 1984, Mario Cuomo pioneered the argument that one may be “personally opposed” to abortion while supporting abortion rights.
Ever since, this convenient locution has become a staple for countless Democratic politicians, particularly Catholic ones. It is Vice President Joe Biden’s view and was Senator John Kerry’s stance when he ran for president in 2004.
Cuomo’s argument was a mess. For instance, in order to buttress his argument, he touted the (alleged) refusal of American Catholic bishops to forcefully denounce slavery. The bishops “weren’t hypocrites; they were realists,” Cuomo explained. They offered a “measured attempt to balance moral truths against political realities.”
As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in The Party of Death: “It is a mark of the strength of contemporary liberalism’s commitment to abortion that one of its leading lights should have been willing to support temporizing on slavery in order to defend it.”
I bring this up because according to the logic of Democrats these days, all of these politicians want to ban abortion. It doesn’t matter that they support abortion rights, in word and deed. It doesn’t matter that they’re willing to forgive tolerance for slavery to defend the distinction. They are personally opposed to abortion, usually as a matter of faith, and so they must favor banning it.
That’s the upshot of the shockingly dishonest propaganda being peddled by leading Democrats and media outlets about the Republican push to “ban” contraception.
Part of the problem is simply psychological projection. Since many liberals believe there’s no valid limiting principle on government’s ability to do “good,” they assume that conservatives believe there’s no valid limiting principle to do “bad.”
Rick Santorum, who unproductively helped inject birth control into the GOP primaries, nonetheless explained the flaw in this thinking. “Here’s the difference between me and the Left, and they don’t get this. Just because I’m talking about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it. That’s what they do. That’s not what we do.”
But don’t tell that to the Democrats who are desperate to accuse the Republicans of Comstockery.
“Let’s admit what this debate is really and what Republicans really want to take away from American women. It is contraception,” Senator Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) outrageously claimed while opposing the Blunt amendment. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) said the GOP was yearning to return to “the Dark Ages . . . when women were property that you could easily control, even trade if you wanted to.”
The Obama campaign insists that “if Mitt Romney and a few Republican senators get their way, employers could be making women’s health care decisions for them” and require that women seek a permission slip to obtain birth control.
It’s all so breathtakingly mendacious. Rather than transport us to President Franklin Pierce’s America, never mind Charlemagne’s Europe, the Blunt amendment would send America hurtling back to January 2012. In that Handmaid’s Tale of an America, women were free to buy birth control from their local grocery store or Walmart pharmacy, and religious employers could opt not to subsidize the purchase. What a terrifying time that must have been for America’s women.
To be sure, Republicans invited some of this madness upon themselves. But it was Barack Obama who started this mess by breaking his vow to religious institutions to allow them to keep the same conscience protections that even Hillary Rodham Clinton’s proposed health-care reforms in 1994 recognized as essential.
The lying demonization of Republicans isn’t nearly so offensive, or at least surprising, as the extremist policy assumptions liberals are now using to defend Obama’s “accommodation” of religious institutions. They argue, in short, that if employers and the government — using taxpayer money — do not provide birth control (and some abortifacients) for “free,” then they are banning birth control. Taking them seriously — no easy task — Democrats are saying that there’s no legitimate realm outside of government.
In other words, there’s no room for anybody to be personally opposed to paying for someone else’s birth control. That means the people who want birth control to be a personal matter and no one else’s business are demagogically fighting for a policy in which your birth control is in fact everyone’s business, starting with the government’s.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO.