Politics & Policy

Santorum on Birth Control

Rick Santorum with his wife Karen
A President Santorum would not issue an executive order mandating cold showers.

‘Rick Santorum is coming for your birth control,” warns Salon.

“Rick Santorum Favors Making Birth Control Illegal,” writes blogger Doug Mataconis

Picking up on those headlines, an Internet commenter (with at least some awareness of his own exaggerations) cautions: “All non-Catholics: Remember the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre! Remember the revocation of the Edict of Nantes! Remember the countless thousands of barbarities perpetrated through the centuries by this cult. I wonder what penalties President Santorum will be proposing for citizens caught using birth control. The rack? The wheel? A good roasting at the stake?”

#ad#The problem with the headlines is that they are untrue.

What Santorum has said is that the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut — which dealt with a case that was a Planned Parenthood official’s stunt — was a bad precedent and bad law. It created a constitutional right for married persons to use contraceptives. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas declared that ”specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance,” and that “various [of these] guarantees create zones of privacy.” That would be the basis for the Roe decision eight years later, which relied on a similar constitutional stretch.

Santorum’s is a perfectly sound opinion. Why is it such a threat that some feel the need to make his position into something much more than it is?

It has something to do with courage of conviction and public witness. In this age of overhyped faux tolerance, those who use the word tend to harbor an enthusiasm only for the tolerance of their own views. Rick Santorum is a threat because not only does he believe and live countercultural things, but he will talk about them and defend them publicly.

In particular, what fuels some of these Internet frenzies is that he told a blogger last October that, as president, he would talk about the “dangers of contraception.” But before you get worried that, if he’s elected, we’re in for a nationwide lecture, when he was pressed on what exactly this means, he made it expressly clear that he believes this is not an issue for the president to take on in any kind of legislation. Some of us were keen on hearing Barack Obama talk more about the crucial role of fatherhood as president of the United States, given that that is a natural extension of who he is. Unshockingly, President Santorum would be a friend to sex-ed programs that provide something other than condom handouts — programs that are not about pretending teens will never have sex if lectured to enough, but about giving them a Healthy Respect, as one program puts it, for themselves and others. And Santorum also would be who he is — which is not a policeman of your medicine cabinet but an alternative model.

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There’s something else worth noting. While it wouldn’t be wise for the president of the United States to launch a lecture campaign (we get way too much of that from the current president) on so intimate an issue, Santorum’s view is not as fringy as it is often portrayed. Obviously, Santorum is informed by his Catholic faith on this issue, but, in recent years, we’ve had the testimony of women who realize the damage contraception has done in their lives and relationships. A New York magazine cover story marking the anniversary of the Pill included the following:

One anxiety — Am I pregnant? — is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant? The days of gobbling down the Pill and running out to CVS at 3 a.m. for a pregnancy test recede in the distance, replaced by a new set of obsessions. The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.

#ad#The family unit helps to keep us out of poverty, and to keep us healthy and happy. It is worth boosting, and the changes law and technology have made in our lives are part of that discussion. Talking about contraception may not be the top priority of the commander-in-chief, but let’s not pretend it is irrelevant to who we are and where we are going. The current president’s administration, mandating health-care coverage for contraception and sterilization, certainly has entered that discussion.

Even such mandates are not enough for those who insist that contraception is basic medical care that must be paid for by the federal government — which means the taxpayer. Surely one can accept Griswold, and the subsequent Eisenstadt and Roe decisions, while also defending my right to not have to pay for these manufactured rights?

During his near-victory speech in Iowa, Santorum said: “God has given us this great country to allow his people to be free, has given us that dignity because we are a creation of His. We need to honor that creation. And whether it’s the sanctity of life in the womb or the dignity of every working person in America to fulfill their potential, you will have a friend in Rick Santorum.”

Santorum’s career has been characterized by a mix of approaches, including using the levers of government and the powerful platforms available to those in the public square to  encourage others to bolster that dignity. This is not the creepy thing the headline writers have portrayed; what’s creepy is their insistence on caricaturing him.

In this campaign, Rick Santorum has not been lecturing us about so-called social issues. But he gets asked about them, and he answers honestly. Can’t we be honest about what he is saying?

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.

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