Politics & Policy

Santorum on Contraception

No, he doesn’t want to ban it.

Screeching into the ether what is likely to become a popular talking point of the Left, especially if Rick Santorum can translate his success in Iowa to other primary states, Salon ran a piece yesterday entitled, “Rick Santorum is coming for your birth control.”

It’s pretty basic,” the author, Irin Carmon, opined. “Rick Santorum is coming for your contraception. Any and all of it. And while he may not be alone in his opposition to non-procreative sex, he is certainly the most honest about it.”

Santorum is indeed honest about his opposition. And such honesty is more than can be attributed to Salon, and the usual suspects — notably, ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post — who have lined up to join in with Carmon’s hysteria. The primary problem with the line that they have taken, that Santorum wishes to use the White House to impose his religious beliefs on a reluctant America, is that it is patently untrue. It demonstrates well the habitual liberal inability to distinguish between the personal and the governmental, and to acknowledge that one’s legal opinions can be separate from one’s moral convictions.

#ad#Santorum’s true position demonstrates that it is eminently possible to argue for public policy that yields outcomes of which one disapproves, or vice versa; indeed, William F. Buckley Jr. famously argued that what “is legal is not necessarily reputable.” Presumably no one seriously considered this a veiled attempt from our founder to admit to a yearning for cocaine.

Buckley, as ever, is instructive here, although we might change his construction to “what the government can do, it should not necessarily do.” Yes, Santorum opposes Griswold v. Connecticut — which in 1965 struck down a law in Connecticut that banned contraceptives even for married couples — and considers that the decision invented a constitutional right that simply doesn’t exist. But while he may well believe that the states have the right to ban condoms and sodomy, that is not the same thing as advocating that they do so; to say nothing of the fact that there is no realistic chance of Griswold being overturned and, even if there were, the chances that any state would take advantage of the move is minuscule. (Prior to the decision, contraception was effectively legal everywhere.)

Speaking to Bill O’Reilly, the candidate put his position in blunt enough terms that the issue should be put to bed:

Well, the states have a right to do a lot of things. That doesn’t mean they should do it. Someone asked me if the states have the right to do it? Yes. They have the right to do it, they shouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t vote for it if they did. It doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to do it. As you know, Bill, you’re a Catholic, Catholic Church teaches contraceptive [sic] is something you shouldn’t do. So when I was asked the question on contraception I said I didn’t support it.

One would hope that this might close the case. But Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress was not satisfied. He noted that Santorum has “pledged to defund federal funding for contraception.” Well, one might ask: So what? Defunding something is not the same thing as banning it. On that logic, to refuse to appropriate funds for NPR is to ban radio broadcasts, and to defund the NEA is to outlaw opera. Even worse, Volsky writes, Santorum might “publicly address the ‘dangers of contraception in this country.’” If Volsky has a differing vision for the bully pulpit’s use, then he is entirely free to oppose Santorum should he become the nominee. But so willfully to conflate prohibition with admonition is little short of scandalous. In truth, Salon’s headline should read, “Rick Santorum is coming after judicial activism and intends to use his freedom of speech to try to win the public around to his convictions.” Then, and only then, would they and their acolytes be anywhere approaching that indispensable little thing we call truth.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.

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