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Santorum’s Contraception Contradiction

Rick Santorum was interviewed Friday morning by CBS’s Charlie Rose on the former Pennsylvania senator’s views on contraception. It’s clear that Senator Santorum is tired of talking about contraception. One can understand why.

Senator Santorum’s core defense is that he’s supported federal funding for contraception in his role as a public official, even though he’s personally opposed (as a faithful Catholic) to it. But in this October 2011 interview Santorum – presumably in an effort to contrast himself with the other GOP candidates — insisted that he would talk about contraception if he were president. He argued that contraception, even within the context of marriage, was damaging to the institution. In talking about contraception, Santorum said this: “Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.” [emphasis added]

When asked by Hugh Hewitt earlier last week if he was going to talk a lot about contraception, Senator Santorum changed his stance. He told Hewitt, “Well, obviously not.” He said “this is just the left trying to play their games that they always try to play.”

That’s not quite fair, though. After all, it was Santorum, in an interview with a sympathetic interlocutor, who went out of his way to say that he would talk about contraception. (“One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea,” Santorum said. “Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”) So this is a debate Santorum has invited, not others. And the question for Santorum is why he believes contraception should “continue to be available” and that the “realm of laws” should have nothing to say about contraception. Remember, the argument Santorum made is that contraception is having a profoundly negative impact on the health of society. If so, why wouldn’t he advocate laws to discourage the use of something that he believes is undermining America’s social and moral fabric? At a minimum, why wouldn’t he insist that the state stay neutral on the issue of contraception rather than trumpet the fact that he voted for federal funding of contraception (which he did in his interview with Mr. Rose)?

Now Santorum can argue, as he has, that the liberty interest of individuals supersedes the interest of the state – and that unlike the case of abortion, no other individual is involved in this matter. True enough. But how, then, does Santorum argue against same-sex marriage? You have the liberty interests of the individual pitted against (in Santorum’s view) the interest of the state. So why oppose same-sex marriage while supporting contraception?

This debate touches on fairly fundamental issues of statecraft as soulcraft (to use the title of a 1983 book by George Will). In this case, if contraception is as damaging as Mr. Santorum argues, both outside and within the context of marriage, why does he continue to support federal funding for contraception? Why wouldn’t he feel an obligation to at least talk about something that he thinks is injurious to America?

Rick Santorum is rightly seen by many as a “conviction politician.” He insists, with some justification, that one of the qualities that makes him a leader is his willingness to stick to his deeply held principles even in the face of strong political headwinds. Those headwinds are now gusting on the matter of contraception. The question is whether Senator Santorum, who is now ahead in national and state polls, will back away from an issue he was eager to talk about when he was merely an asterisk in the polls in Iowa.



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