The fight about the Obamacare provision requiring Catholic organizations and hospitals to provide employees with birth control could have been a major boost for Republicans. It was an opportunity to simultaneously attack the unpopular health care law, defend religious freedom, and make the case against Big Government overreach.
But somewhere along the way, the debate about religious freedom started shifting into one about the merits of birth control. It’s a debate social conservatives can’t win, since they already lost it about four decades ago – which is exactly why Democrats are so eager to rehash it.
How did the GOP lose control of the narrative so badly?
First, blame the media, which is always willing to do the Democrats’ heavy lifting on social issues (case in point: Darrell Issa’s hearing on religious freedom and the birth control mandate last week snowballed into a fake “scandal”about the lack of women on his first panel).
But Rick Santorum’s long-time opposition to birth control, and his newfound prominence in the primary race, has also helped Democrats take hold of the narrative, by presenting them with the perfect “anti-contraception” boogeyman.
It’s not Santorum’s fault. He’s gamely trying to stick to the real issue – religious freedom for Catholic employers – while pointing out that he has no intention of banning birth control. But he also responded to questions about his own personal views on contraceptives last week. And his comments don’t just put him at odds with most Americans, they’re also helping fuel the Democrat-and-media-manufactured dispute about the merits of birth control access.
Democrats are winning the debate by changing it to one that Republicans never even wanted to have and have no chance of winning. If the GOP wants to get back to the real debate about religious freedom, they’ll have to stop taking the bait on the contraception question. It’s a losing issue.