Santorum’s Birth Control Problem

A video that I highlighted a couple months ago of Rick Santorum telling an evangelical blogger that, as president, he would put the focus on purging the evils of birth control, is suddenly making the rounds in the blogosphere again. Santorum said:

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… 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. They’re supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal… but also procreative.

That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it–and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong–but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special. 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.

No, they aren’t. The government has no business at all telling consenting adults how they should conduct their sex lives. Conor Friedersdorf’s response is spot on:

Ponder the implicit claim he is making: that it is desirable for the President of the United States to opine on and shape public policy according to his notion of what is “special.” As he surely knows, what is “special,” what ought to be kept “special,” and what is required to keep sex “special” are all deeply contested matters. They inevitably turn on judgments shaped by faith, moral reasoning, and intuition. The American people, having wrestled with these questions, have concluded in overwhelming numbers either that contraception doesn’t make sex less special – or that if it does make sex less special, the tradeoff (less special sex in return for fewer unwanted pregnancies or abortions or STDs or more pleasure or human connection) is worthwhile.

Any politician who regards the adult use of contraceptives as a matter under his purview cannot lay claim to the limited government label, nor can he credibly invoke a tradition rooted in the pursuit of happiness. And it’s baffling that a presidential candidate would survey a world of poets, clergy, cognitive neuro-scientists, novelists, happily married elderly people, and a polity with sexual tastes as diverse of ours, and regard politicians as a useful authority on what kind of sex is special.

It’s also just bad politics. This isn’t an issue where people are divided. Nearly 100% of Americans use birth control at some point in their life and support the morality of doing so, including nearly all of his fellow Catholics.

About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • Michael Heath

    When I read Rick Santorum’s argument on this issue I imagine a group of Catholic Bishops repeatedly watching a YouTube of santorum while enjoying a group circle jerk.

    The bishops’ frustration at controlling their flock of ewes is increasingly palpable as they rely more and more on allying with protestant Christianists in the public square. That alliance is in order to leverage the power of government to deny the Catholic church’s sheep their rights given their own failure to make such prohibitions stick in spite of their religious authority.

  • Trebuchet

    Like pretty much all Republicans, he’s for limited government, except when he’s not.

  • lordshipmayhem

    My concept of “special” is undoubtedly different from Ricky’s. Mine is Santorum riding the short school bus.

  • http://umlud.blogspot.com umlud

    Last night, I was given a possible window into the reasoning behind the Right’s virulent opposition to birth control.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/#46423098

    Okay, he was talking about one of Rush Limbuagh’s rants, but here’s the key part:

    O’Donnell: You know, when Rush gets going about contraception, he comes very close to doing a full Santorum on it.

    Limbaugh: Birth control is only a means of eliminating consequences.

    O: Well, that’s true. Birth control is a means of eliminating consequences. But to Rush, eliminating consequences means avoiding the responsibility of your actions, while to us contraception is the responsible action to take. Now I wouldn’t try to change the mind of anyone who sees it the way Rick Santorum does. We just have different views of how to be responsible….

    (Italics are mine)

    Of course, it could all just be what Michael Heath says @1 and says amends @11 over here.

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    Wasn’t Ben Franklin a well known horndog? And Jefferson was having some kind of, well, “relationship” with a slave with whom he was not and could not have been married at the time.

    Were Jefferson’s acts OK because they produced children? Is Franklin excused because he was a sainted founding father?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  • eric

    And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women

    I’d say he has it exactly backwards. Sex creates a strong emotional bond between loving partners. Being able to have sex without babies = more sex = stronger bond.

  • coragyps

    “Special!”

    Cue Church Lady! Mr Carvey, are you here?

  • Randomfactor

    Hey, Frothy–even diminished sex is still pretty darned good.

  • d cwilson

    Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things,

    There’s a reason for that, Frothy. People don’t want presidents talking about other people’s sex lives because it’s none of their fucking business.

    Sorry to be so blunt.

  • KG

    Questions for those better versed than me in the ways of US political campaigns:

    Will Romney make use of this issue in the wave of attack ads surely being targeted, or about to be targeted, on Santorum?

    Will it be politically advantageous if he does?

    (I see Real Clear Politics is now showing Santorum surging ahead of Romney in national polls. Have the wingnuts finally settled on their candidate?)

  • d cwilson

    Will Romney make use of this issue in the wave of attack ads surely being targeted, or about to be targeted, on Santorum?

    Not a chance. The fact that Romneycare has an even stronger contraception coverage mandate than Obamacare does actually means that Romney will avoid all discussions about contraception. Romney has been running like hell away from his own health care plan. He’s desparate to keep all mention of that plan out of the headlines. Plus, I don’t think the Mormon church is any bigger on contraception than the Catholic church is and religion is another topic Romney wants to avoid.

  • RickR

    Well, I’m suddenly seeing a flood of anti-Santorum ads here in Arizona, and the only thing they talk about is his voting record being TOO liberal (he voted with HILARY CLINTON!!111! to blahblah…)

    “This ad paid for by RestoreOurFuture”. Hmm. How is it possible to “restore” something that hasn’t happened yet?

    Never mind.

  • LightningRose

    Nobody tells me who or how to fuck.

  • markholcombe

    I have a memory of sometime back Santorum admitting that the real objective of the pro-life movement is to eliminate contraception not to reduce abortions. Can someone verify and provide a citation?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    O: Well, that’s true. Birth control is a means of eliminating consequences. But to Rush, eliminating consequences means avoiding the responsibility of your actions, while to us contraception is the responsible action to take.

    This is how I’ve long understood things. I have had anti-abortion people explain that with legalized abortion, women don’t have to own up to the consequences of their sluttiness, and hence sluttiness will spread. There’s a general perception on the right that people must be made to suffer for their bad behavior, otherwise there’s nothing stopping them from behaving badly. It’s the same impulse behind trying to take away the safety net and any aid to the poor. Or opposing needle exchange programs.

    It’s a weird view of human nature, one that doesn’t accurately predict the way most people act. And in practice it’s completely at odds with its own ostensible goal, that getting people to behave properly will improve their long-term happiness and well being. Conservatives frequently oppose any attempt to alleviate suffering even when it’s clear that it makes people better off in the long run. The suffering itself is seen as good, as being necessary for some sort of cosmic justice for those who deserve it. (They of course never deserve it; if they suffer it means they’ve been victimized by their enemies.)

  • Azkyroth

    My concept of “special” is undoubtedly different from Ricky’s. Mine is Santorum riding the short school bus.

    That’s a shitty thing to imply about the people who actually do.

  • justinbarrett

    Something I never hear anyone talk about it the oftentimes necessity of birth control for issues other than prevention of pregnancy. My wife was prescribed the pill when she was 16 for heavy and severe bleeding. Without it she was debilitated for 2 weeks every month. Seems a pretty good thing to me (and her).

    Now, she’s on warfarin and getting pregnant on that is a serious NO NO. Like baby is a monster NO NO. So, we must use contraception again (no pill due to clotting issues) otherwise risk getting pregnant while on an teratogen. I wonder why no one brings up the good and medically necessary reasons many women are on birth control, or many couple use it?

  • interrobang

    I wonder why no one brings up the good and medically necessary reasons many women are on birth control, or many couple use it?

    Because all doing that does is reinforce the framing that good women use hormonal birth control only because they have medical issues, while those dirty slutty sluts use it because they want to have sex without getting pregnant.

    Saying that also isn’t going to change any anti-contraception person’s mind because a substantial proportion of these idiots are men who don’t realise that menstrual problems aren’t just “all in their heads” and suchlike, and don’t actually believe that menstruation and pregnancy can cause health problems, or (in the case of pregnancy) death. (Yes, there are people out there who would seriously try to tell you with a straight face that nobody has ever died in childbirth, because “pregnancy isn’t a disease.”) Go on, Mr. It’s All In Your Head, ask me why I’m chronically low in iron and B12. Go on. I dare you…

    Frankly, I think the concept of “sluttiness” needs to die in a fire. And I think my late countryman, Pierre Trudeau, had the right of it when he said, “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the Nation.”

  • sailor1031

    Justin:

    It is perfectly simple. If for health reasons pregnancy cannot be permitted then you MUST abstain from sex with your wife – just as Romney, Gingrich and Santorum would do. And just as any catholic bishop would do! remember every sex act must be open to the transmission of life (be it only HIV or some STD)

  • http://umlud.blogspot.com umlud

    I wonder why no one brings up the good and medically necessary reasons many women are on birth control, or many couple use it?

    There are some that make the argument that – since pregnancy is not a disease – it shouldn’t be treated as one. Therefore, no birth control. Using that same logic, those physiological problems that are solved with birth control are diseases, and so the pill is being used as a “hormonal treatment” and not as “birth control”.

    In short, it’s an attempt to remove the people who say, “birth control pills help my medical condition.”

  • MikeMa

    Santorum gets sicker with every passing week. His hole gets deeper with every public outing. By convention time, he’ll be close to China. It is a wonder his wife will sleep with him.

  • Chiroptera

    MikeMa, #21: Santorum gets sicker with every passing week.

    I’m beginning to wonder how much these bastards are purposely being offensive. While I believe that these asses are expressing their heartfelt, sincere beliefs, I can’t help but think that they are aware of being incredibly offensive and turning away people that may otherwise support the conservative (or what used to be considered conservative) cause.

    Why are they doing this? Could they be deliberately testing to see just how low they can go and get away with it?

    Or, no, maybe they are so self-righteous they can’t comprehend just how awful they sound to others. But I do wonder.

  • Michael Heath

    MikeMa:

    Santorum gets sicker with every passing week.

    Nah, like John McCain this process reveals we didn’t know the guy where we thought we did. Here’s two examples, one from 2006 and the other from 2008.

  • Lycanthrope

    And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.

    Um, yes. Behold, the point.

  • KG

    Nobody tells me who or how to fuck. – LightingRose

    That’s a pity, but there are plenty of sex and relationship advice columns out there – just take your pick :-p

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com cycleninja

    “…including nearly all of his fellow Catholics.

    Their dogma-thumping priesthood notwithstanding. And it’s their increasingly paper-tiger leadership to whom the politicians continually cave into political threats.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    @1 Michael:

    The bishops’ frustration at controlling their flock of ewes is increasingly palpable as they rely more and more on allying with protestant Christianists in the public square.

    Exactly.

    And several things are behind that. The American bishops are in a panic about the end of Catholic schools, declining white membership (and the money that came with it), the collapse of young, white, American applicants (gay or straight) for priesthood, low church attendance and the destruction of the social prestige they once enjoyed. People aren’t afraid to publicly ridicule them anymore. And within the hierarchy, those with power have been nursing a false sense of persecution over the abuse scandals, but hardly anyone was buying it. I think they see the contraceptive issue as a chance to change the subject, portray themselves as victims of the secular society that accused them, and it garners sympathy from the protestant religious right, a group all to ready to agree because they’re happy to hate Obama and piggy back on the bishop’s phony sense of persecution.

  • Michael Heath

    Today’s NYTs:

    VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI created 22 new cardinals on Saturday, including Timothy M. Dolan of New York, in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica at which the pope increasingly turned to Italians and Vatican officials to lead a global church.

    Benedict received the cardinals-designate from his throne under a soaring dome designed by Michelangelo, as one by one they knelt before the 84-year-old pope and received the red silk square-ridged hats, called birettas, that signify princes of the church.

    With Saturday’s ceremony, there are now 125 cardinals under the age of 80, and thus eligible to vote for the next pope. More than half of the cardinal-electors are now Italians and other Europeans, strengthening the Western voice at the church’s highest levels even as the rank and file grows most rapidly in the global south.

    Only three of the new cardinals hailed from the developing world: Brazil, India and Hong Kong.

    It would be interesting to know how the church’s increasing inability to control its white American congregants, with the exception of the minority which are Fox News conservatives, plays into this demographic concentration of power.

  • johnkinney

    I would like to remind Rick Santorum of the following excerpt from our constitution however inconvenient it may be:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    Any attempt to use Catholic theology as a basis for the government to impose restrictions or an outright ban or artificial contraception would be unconstitutional (not to mention unconscionable).

  • lpetrich

    This whining about “responsibility” and “consequences” that one evades by using birth control and abortion reminds me of a certain objection to lightning rods. That they help keep God from punishing sinners by defusing one of his favorite weapons against them.