Post Debate Wrap-Up: Birth Control Edition
At last night’s Republican debate, which was the 20th (yes, 20th) of the primary season, the conversation shifted to birth control — specifically whether the candidates believed in it or not.
Unfortunately, writing about the debate and reiterating portions of the transcript doesn’t do it justice because the moment the question was asked, the audience began to boo. Quite a sight.
We’re not 100 percent sure whether they were booing the question even being asked, or the very idea of birth control. We can see why they didn’t want it asked. A poll this week found that 67 percent of American voters oppose the Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer to deny insurance coverage on the grounds of “moral conviction.”
Considering this is a topic that has dominated the national conversation for the last couple of weeks and deals with half of the country’s population (and the fact that it came from a citizen, not debate moderator John King himself), seems like a worthwhile question to us.
Turns out the four men would go on to discuss women’s health for nearly fifteen minutes, which was more than enough time to reinforce that they are completely out of touch when it comes to women’s health.
Here’s a brief breakdown of how each of the candidates dealt with the question:
True to form, Newt Gingrich used the question about birth control as a way to demonstrate his inclination to go straight to the far extreme, stating that “Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.” (His comments were referring to the president’s opposition, as a state senator in Illinois to legislation which would have defined a fetus as a “born alive infant” with full legal rights. They were found to be “pants-on-fire” false when used by Santorum last year by Politifact). But Gingrich refused to answer the simple question about whether he supports birth control.
What we do know about Gingrich is that as a member of Congress, he cast 74 votes on reproductive rights, 72 of which were anti-women’s health. And he has signed the Personhood USA pledge, which states that “every human being at every stage of development must be recognized as a person possessing the right to life in federal and state laws.” This type of initiative could by its very nature outlaw access to common forms of birth control, in addition to outlawing medical treatments such as in vitro fertilization and the treatment of pregnant women with cancer.
Time and again, Mitt Romney has proven that when it comes to women’s health, he can’t be trusted. Last night’s answers proved to be more of the same.
Romney attempted to avoid answering the central question of whether he supports birth control and instead attempted to criticize the president’s recent decision to protect birth control access for women, no matter who their boss is. Has he forgotten that the majority of Americans, including the majority of Catholics, support this new benefit. Not to mention the fact that the Institute of Medicine (a group of medical experts) recommended no-cost birth control as preventive care.
Always one to participate in discussions about reproductive health care (during his time as U.S. Senator between 1996 and 2007, he was responsible for 12 percent of all Senate utterances of the word “abortion,” for example). Santorum seized this opportunity once again.
First, Santorum didn’t answer the actual question about supporting birth control or John King’s direct question about “the dangers of contraception,” instead choosing to talk about teens and unintended pregnancies. Of course, he didn’t make the connection that increased access to birth control reduces unintended pregnancies.
What we're seeing is a problem in our culture with respect to children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock, and the impact on society economically, the impact on society with respect to drug use and all -- a host of other things when children have children.
And so, yes, I was talking about these very serious issues. And, in fact, as I mentioned before, two days ago on the front page of The New York Times, they're talking about the same thing. The bottom line is we have a problem in this country, and the family is fracturing.
Addressing his previous statements where he warned about the “dangers of contraception,” Santorum elaborated on the “problem in our culture” stating that he has a “personal moral objection” to contraception, but “voted for bills that included it too.” Santorum seemed to suggest that while he often uses his position as a public figure to warn against birth control and tell people it’s “not ok,” he would not ban it as president.
And he was all over the map on Title X, saying he opposes it but that he has also voted for it. The New York Times had a great fact check piece calling out Santorum on contraception:
Mr. Santorum may have had a: “I voted for it before I voted against it” moment Wednesday night.
In response to an assertion by Mr. Paul that he had voted to fund Planned Parenthood, Mr. Santorum said: “As Congressman Paul knows, I opposed Title X funding. I’ve always opposed Title X funding.” He quickly added, “But it’s included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things.” Here the audience started to boo.
As a doctor, one might expect Ron Paul to form an educated opinion on birth control. As a self-proclaimed libertarian, one might expect him to defend the rights of an individual. Paul did neither.
Paul was the only candidate who talked directly about birth control and actually signaled some sort of support for it:
But sort of along the line of the pills creating immorality, I don't see it that way. I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills. So you don't blame the pills.
And then he attacked Planned Parenthood directly:
…if you voted for Planned Parenthood like the senator has, you voted for birth control pills. And you literally, because funds are fungible, you literally vote for abortions because Planned Parenthood gets the money -- "Oh, I'll buy birth control pills," but then they have the money left over to do the abortion.
The obvious fact check must be included. Since it was first passed in 1976, it has been illegal to use federal funds for abortion, except to save the life of the mother in cases of rape or incest.
While we may not know who the winner will be in the Republican race, we do know that if any of these men are elected, women will be the losers. All of these nominees are on record supporting “personhood” initiatives that could ban common forms of birth control, and have also pledged to end Title X funding — denying family planning assistance to millions of women. Beyond the rhetoric and discussion of last night’s debate, there is one thing that can’t be denied: these men cannot be trusted with women’s health.
Photo Credit: Jay Wescott/POLITICO