A Presidential Debate on Contraception?

Vice President Biden and others charge that Republicans have made birth control the centerpiece of this election.  That is false, of course, but it is a topic worthy of debate.  It could go something like this…

Interviewer: President Obama, Please tell us your position on contraception:

President Obama: I don’t know why Republicans have decided to wage war on women and restrict access to birth control. I believe birth control is every woman’s right. Women deserve to have the same opportunities as men and birth control helps them achieve their dreams. It’s a no-brainer.

It is my plan that every woman in this country will have free access to birth control. There were some objections to the HHS mandate by Catholic bishops, and I offered a compromise to that mandate that will not require them to pay a cent for contraceptives; insurance companies will provide contraception for free. This is a win/win/win situation; women get contraception and can pursue their dreams; religious institutions don’t have to pay for it; and insurance companies lower their overall costs since it will be less expensive to provide for contraception than it is to pay for unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

Interviewer : Senator Santorum, Please tell us your position on contraception:

Senator Santorum: How can President Obama possibly say that Republicans are waging war on women, that we are attempting to restrict access to contraception? It was President Obama’s HHS mandate forcing religious institutions to pay for contraception that catapulted the question into the campaign.  The polls show that most women don’t support forcing religious institutions to pay for their contraceptives.

One major flaw in Obamacare is that a small committee of people who have  close ties to pharmaceutical companies and Planned Parenthood are deciding what healthcare pays for – not the American people or their elected representatives. Poor women now have access to free or low cost contraceptives. No one is trying to restrict their access to contraceptives. Middle class and wealthy women can afford to pay for the contraceptives – even law students who can expect to make hefty salaries someday.  So basically Obama wants to make everyone, even the poor, pay for contraceptives for those who can afford them.   Surely social justice requires that we allocate resources fairly.  I can think of many more things that people with true health problems might prefer to receive for free – free insulin, free chemotherapy, etc.  It is simply not right that the government pay for drugs that concern a strictly private matter such as sex.

As is well known, I think contraception is a private matter. In our society, contraception is a private issue.  Private means private.  Private means the government should stay out of it—neither banning it, nor promoting it, nor mandating it.  The government should respect everyone’s liberty—whether they are for it or against it.  There is no proper role for government in private matters like this.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum, Why are you against government paying for contraception?

Senator Santorum:  Having the government paying for contraception for everyone   makes no sense. Many people smoke, and they do so because smoking reduces their anxiety and produces calm. Nonetheless, we would not for a minute think we should pay for cigarettes.  We don’t pay for cigarettes for two reasons; smoking is a private choice and cigarettes are group 1 carcinogens.  Well, engaging in sex is a private choice and the combination pill is a group 1 carcinogen as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization. The Jessica Dolle study reports that Oral contraceptives greatly increase a woman’s risk of a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Why should the government be paying for matters of private choice and for carcinogens?

Why should we pay for carcinogenic drugs that fail about 8% of the time in real life situations?  Some wonder why President Obama hasn’t recommended that we pay for condoms rather than chemical contraceptives. No prescription is needed for them and they do little damage to a woman’s health. I am not recommending condoms, of course — contraception is a private issue. And like other contraceptives, condoms fail and fail more often — about 15% of the time.  Who would get in a car whose brakes fail 8% or 15% of the time?  The failure rate of contraceptives for teenagers is extremely high; Nearly 50% of teenagers who get pregnant out of wedlock were using a contraceptive when they got pregnant.  Not only is contraception a private matter, the government should not be involved in anything so risky.

We should also begin to pay attention to the harm that contraception does to the environment.  Environmentalists are getting more and more concerned about excess estrogen in the water supply; studies show that whole fish populations are now endangered.

Interviewer: President Obama?

President Obama:  While Senator Santorum is correct that nearly 50% of teenagers who got pregnant were using contraception, 50% were not using it.  I think we need to teach those who were using it to use it better and to get contraceptives to those who weren’t using it.  The fact is that not many teenagers embrace the message of abstinence.  Studies show little if any success for abstinence based programs.  We have to help ensure that those who do not are not faced with an unintended pregnancy.  More access to better contraceptives is surely part of the solution.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum?

Senator Santorum: I am amazed that we have programs all over the US that attempt to teach young people not to drive while drunk and not to take harmful drugs, but we seem to think they are not intelligent enough to understand the dangers of sex outside of marriage. Many studies show that even teenagers think the most important message to teach is abstinence. And I contest the claim that abstinence based sex ed programs don’t work. There has been a significant decline in teen sexual involvement in recent years. I recommend the reports of the Family Research Council on these matters.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum, Do you think it wrong that the government pay for the contraceptives of poor women?

Senator Santorum: Again, I am not on a crusade against contraception though I don’t see why government pays for something that cures no diseases and in fact causes many physical problems.  I think we are foolish if we think contraception is an answer to any of the problems of our culture.  The correlation between the rise in the use of contraception and the rise of abortion and unwed pregnancy and poverty is so great it is hard to believe that use of contraception is not a major contributor to each of the three phenomena.

I believe that everyone should have a choice about what health care insurance they get.  Not everyone will want or need the same treatments.  There will certainly always be health care plans that cover contraception and women should be free to elect those health care plans. But women should also be free to choose health care plans that do not cover contraception.  If poor women are given vouchers to purchase health care, they may choose plans that provide contraception.  That amounts to government payment for contraception but it is indirect enough, that I believe it is tolerable.  Still, I hope women will take a close look at the harm contraceptives do to their bodies.

President Obama: Here is where the differences between Senator Santorum and me are so great. I want every woman to have access to contraceptives without cost. I think it is to the benefit of women and the culture if all women who want to use contraception have free access to it. Again, women will be able to follow their dreams.  The savings to health insurance companies and society will be phenomenal; there will be fewer unwed pregnancies and less poverty. Again, Republicans are waging war on women; they want to restrict access to contraception and this will limit the freedom of women considerably.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum?

Senator Santorum:  If the government is going to offer for free measures that promote health (contraception rarely does), it should pay for vitamins and memberships to health care clubs!  Or it should provide truly necessary medical care, such as insulin or chemotherapy, or drugs for high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Sometimes, it seems that President Obama does not realize we have a huge financial debt!  We need to try to fix the national debt, not provide everyone with free contraceptives.

The choice of women and men to have sexual intercourse is a private choice.  The government should stay out of those choices. I don’t think giving women drugs that cause cancer, among other bad side effects, and that fail at disturbing rates helps women achieve their dreams.

Interviewer: But Senator Santorum you have advocated for abstinence based education. Doesn’t that involve intrusion of the government into people’s sexual choices?

Senator Santorum: No it doesn’t, any more than recommending that people put money into a savings account does.  The US has an unwed pregnancy rate of 42%– the largest in the industrialized world. One out of four babies conceived in the US is aborted.  We need to help people make better decisions.  If people waited until marriage to have children, that would save lives and reduce heartbreak and poverty.  Advising people to abstain before marriage is not intervening in their choices; it is helping them make better choices.

Teaching about responsible sexuality is not, however, primarily the job of government.  Families, religious institutions and schools and other social institutions, should teach sexual responsibility  When a culture is as sexually out of control as our culture is, government should facilitate those programs, but families, religious institutions and schools with the right values will do the job best.

I also call upon the entertainment world to take an honest look at what kind of stories they are telling.  Story-telling is a powerful tool for advancing values. What values does the entertainment world advance?  How responsible is it for the entertainment industry to glamorize adultery and unrestrained sexual indulgence?  To promote songs that glamorize violence against women?  Again, I am not asking for legislation or censorship; I am asking for creative individuals to be responsible citizens and be conscious of what values they are promoting through their films, art and music. They need to be conscious of what kind of culture they are forming.

I am not saying movies and other forms of entertainment shouldn’t portray harmful, irresponsible sexual relations.  I am saying they should portray them honestly and not glamorize them. They should also show the values of strong families.

Interviewer:  President Obama, Would you like to respond to the Senator?

President Obama: I respect Senator Santorum’s religious beliefs and the choices he and his wife have made to have their beautiful large family, but many women in the United States are not as well situated as Senator Santorum.  I don’t think we should relegate them to struggle through life because of an unintended pregnancy.  Again, I believe we should assist in helping them achieve their dreams and provide them with free contraceptives.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum several times you voted for Title X, a bill that pays for contraceptives. How do you justify those votes?  You also seem to have pointed to those votes as an indication that you are open to government funding of contraception?  What is going on?

Senator Santorum: At the time, I was voting for other elements in Title X programs that would do such things as prepare young men to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood. And I definitely hope they do that.  But I have called for a repeal to the elements of Title X that involve contraception and I do hope that repeal is successful.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum, you said in an interview: “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.” Now you say contraception is private.  What is going on?

Senator Santorum: That interview was with a sympathetic evangelical, not with the hostile main stream media!  The conversation that needs to be had is not about contraception per se.  The conversation that needs to be had is about the fact that 42% of the babies born in the US are born to unwed mothers.  About 2/3s of the babies born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock. Where are the fathers? Too many of the fathers of these babies born out of wedlock did not have fathers in their lives to help them learn how to be responsible.  Generations of children are now being raised outside of the traditional family setting and generations of children are suffering because of it.  What are we going to do to reverse that trend? I see no evidence that more contraception is a solution.  We as a culture need to seek solutions.  Our current sexual mores are truly not leading to happiness or prosperity.  How are we going to convince young people that building an intact family, having a faithful, lifelong marriage is important and possible?  That’s the conversation we need to have.

Interviewer: Senator Santorum: Some forms of contraception work by preventing the implantation of the fertilized ovum. Some people describe this action as causing an early term abortion.  You think Roe v. Wade should be overturned.  Would this mean that all abortifacient contraceptives would be illegal if abortion is again made illegal?

Senator Santorum: That is a matter the legislature and courts will need to decide. They need to take a very honest, very scientific look at how the chemical contraceptives work.  Once the legislature has put into place legal protection for life from conception, it may well be that some contraceptives will be found to operate by killing human beings and thus would be come under prohibitions against abortion.  In this instance, legislation would not be against contraception per se but against abortion-causing elements.

Interview:  Senator Santorum, I don’t mean any offense, but in your stance against contraception, aren’t you guilty here of imposing your Catholic views on non-Catholics?  You and the Catholic Church are so out of step with the rest of the culture.  How can you expect to govern a culture that has such a different world view, such different values from your own?

Senator Santorum: I don’t really think that I am at such great odds with the culture. I believe people want to be free of sexually transmitted disease; I believe people acknowledge that children need a mother and father who have made a lifetime commitment to each other; I believe more and more people know that abortion harms not only unborn children but their mothers, fathers, and the rest of us too. The values I am committed to here are not distinctively Catholic ones; health, family, stability are goals that all of us seek.

Let me note that the Catholic Church has not been and is not the only voice against contraception.  All protestant churches were opposed to contraception until 1930. Some movements within evangelical Protestantism have come to reject contraception.  Ghandi, the great Hindu leader, was against contraception. He said it would lead to self-indulgence and vice.  Some feminist groups have rejected contraception.  Some environmentalists are concerned about the effect of contraceptives on the environment.  You don’t need to be a Catholic to have concerns about contraception.

I think our culture has been blind for too long to the damage that irresponsible sex has caused.  All of us should be concerned about these developments. They threaten the future of our children, our economy and our country.

Interviewer: President Obama, Cardinal Dolan has claimed that the Obama administration is waging a war against Catholics. Are you?

President Obama:  The Catholic Church is a very big organization.  The HHS mandate has the support of Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, who supports the Affordable Health Care Act and the HHS Mandate.  Health care professionals realize that women should be able to exercise their freedom of conscience in reference to birth control measures.  The vast majority of Catholic women use contraception,  I think Catholic women and women who work for Catholic institutions should have the same access to basic health care and preventive medicine as all women.  My administration offered the US bishops a very reasonable compromise. It would be insane for the bishops to refuse to accept a compromise that does not require them to pay a cent for contraceptives.  Health care insurers will provide contraceptive for free to all women.  It is a win/win situation.  Catholic institutions don’t need to pay for contraceptives and women will get the preventive care they need.

Senator Santorum: Cardinal Dolan and the US Bishops have insisted all along that their opposition to the HHS mandate is based on the unprecedented violation of religious liberty that it represents.  The fact that numerous leaders who are not Catholic object to the HHS mandate demonstrates that it is widely recognized as an attack on religious liberty, the first right recognized in the bill of rights.  The founders wanted to protect churches from the intervention of the state and this HHS mandate is, again, an unprecedented attack on religious liberty.

The Obama administration wants to force the Catholic Church who has served the poor of all faiths in this country extremely well, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization.  President Obama even wants to mandate that religious institutions that are trying to educate young people to abstain until marriage, must pay for the contraceptives of students.  Why is he trying to impede what those institutions are doing?

And it is hard not to think the Obama administration has a particular animus against the Catholic Church.  After all, the Amish are permitted to opt out of the Obama health care plan altogether.  Why does the Obama administration favor the protection of the consciences of the Amish but not of Catholics?

President Obama expresses admiration for what Catholics have done for health care but his policy threatens to drive the Catholic Church out of health care and education altogether.  As Cardinal Wuerl pointed out, the Catholic Church may have to close its hospitals – which provide tremendous service to the poor — and inner city schools – most of which serve more non-Catholics than Catholics – rather than be coerced into violating its own principles. As Cardinal Dolan has pointed out, the Catholic Church has provided exemplary health care for women world wide. The Obama administration has already excluded Catholic Social Services from receiving federal funds to rescue women from sexual trafficking although they have been among the most effective in rescuing women.

Finally, President Obama’s claim that since health care insurers will provide contraceptives for free, Catholic institutions will not have to pay for contraceptives, is really a smoke and mirrors trick. As all know well, health care insurers will need to come up with the funds for paying for contraceptives and will surely do so by spreading the costs over all the services provided. In the end the Church and everyone else will be paying for abortion inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations.

Prof. Janet E. Smith teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.  Over 2 million copies of her talk “Contraception: Why Not” have been distributed.  Her materials are available from her blog at www.janetesmith.com.



  • Joseph

    Oh, my earlier comment actually posted…disregard that re-post.

    To those who disliked it: why? Nothing I said was wrong. Nothing I said was against Church teaching. I am a Catholic, and a strongly devout one at that (not in the Pelosi sense, either). We are all called to NOT participate with grave and certain evils, and by supporting almost every candidate in the race, we are doing just that! We need someone outside of this awful two-party Liberalism. I support Ron Paul, but even he falls into this.

    Vote “No” on Santorum.
    Vote “No” on Obama.
    Vote “No” on Romney.
    Vote Catholic.

    Disagree? No? Then why dislike the truth posted previously?

  • Joseph

    I understand the point of this, but at the same time, I do not. Fact: Santorum voted for Title X funds, knowing full well they covered contraceptives. He was cooperating with grave and certain evil. Fact: Rick Santorum supports preemptive (read: unjust) war, not just with Iran, but as a philosophy in general. Fact: Rick Santorum supports enhanced interrogation (read: torture). These are all grave and certain evils with which Santorum is cooperating. Why are we supporting this guy? I am no fan of Obama or Romney, but I cannot support Santorum on the same grounds: they all cooperate with evil.

    Ron Paul 2012

    • GK Thursday

      The sad truth is that Ron Paul is a consummate politician. He’s just better at tailoring his message to his different audiences than, say, Mitt Romney, whose adjustments are painfully obvious. Ron Paul is the cool grandpa pothead to college kids, the prophet of racial fear to neo-Nazis, an opponent of public schools to anxious home-schoolers, and a crusader against the coming One World Government to the anti-flouride conspiracy crowd. And each group thinks he’s their own, special warrior. And he is against supporting our one democratic ally in the Middle East (guess who?) and is a big supporter of existing middle Eastern tyrannies. Sounds like the perfect Roman Catholic candidate to me, no?

  • Jolene

    Wow, that was a great debate. How can we get it to actually happen? (But, would Santorum be able to articulate all that so well? And would Obama acknowledge the true statistics, or make up his own?)

  • Flamen

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops led by Cardinal Dolan are “waging a war” against the mandate and Obamacare. Have the German Pope and the German bishops “waged war” against the German health care system which pays for contraceptives for girls up to the age of 20 and pays for some abortions? They refuse to get involved politically as the USCCB seems to be doing relative to the November eledtions. They leave it to the individual’s conscience.

  • Joseph

    I never understood why Santorum could vote for Title X funds, which provide for contraceptives, while at the same time saying those provisions be repealed instead of actively working toward the repeal prior to voting in favor of said funds.

    Santorum, like Obama, participates in grave, moral evil. We need not talk about his stance on enhanced interrogation (read: torture) or preemptive war (unjust war).

  • Ray

    This is pure genius. Reminds me of something out of a Peter Kreeft “Socrates” text. Love it.



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