The Sex Education of Mitt Romney

Campaigning in Sioux City, Iowa, last week, GOP presidential-nominee-to-be Mitt Romney got tripped up again by the issue of abortion. This abortion moment was perhaps made even more difficult for Romney by what appears to be a lack of understanding about some basic “birds and bees” stuff, and perhaps his failure to appreciate just how extreme the views are of the pro-life base that he is now trying to appeal to.

Romney’s troubles began when he was asked by a woman in the audience about an appearance he made on Fox News with Mike Huckabee. Talking specifically about Massachusetts, Huckabee asked Romney: “Would you have supported a constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life as beginning at conception?” Romney quickly answered: “Absolutely.”

The woman in Iowa then observed: “That would essentially mean banning most forms of birth control … Could you help me understand why you oppose the use of birth control?”

If you watch the video closely, Romney reacts to that question with a sort of “Huh?” move of his head. He then explains that he is not against birth control, but he does believe that life begins at conception. On his campaign website, Romney says that he also believes “that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”

Well, here is Romney’s problem. Pro-life activists make it clear that they believe that life begins when sperm and egg meet and form one single little cell called a zygote. The National Right to Life Committee declares on its website: “A new individual human being begins at fertilization, when the sperm and ovum meet to form a single cell.”

The woman in that Iowa audience is absolutely right, in that some of the most popular forms of birth control work in a way that would seem to be in conflict with the “a zygote is a person/there should be no abortions” position.

The pill, the patch, and the ring, all work, in part, by making it difficult for that that little zygote to become implanted in the lining of the womb. Perhaps Romney didn’t realize how this kind of birth control really works. And perhaps he doesn’t understand how popular it is.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, virtually all women (more than 99 percent) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method, and 63 percent of reproductive-age women who practice contraception use non-permanent methods.

And though reasonable Republicans might say that it is ridiculous to even suggest that the social conservatives might try to turn back the clock and stop the use of such birth control methods, our recent history suggests otherwise.

In April 1967, William Baird was arrested in Hayden Hall on the Boston University campus for exhibiting a birth control device and distributing one to an unmarried woman. That was against state law. He was found guilty and faced up to 10 years.

The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, and in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the court ruled in Baird’s favor, finding that Massachusetts’ anti-contraceptive law discriminated against unmarried people.

The ruling expanded on an earlier Supreme Court finding in Griswold v. Connecticut that a Connecticut law forbidding contraceptive use by married people was unconstitutional. The court said the Constitution contained an implied right to marital privacy. That same concept of privacy would be a basis for Roe v. Wade in 1973. By the way, the Griswold in that case was Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut.

All of these cases were not too long ago. And the social conservatives of the GOP today are doing everything in their power to make contraceptives a lot harder to get. All of the candidates, including Romney, have promised to defund Planned Parenthood for instance, which will make it harder for millions of women to access reproductive health services and contraceptives.

And Ron Paul has introduced his “We the People” bill, which would prohibit the Supreme Court and all federal courts from hearing any future claims like Baird’s or Griswold’s. It would prohibit all federal courts from ruling on any state laws that concern the rights of privacy, sexual practices, sexual orientation, or reproduction, and it would prohibit the courts from relying on previous federal decisions in such cases. This flat-out means that the states would be free to march back into bedrooms and outlaw anything they darn well please.

Then there’s GOP candidate Rick Santorum, who appeared on my TV show some years back and made it clear that he thought that birth control was harmful to women and to our society in general. He believes that society should not tolerate sex outside of marriage. He has more recently 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 … It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm.”

How different things were for Romney back in 2002. He was running for a Senate seat against Ted Kennedy, and he seemed quite genuine and sincere when he said: “Many, many years ago, I had a dear, a close family relative … who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief, that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that …”

Now Mitt seeks the approval of social conservatives who want the government to be free once again to intrude into the most intimate and private affairs of people’s lives, “forcing their beliefs on others,” and marching under a banner on which is written, in large Orwellian letters: Freedom.

Personally, I believe Romney has wavered.