It’s astonishing how far America’s social and cultural conversation has shifted to the right, almost without notice, because partisans have manipulated the language without changing the subject. Take contraception, which I believe most people think is a good thing, and one long settled in the public arena. It has been 44 years since Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical against birth control, Humanae Vitae, which even then seemed a last gasp to hold back the secular world. In 1968 both the women’s and environmental movements were stressing the perils of unwanted births, and soaring birth rates threatened the economies, environments and the liberation of women in the developing world.
Realizing that contraception was a settled matter, Republicans redefined the issue as “religious freedom” – just as they redefined the removal of the economic safety net as an issue of personal freedom. And so in 2012, when Barack Obama sought to require hospitals to provide patients the option of birth control, the backlash was so ferocious that even Democrats jumped ship in droves. Senator Mario Rubio introduced a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; Rush Limbaugh, who only looks pregnant, called the law student who testified for birth control a slut; and Rick Santorum called contraception “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
This is about freedom: freedom from them and their efforts to restrain the human spirit. On this issue, at least, Mullah Omar, the pope and the Republican Party have more in common with each other than they do with me.
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