What are Republicans thinking?

The continuing obsession with limiting contraceptive access shows how out of touch GOP politicians are

Published February 16, 2012 10:10PM (EST)

 Foster Friess      (talkingpointsmemo.com)
Foster Friess (talkingpointsmemo.com)

You may have heard that Foster Friess, Rick Santorum surrogate and bankroller, offered women a solution for saving money on contraception in lieu of President Obama's plan to cover it fully. "You know, back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly," he told Andrea Mitchell today. If you weren't familiar with the old-timer expression, he didn't mean applying the aspirin vaginally -- he meant that the sluts should just keep their legs shut.

But it's worth looking at what he said right before that: "I get such a chuckle when these things come out.  Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed, we have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex that I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are."

This is deeply ironic, and not just because Friess has chosen to back a candidate whose singular obsession with state regulation of sexual behavior has helped bring the more extreme stances of the anti-choice movement to the forefront. It bears repeating that Santorum said as recently as October, "Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK, contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

It's also because Friess said all this on a day when Rep. Darrell Issa convened a House Oversight Committee to ponder the following question (rendered verbatim), “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” The topic, of course, was the Affordable Care Act's mandated coverage of contraceptives as preventive care, and how unsatisfied Republicans remain with the compromise that has satisfied everyone who actually provides healthcare. And it's not just the Republican House, which has long been interested in convening show hearings about regulating uteruses without any realistic path to getting something done: Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt are trying to tack on a "right of conscience" amendment to the highway bill that would allow all employers to opt out of any coverage they claim violates their religious beliefs.

Those hearings got a lot more attention than your average subcommittee does, when two female congresswomen, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Carolyn Maloney, walked out in protest of the all-male lineup in the first panel. "What I want to know is, where are the women?" asked Maloney. "I look at this panel, and I don't see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive healthcare services, including family planning." Two women were on the second panel, but Republicans barred the female Georgetown law student who had been put forward to testify about how lack of access to contraception had led her friend to lose an ovary. Issa, according to Politico, said "she was 'not found to be appropriate or qualified' to testify about religious liberty. He said liberty, not contraception, was the topic of the hearing."

Contraceptive coverage and women's health are "real issues," contrary to Friess' formulation, but they're public health issues that should be addressed by expanding access to options that women are already choosing for themselves, when they can. Still, the administration moved on from this almost a week ago, defusing it for anyone persuadable when they announced their compromise. The only people keeping this issue in the news right now are Republicans vainly posturing on behalf of legislation that has no chance in the current climate. The only real question is, why? Can't they read polls? Aren't they aware of how much they're playing into Obama's hands by associating themselves with a position that Americans manifestly find extreme -- with video, no less? We already know they're completely unaware of how prohibitively expensive birth control access can be for the average American.

Most of all, Republicans seem intent on proving that pro-choicers are correct when they accuse them of being more obsessed with policing women's sex lives than any actual policymaking. By the way, here's how Mitchell responded to Friess: "Excuse me, I'm just trying to catch my breath from that." It is, in fact, breathtaking how incredibly divorced from reality this conversation has been.

By Irin Carmon

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at icarmon@salon.com.

MORE FROM Irin Carmon

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Birth Control Contraception Republican Party