David Frum

02.09.12

The Contraception Fight

sebelius
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (R) takes questions as Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Richard Gilfillan (L) looks on during a news conference December 19, 2011 (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Glendower:

I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur:

Why, so can I, or so can any man;

But will they come when you do call for them?

- Henry IV, Part 1.

As Republicans go to war over including contraception in health plans, they are repeating to themselves a reassuring mantra:

"This is not a contraception issue. This is not a social issue. This is a constitutional issue."

The idea is that they are not against contraception. They are only against requiring any employer or plan to provide contraception if that employer or plan conscientiously objects to contraception. 

So they say, so they may sincerely believe. 

But politics is not only about what you say. It is also about what your intended audience will hear.

If the audience is paying attention, for example, it will notice that Republicans are not proposing to allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived from animal experimentation. (Ditto.)

No, Marco Rubio's Religious Freedom Restoration bill provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and sterilization. 

Which means it will be very hard if not impossible to persuade the target audience that this debate is not in fact about contraception. Everybody quite sure that's a wise debate to have?