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Concerned about contraception?

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As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus recounts Rick Santorum's history of flip-flopping on contraception funding, she points out that George H.W. Bush, when he was a Republican congressman in 1969, recommended evenhandedness on the subject: "We need to take sensationalism out of this topic...If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter." Of course.

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The logic of evolution coupled procreation and pleasure with remarkable success. Now the world is filled with Homo sapiens. Fortunately, as the world's population nudges up against the limits of its natural resources, reason and science have evolved, as well, enough to permit us to control the size and timing of our families.

This is a good thing, healthy for parents, for children and, as Bush says, for society as a whole. In fact, it's such a good thing that even people who believe, technically, that it's a bad thing -- American Catholics, for example -- find enough good in contraception that many of them practice it in opposition to the official policy of their church. The laity is ahead of the clergy on this, which is also a good thing.

Of course, not everyone sees it this way. And in a world that's already overpopulated -- or will be soon enough -- one wonders if easy access to the rational and civilized practice of contraception could be threatened by the election to the presidency of a zealous true believer.

Rick Santorum, for example, is an unlikely eventual nominee for the Republicans and certainly unlikely to be elected president. But the right combination of a faltering Mitt Romney campaign, already apparently bent on self-destruction, and a sudden reversal of the recovering economy and ... well, it could happen.

Santorum, who believes that contraception is a violation of the will of Providence, says that as president he wouldn't let his personal religious views shape policy. But the Feb. 25 edition of The New York Times carries a column by Tom Ferrick Jr. that features a video of Santorum speaking in Houston in 2010 to mark the anniversary of a landmark address by John F. Kennedy in the same city 50 years previously.

During the 1960 campaign, Kennedy had to convince skeptical Protestants that a Catholic president wouldn't be controlled by the pope. He began his speech to a group of ministers with this line: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."

Santorum believes otherwise. As Ferrick puts it, Santorum went to Houston to bash Kennedy, not to praise him. In fact, Santorum sharply criticizes JFK for creating "a purely secular public square cleansed of all religious wisdom."

Santorum would like to reintroduce religious wisdom into the public square, and his version of that wisdom includes prohibitions against contraception.

So, is ready access to birth control in danger? Probably not. I think.

Still, the moral objections to contraception -- while not identical -- at least overlap with the moral objections to abortion, and the campaign to diminish or destroy a woman's right to control her reproductive destiny continues unabated.

Furthermore, a quick search of the Internet reveals a surprising amount of anti-contraception activity; it's not hard to find deeply committed, diligent individuals and groups with money and power that are willing to call many or all methods of birth control "murder."

But there's hope in the fact that Americans often manage to subvert zealots with their own brand of practical, rational wisdom. In an outburst of self-righteous do-gooderism, the government prohibited alcohol in the 1920s, but Americans kept right on drinking.

In the same vein, the church and Santorum may pontificate about the evil of sex for pleasure or any other purpose except procreation, but many of the flock will do what they think is right. Some will call this self-indulgence or insufficient adherence to principle. But others see it as a blend of practical moral wisdom and freedom.

Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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