The issue of contraception and women’s reproductive rights are not new to the presidential election debate, but President Obama’s recent contraceptive mandate stoked the fire among conservative candidates. The federal mandate would require that all employees of insured religiously affiliated institutions (i.e. schools and hospitals) receive free contraceptives in their health plan. Many religious conservatives saw this as a direct attack. Like nearly every politician to grace the American spotlight, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum was no exception. And, it was Santorum’s highly conservative and absolutist view on the issue of contraception that separated him from his former GOP competitors in the race for the presidency. According to a Huffington Post article titled “Rick Santorum Contraception Stance Remains Out Of Step With Nation,” released in February of this year, “He [Santorum] believes states should be free to ban them [condoms] if they want. He argues that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in 1965 that married Americans have a right to privacy that includes the use of contraceptives.” Santorum supports this view through his strong Christian faith, in which he believes access to contraception ultimately encourages permissive sexual activity.
The Huffington Post indeed had it right when they claimed Santorum to be “out of step” with the majority of the nation. In this case, we are not talking about abortion, despite the fact that Santorum planned to deny women this access, too. In this case, we are referring to the basic methods of contraception, which include the Pill, condom and various other methods that are utilized by 99 percent of American women to prevent pregnancy in addition to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But before we can examine the dangers that a ban in contraception poses to the American public, we must first distinguish how this issue differs from that of abortion.
Within the political sphere, we so often associate the issues of abortion and contraception to one another, many times blurring the lines between the two and classifying them as one sole topic of debate. But what Santorum’s unique stance on contraception control proves, however, is that these two issues stand greatly apart from one another. One of them relates to the HIV/AIDS epidemic (and other STDs), a fact that is not only overlooked, but many times disregarded entirely when these two topics of debate are addressed together. And that is the issue at the heart of his belief system: The issue of access to contraception.
Santorum’s belief centers on the fact that condoms are used solely as a means of birth control; or rather, that the use of a condom provides one with “a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” ultimately allowing people to act without the intent of procreating. In order to test the validity of his assumption, I randomly selected 20 male friends and asked them what they believed to be the number one purpose of putting on a condom before sexual intercourse. In other words, what is the most important reason for utilizing this form of contraception? To my surprise, 17 out of the 20 young men answered to prevent pregnancy. I was relieved to find that all 20 admitted to using a condom on a regular basis, but was shocked to find that pregnancy was their number one concern. What about sexually transmitted diseases? What about incurable viruses such as HIV that, once acquired, one will have to live with forever? Aren’t these legitimate dangers? Why have so many of these young men, and Santorum himself, failed to consider this fact?
As “out of step” as Santorum may be, his belief highlights a few important truths: that the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is not at the forefront of concerns regarding sexual health among the American public today. That more young men are willing to put on a condom to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to prevent acquiring a deadly sexually transmitted disease. That too often, the ethics surrounding contraception control are dictated by religious views that are more than out of sync with reality. As we continue to make advancements in the field of HIV/AIDS research, it is important that we utilize what we know to prevent the further spread of this disease. And what we do know is that using a condom can help keep this disease under control. So regardless of the beliefs one may hold, we cannot deny the obvious truth: that using a condom can prevent HIV/AIDS. And that alone can save lives.
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