Michael Tanner

With his mandate that all employers, including religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic hospitals and charities, provide workers with health insurance that covers contraceptives, President Obama handed Republicans a terrific opportunity to talk about the growing intrusiveness of government.

This is, after all, an administration that wants to dictate what foods we eat, what lightbulbs we use, what cars we drive, even how our toilets flush.

Yet Republicans are in the process of fumbling this opportunity away by turning what should be a discussion of government power into an argument about contraception.

For a long time, it was said that Democrats are terrified that somewhere someone is making money, and Republicans are terrified that someone somewhere is having fun. And with this issue — as so often seems the case when the subject turns to sex — Republicans seem determined to prove this stereotype true.

The most obvious case was the suggestion by Foster Friess, the biggest funder of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s super PAC, that the best contraception was for women to put an aspirin between their knees. Friess now suggests that he was joking. Yet Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, among others, have joined in with this line of argument, suggesting that contraception was unnecessary if women just exercised “self-restraint.” Running through the Republican outrage over this issue has been a subcurrent that contraceptives are, in Santorum’s words, “a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Setting aside the fact that even married women use contraceptives, why are Republicans using this issue to lecture us on morality?

Michael Tanner

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.