The freedom of speech can be a wonderful thing. Except, that is, if you're a politician running for office.
Richard Mourdock tripped over his freedom of speech last week when he answered a debate question about his views on abortion by saying he believes life begins at conception and that, "I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen."
In other words, as far as Richard Mourdock is concerned, if you become pregnant as the result of being raped, you are just going to have to learn to live with that "horrible situation" because, according to Mourdock, that must be God's plan.
Mourdock's been taking a lot of flak for this exercise of his First Amendment right. That's because even those Republican politicians who agree with him are afraid saying such things out loud could cost them votes, especially the votes of young women.
But I think Richard Mourdock deserves our thanks. If anyone was in doubt about what Republicans have in store for Indiana's women after the coming election, those doubts can now be set aside.
If you vote Republican, you will be voting against women. It's as simple as that.
Republican anti-woman bias starts at the top of the ticket, with Mitt Romney and includes the supposedly family-friendly Mike Pence.
It's old news that Republicans are practically required to be opposed to abortion rights. Many Democrats, including current U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly, share that view.
Republicans have been demanding the repeal of Roe v. Wade — the Supreme Court decision allowing for a woman's right to an abortion until viability — since at least 1980. They've used the issue effectively to turn evangelical Christians, who once tended not to vote in elections, into a vociferous constituency.
The Roe v. Wade strategy has been so effective as a kind of perpetual thorn for prodding the party's base it can be tempting to think that Republicans would secretly prefer to let it stand.
This year's election, though, promises to be different. Romney has not only said he thinks the Supreme Court should overturn Roe, if elected, he will be in a position to appoint the new judges who will do it.
But abortion is just the beginning. Behind Republicans' objection to abortion rights is a deeper antipathy to the very idea of birth control. The overwhelming number of women in this country who use contraceptives — to prevent unwanted pregnancies, as well as for a variety of other health reasons — probably take their access to this form of medicine for granted.
Republicans aim to restrict this access. Romney supports the Blunt amendment, a bill intended to allow employers to deny health insurance that covers anything (like contraception) they find morally offensive. He has also promised to remove funding for Planned Parenthood.
In this, Romney is following in the footsteps of Pence, the Republican candidate for governor. Pence recently declared that the nuclear family was the cornerstone of a sound economy. Pence says some compelling things about the obstacles broken families, teenage pregnancies and single-parent households face in trying to attain anything like economic independence.
Yet this is the same Mike Pence who introduced bills to bar federal funding of family planning clinics in three consecutive legislative sessions. In 2011, Pence's fellow Republicans used Pence's "Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act" as a platform to launch an attack on funding, not just for abortion services, but contraception.
So what's going on here?
Today's current crop of Republicans are the latest in a long line of politicians who, even 50 years after the fact, still can't get over the 1960s. As far as these folks are concerned, the '60s were a frightening time when rules were broken, traditions insulted and authority questioned. At the heart of this anarchy was the new availability of contraception, in the form of The Pill.
The Pill changed everything. For the first time in human history, women on a mass scale were able to take control of their reproductive lives. They could plan their pregnancies, which meant that the previously male-dominated world of higher education and careers was now open to them — as were the pleasures of sexuality for its own sake.
When Pence talks about the importance of the family, you can bet he is also talking about regaining a kind of social order that The Pill helped discombobulate. That's why he and his fellow Republicans want to restrict access not just to abortion, but to contraception. And that's why in just the first three months of 2012, Republicans introduced as many as 944 bills restricting birth control and abortion in states across the country.
These laws are not just intended to protect the unborn. They aim to change the way women live. Republicans try to avoid talking openly about this. They don't want women to know that, in their scheme of things, a woman's life is not her own, but a kind of community property.
Sometimes, though, they can't help but say what they mean. That's what Richard Mourdock did last week. If you're a woman — or there are women in your life you care about — take him at his word.