Rand Paul Rattles the Personhood Crowd

Ryan Lizza describes the recent dust-up over Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) support for emergency contraception, a stance that Lizza says places him at odds with his own support for so-called personhood bills, and most definitely has placed him at odds with the Christian right:

Paul is not a casual defender of personhood. In 2012, he held up a crucial flood-insurance bill in the Senate in order to try to force a vote on a personhood amendment. Aside from his filibuster against John O. Brennan’s nomination to be the director of the C.I.A., Paul’s effort to get attention for this amendment was one of the most dramatic moments of his Senate career.

So it was shocking, last week, when Paul was asked about Plan B during an event in South Carolina, and he nonchalantly declared that he had no problem with women using the so-called morning-after pill. “Plan B is taking two birth control pills in the morning and two in the evening, and I am not opposed to that,” he said.

Let’s set aside that Plan B comes in doses of one pill, not four; for our purposes we’re talking about Paul’s rejection of the Christian right’s opposition to emergency contraception, not his lack of understanding of how an FDA-approved, over-the-counter drug works. Paul’s an ophthalmologist, after all, not a gynecologist, like his father. His father, Ron Paul, while running for president in 2012, said, foreshadowing his son, that “the morning-after pill is a birth control pill,” not an abortifacient. He did, nonetheless, elide the question later when he supported the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby cases because  “this case is not about the legality of abortion. It is about whether someone can have a ‘right’ to force someone else to provide him with a good or service.” 

Still, though, the younger Paul was right that Plan B doesn’t end a pregnancy, defined either medically (the implantation of a fertilized egg) or defined theologically by supporters of “personhood” amendments (the fertilization of the egg). Plan B prevents ovulation. No fertilization, no foul, even by the Christian right’s non-medical definition of a pregnancy.

Pushback from the Christian right hasn’t moved Paul on this. At the National Review, Ranesh Ponnuru reports:

Senator Rand Paul’s office has doubled down on his suggestion that Plan B does not cause embryos to die. His top aide Doug Stafford says that pro-lifers who say otherwise are spreading “misinformation” and using “outdated science,” and the senator, “as a medical doctor,” won’t put up with it.

Lizza argues that Paul can’t continue to hold this position — that emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion — and continue to support “personhood” bills that define human life as beginning at fertilization. Lizza argues that because these laws could have the effect of banning contraceptive drugs, Paul’s support for them is inconsistent with his support for contraception. But Paul believes — correctly — that these drugs do not interfere with either fertilization or implantation, but rather with ovulation. Perhaps, then, he can modify the sort of “personhood” law he supports to make clear it cannot ban contraception. And that would result in probably the most illuminating intra-pro-life dispute we’ve seen in some time.