“The right to be left alone is the most cherished of rights,” Kentucky senator and presidential aspirant Rand Paul said over the weekend in San Francisco. He was there to sell himself to the young tech elite as a civil-liberties crusader; the only candidate willing to take an uncompromising stand against government surveillance. He cares so deeply about privacy that he’s planning to filibuster the renewal of parts of the Patriot Act.
But the leader of “the leave-me-the-hell-alone coalition” is simultaneously, albeit more quietly, arguing that women should have little privacy in their healthcare decisions. “The government does have some role in our lives,” Paul said at a summit organized by the anti-choice Susan B Anthony List in April, by which he meant making abortion illegal. Paul describes himself as “100 percent pro-life.” Along with all of the other Republican presidential candidates he supports a bill that resurfaced this week in the House that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Recently Paul has become something of a champion for anti-abortion groups that are trying to reframe the abortion debate so that pro-choice views seem extreme. Pressed by reporters last month to clarify whether his support for abortion bans includes exceptions, Paul deflected the question by calling up the specter of late-term abortions. “Why don’t we ask the DNC: Is it OK to kill a seven-pound baby in the uterus?” he said to a New Hampshire journalist. No matter that only 1 percent of abortions in the United States occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy; claiming Democrats endorse the “killing” of babies is an easy way not to account for his selective support for personal liberty.
Paul’s hypocrisy isn’t new. Indeed, one of the long-standing ironies of American politics is that the people who decry government meddling in, say, healthcare are the ones calling most vociferously for the government to step in to regulate women’s bodies. As Katha Pollitt noted in Pro, conservatives like Paul never would propose to restrict access to guns, despite the tens of thousands of deaths caused by gun violence in the United States each year. Only when it comes to women does “life” trump individual freedom.
It’s still worth pointing out how inconsistent Paul’s advocacy for civil liberties is (and on issues beyond abortion), since that’s the platform he’s using to distinguish himself. If Paul really believed in “the right to be left alone,” he’d demand that women be allowed as much control over their bodies as their phone records.