In his response over two years later, Santorum said:
'"The question is, and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer -- is that human life a person under the Constitution?" he said. And Barack Obama says no. Well, if that human life is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say "now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people."'
Of course, the most basic error Santorum made, is to turn Obama's statement on its head. Obama admitted that the issue of where life begins is a matter beyond politics, and declined to take a scientific or theological stand on the matter. Santorum's statement seems to be attacking Obama for taking a stance against the Religious Right theological position, which he never did.
But of course, the problems with Santorum's statement go much deeper than this. Several follow-up reports feature clarifications by Santorum and others. Many of them - including a piece by Matt Lewis - put Santorum's comment in the context of a long history of comparisons to slavery in pro-life rhetoric, and similar comments by Ronald Reagan and Jesse Jackson. Lewis provides the rationale for a link to race, in an unfortunate episode in the pro-choice movement, that - according to Jonah Goldberg - involves Margaret Sanger in an attempt to lessen the '"Negro"' population. (In his original article , Goldberg actually says that Sanger was against abortion, and that this effort was aimed at birth control - a distinction Lewis does not emphasize.)
Jackson is quoted in Politico as saying in 1977:
'"I believe that life is not private, but rather it is public and universal. If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please... '"
Reportedly , Jackson has since change his pro-life stance.
I find it fascinating that Jackson spoke then about abortion along a public-private divide, that has often been used to justify the abuse of women. For centuries, the battery of wives was considered beyond the reach of law enforcement, as a " private " matter.
Of course, the Sanger history is totally unacceptable, as is the use of reproductive rights for the purpose of eugenics. But what the 1977 Jackson, Santorum, and his supporters conveniently gloss over, is the fact that - unlike the question of the personhood of a fertilized egg - the personhood of a fully grown pregnant woman is not controversial. We can all agree that women are people. However, the anti-choice voices on the right seem to treat women's bodies as a piece of property that government can force to carry a pregnancy to term. In my mind, this is as amenable to a slavery analogy than the one attempted by Santorum.
It's quite remarkable that Santorum and his various supporters , can talk of civil rights, while completely ignoring the body of a woman over which they are rhetorically standing, in a discussion of what that body should be made to do. This is especially true, given the fact that women still die in childbirth, and a woman can be impregnated against her will.
The issue of when life begins, is one on which religious and moral traditions differ. The personhood of women, thankfully, is not.