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'Sen. Paul has made no secret that he wants to make abortion illegal,' writes Romero. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Rand Paul, Libertarian?

Sen. Rand Paul has made safeguarding civil liberties a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, and he hasn't been afraid to take on his own party in that fight. At the end of May, as key provisions of the USA Patriot Act were set to expire, Paul took to the Senate floor in a heroic 10-hour filibuster to make sure the act would expire before his Senate colleagues had a chance to pass legislation to entrench the National Security Agency's abilities to collect Americans' phone records.

It was a gutsy bit of political maneuvering that showed he was willing to stand up for his libertarian views even if they are out of sync with his party. But when it comes to the question of abortion -- a private and deeply personal decision a woman sometimes has to make -- Rand Paul believes government should be making our most intimate decisions for us. He rightly believes that Big Brother shouldn't be monitoring our phone calls but yet somehow believes the state has a right to interfere in a woman's decision to end a pregnancy.

This week, Sen. Paul is leading the charge on defunding Planned Parenthood after anti-abortion activists released deceptively edited videos that purport to show that the nonprofit organization benefits from fetal tissue donations. Paul is trading in the lie -- there's no other way to say it -- that Planned Parenthood sells fetal body parts. In fact, when Planned Parenthood clinics donate fetal tissue for research, they do so only with the consent of the woman, and they are reimbursed enough only to cover the cost.

Some may object that Sen. Paul isn't violating his libertarian principles because he's simply working to stop government funding for the organization. But that's not the issue. Rather, Paul is using the video opportunistically as a step toward his ultimate goal: preventing a woman who has decided to have an abortion from getting one.

Federal funds should pay for all abortions, but they don't -- they only cover abortions in cases where the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman or resulted from rape or incest. So why is Paul making all this fuss about defunding Planned Parenthood?

Sen. Paul has made no secret that he wants to make abortion illegal. He has promised to support any legislation that would end it. In March 2013, Paul introduced the Life at Conception Act, which, had it passed, would have defined human life as beginning at conception, granted fertilized eggs the same legal status as people, and outlawed abortion in all circumstances. The only exception Paul thinks there should be is if denying the abortion would cause the woman to die. And even here Paul is late to the game, only conceding that exception two years ago.

In a statement on behalf of the National Pro-Life Alliance, Paul characterized the Supreme Court as having "played god with innocent human life," accusing the court of having "condemned more than 56 million babies to painful deaths without trial merely for the crime of being inconvenient" since the Roe v. Wade in decision in 1973. This is a slanderous and callous characterization of the three in 10 American women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy and shows that Paul has little concern for one of the most fundamental civil liberty protections for women, as if mere convenience is all that is at stake for these women and their families.

Given his goals, it's no surprise that he would take advantage of the recent controversy to further them. But here's the thing: More than 90 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides are preventive, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and HIV -- and it is primarily low-income women who benefit from these services.

And the controversy he is basing this bill on is dishonest and manufactured by a disreputable group of anti-abortion activists who have launched 10 attacks on Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health centers of the last eight years through trickery, deceit, and outright lies. One of the organization's board members, Troy Newman, has called the murder of doctors who provide abortions "justifiable."

Nonetheless, on Twitter, Sen. Paul tweeted that the video shows a "top doctor describing how she performs late-term abortions to sell body parts for profit!" The full video shows no such thing, with Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services explicitly stating: "Our goal, like I said, is to give patients the option without impacting our bottom line. The message is this should not be seen as a new revenue stream, because that's not what it is."

Paul also ignores the fact that many women and their partners make the decision to donate fetal tissue after an abortion to help scientists cure diseases. That is what Katie Lyon did when she made the painful decision to end a wanted pregnancy after getting a fetal diagnosis of spina bifida and a tethered spinal cord. "We figured that donating the tissue could perhaps spare other families the painful situation we found ourselves in," she wrote at Time.

Paul is thus pressing the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood before Congress recesses for the summer because for him, this is one step closer to outlawing abortion. That's not a limited-government libertarian. It's the opposite. It brings government into possibly the most private, intimate decision a woman would ever have to make.

At a campaign rally just before his heroic filibuster that temporarily forced the expiration of the NSA phone records program, Paul stated, "The right to be left alone is the most cherished of rights." He should heed that concern when it comes to the privacy rights of women. The decision to have an abortion is not for the government. It is a decision a woman makes with her family and her doctor -- not the American government. Big Brother has no right to force its way into the exam room. As a doctor and a libertarian, Rand Paul, of all people, should understand that.

© 2021 ACLU
Anthony D. Romero

Anthony D. Romero

Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He assumed the position in 2001 as the first Latino and openly gay man to do so.

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