As media outlets across the political spectrum continue to assess the implications of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) contentious behavior toward reporters, much of the analysis does not explore what irritated the presidential candidate in two recent interviews -- the observation that support for unconditional abortion bans and fetal “personhood” laws cannot be reconciled with support for exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
Almost immediately after announcing his candidacy, Paul's condescending behavior toward female reporters was widely criticized as sexist, when he "simplistically and condescendingly" refused to acknowledge his reversal on foreign policy toward Iran to Today Show host Savannah Guthrie -- a position that even the conservative National Review's Rich Lowry labeled a “flip-flop.” Subsequent coverage of Paul's Today interview focused on his rudeness toward Guthrie, and even when outlets also noted he “bristled” and “ducked questions” in other interviews about his inconsistent record on exceptions to abortion bans, the extent of that contradiction was unexplored.
The questions about his support for abortion ban exceptions originated in an interview with the Associated Press on the same day as his Today interview, when Paul “dodg[ed] a central question about abortion: What exceptions, if any, should be made if the procedure were to be banned?” Paul's refusal to answer whether or not his broad support for abortion bans includes an accommodation for rape, incest, or the health of the mother continued on CNN's The Situation Room. In one exchange, Wolf Blitzer directly asked whether Paul supported an exception for victims of rape and incest. In response, Paul claimed that “there will be extenuating circumstances, and I've supported legislation both with exceptions and without exceptions”:
Blitzer did not follow up with Paul about what the “extenuating circumstances” are and which of his positions on abortion bans with exceptions he currently supports.
But as Salon's Katie McDonough pointed out, Paul's "100% pro-life" record and support for "personhood" legislation -- the legal redefinition of a fertilized egg as a “person” under law -- is in direct contrast with the “fuzzy” answers he gave the AP and CNN :
As a senator, Paul is firmly anti-choice, though he's right that he does tend to keep things fuzzy when asked if he believes that rape victims should be forced to carry their pregnancies to term. Paul has a perfect voting record with National Right to Life, the organization behind the the law that just effectively criminalized all abortions performed in Kansas during the second trimester. (That law, by the way, has no exceptions for rape or incest.)
And then there's his sponsorship of federal personhood legislation that would extend full legal rights to fertilized eggs, a move that bans most, if not all, abortion and could make certain forms of birth control illegal.
Because Paul's personhood proposal holds that the full weight of the 14th amendment kicks in “at the moment of fertilization,” methods of birth control that may prevent implantation -- like the copper IUD when used as emergency contraception -- could become, as the New Yorker so bluntly put it last year, “weapons of murder.”
As the AP explained, “exceptions in any abortion ban are a politically sensitive topic for Paul and some of his rivals. They want to nudge the party away from a focus on such social issues, but they know that winning the nomination requires some backing from religious conservatives who press for strict if not absolute limits on abortion.” Paul's sensitivity notwithstanding, however, the media should note that the substance of his inconsistencies is at least as compelling as the candidate's reaction, especially when “polls show that a vast majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother.”