The media don’t quite know how to handle this.

GOP presidential candidates are talking, and more boldly, about the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, human dignity and ‘rights endowed by the Creator’, especially in their debates. Partially because they’re being prodded by media moderators.

Shortly after last weekend’s ABC debate, some top stories on my news aggregator recounted a particularly odd and persistent exchange between questioner George Stephanopoulos and candidate Mitt Romney. That story disappeared quickly and was replaced by boilerplate rundowns of the debate and especially from the angle of who was attacking whom on stage over political and business track records. Where did that story go?

It turned up here, which is pretty thorough in describing the snip and then publishing the video and transcript.

During Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, hosted by ABC, co-moderator George Stephanopoulos bizarrely pressed candidate Mitt Romney on whether the former Massachusetts governor believes the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that a constitutional right to privacy bars states from banning contraception.

And that’s the key to what should be the focus whenever this topic is raised. Whether it’s intended as a ‘gotcha’ question or whatever. NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez brings clarity to the media distortions and confusion.

The problem with the headlines is that they are untrue.

What Santorum has said is that the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut — which dealt with a case that was a Planned Parenthood official’s stunt — was a bad precedent and bad law. It created a constitutional right for married persons to use contraceptives. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas declared that ”specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance,” and that “various [of these] guarantees create zones of privacy.” That would be the basis for the Roe decision eight years later, which relied on a similar constitutional stretch.

All of which provides another opportunity to point to this critical understanding of Roe as bad law and wrongly-decided law. Let’s just look at the first three ‘pro-choice scholars’ quoted here:

Laurence Tribe — Harvard Law School. Lawyer for Al Gore in 2000.
“One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”
“The Supreme Court, 1972 Term—Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law,” 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
“Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. … Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
North Carolina Law Review, 1985

Edward Lazarus — Former clerk to Harry Blackmun.
“As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose, as someone who believes such a right has grounding elsewhere in the Constitution instead of where Roe placed it, and as someone who loved Roe’s author like a grandfather.” ….
“What, exactly, is the problem with Roe? The problem, I believe, is that it has little connection to the Constitutional right it purportedly interpreted. A constitutional right to privacy broad enough to include abortion has no meaningful foundation in constitutional text, history, or precedent – at least, it does not if those sources are fairly described and reasonably faithfully followed.”

Let’s have this debate. But let it be honest, respectful, and open to core beliefs and truths.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....