The Thing The Privacy Debate Gets Wrong

Saturday, May 9, Senator (R., KY) and 2016 Presidential candidate Rand Paul will visit San Francisco and speak at a symposium co-hosted by the “liberty-focused thought and leadership group” Lincoln Labs. Paul is attempting to court what's being referred to as the "conservatarian" bloc that has taken hold in the Bay Area's hotbed of tech — they are voters who are generally seen as fiscally conservative yet socially moderate compared to the GOP's more Neanderthal outposts.

Among those socially moderate policies is a focus on "privacy," a catch-all term for wanting government's prying eyes out of electronic communications and other day-to-day mundanities.

The multiplexing of ways in which people — and bureaucracies — can trace movements certainly deserves critical scrutiny. 

But it's odd — if unsurprising — that Paul, like most other Republican candidates, seems to think that the notion of privacy doesn't include women having the rights to their own reproductive freedoms.
In an April interview with the Associated Press, Paul focused on reproductive rights, outlining his litmus test for an abortion law that he would vote for. "I think the most important thing is the general concept of: Do you support the sanctity of life? Do you think there's something special about life? So you think when we're born that a human baby is different than an animal, that there's something special that is imbued into human life? And I think there is," he said.

Paul a former practicing ophthalmologist, bristled when asked if he would allow for exceptions within abortion bans — allowing the procedures to occur in the wake of sexual assault, for instance. "The thing is about abortion — and about a lot of things — is that I think people get tied up in all these details of, sort of, you're this or this or that, or you're hard and fast (on) one thing or the other," Paul told the AP. While his hand-waving dismissal comes in part from unwillingness to toe the far right's hardline "no exceptions, no way" stance, it also seems odd when coming from someone who's touting himself as 2016's Bitcoin candidate.

Paul is hardly alone in his "for me and not for thee" stance when it comes to the idea of privacy extending to a woman's biological functions. When GOP hopeful and Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke at Liberty University to kick off his presidential campaign in March, he told the assembled audience, “Imagine a federal government that protected the privacy rights of every American.” Imagine!

Yet shortly before that lofty announcement, Cruz moved to upend the District of Columbia's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against employees based on whether or not they have used contraception or sought abortions. Which is kind of private.  This week, the House of Representatives voted to strike down the law — the first time the House voted to upend a D.C. law in 25 years — although it took effect Saturday after going stale in the Senate. (President Barack Obama said that he would veto the initiative should it have crossed his desk.)
In a press release, Cruz said that the law (and another one he tried to block which would have forced religion-based colleges to fund LGBTQ groups) "trample[d] the very rights the First Amendment was designed to protect — the right of citizens to freely practice their faith." When it comes to certain issues in the minds of politicians, it seems, the institutional freedom to discriminate and control others trumps the rights of the individual — especially if that individual is a woman whose period has come a few weeks late. Whether or not "conservatarians," who claim to cherish personal liberty, will see the hypocrisy endemic in these stances remains to be seen. 

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