David Goldman, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Most Americans don't share Rick Santorum's absolutist take on abortion. He's out of step on women in combat. He questions the values of the two-thirds of mothers who work. He's even troubled by something as commonplace as birth control — for married couples.
Even among a Republican presidential field anxious to please religious conservatives, Santorum's ideas stand out.
A Catholic father of seven whose kids are home-schooled, Santorum may seem to wear his conservatism as comfortably as his sweater vests. But he's walked a careful path, keeping the more provocative opinions that helped sink his re-election to the Senate in 2006 mostly out of his presidential campaign.
That is until he leaped to the top of the polls, alongside Mitt Romney.
Now Santorum's record on social issues is getting a closer look. On several matters, he's outside the Republican mainstream. And if he becomes the GOP nominee, some of his ideas would likely be surprising, even puzzling, to general election voters.
— Santorum: Says he wouldn't try to take away the pill or condoms. But he believes states should be free to ban them if they want. He argues that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in 1965 that Americans have a right to privacy that includes the use of contraceptives. Birth control, even within marriage, violates his beliefs as a Catholic. Last year Santorum told the Christian blog Caffeinated Thoughts that as president he would warn the nation about "the dangers of contraception" and the permissive culture it encourages. "Many of Christian faith have said, 'Well, that's OK. Contraception is OK,'" he said. "It's not OK. It's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. ... If it's not for purposes of procreation, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women." Santorum has campaigned on a pledge to end all federal funding of birth control, which low-income women in some states receive through the state-federal Medicaid program.
— Catholics: Despite the church's teachings, 84 percent of Catholics believe a person who uses artificial birth control can still be a good Catholic, according to a CBS News poll. And 89 percent of Catholic women favor expanding access to birth control for those who can't afford it, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found.
— All Americans: Almost everyone uses it. Three-fourths of U.S. women have taken the pill, the CBS News poll says, and other studies show virtually all sexually active women have used some type of birth control. A mere 8 percent of Americans think birth control is morally wrong, according to a Pew Research Center poll this month. Four in 10 say it's not even a moral issue these days.
— Santorum: His 2005 book, "It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good," suggests parents in two-income families aren't doing what's best for the kids. Too often, he writes, both parents work when the family could get by on one salary: "For some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home." He described it as a sad situation created by "radical feminists" who undermined the traditional family by "convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." Santorum's unsuccessful re-election bid took a hit from a rival's TV ad featuring a working mother challenging the senator "to come to my house at the end of the month when we're doing our bills and tell me how we can live on one income." Santorum recently tried to deflect questions about the book by saying that his wife, who left her nursing career to care for their children, helped write that section because she felt her decision to become a stay-at-home mom wasn't valued by society. He predicted a Santorum administration would have "plenty of working moms."
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