Mrs. Squirrel scampered into my office, followed by the toddlers Nancy and Michelle, and asked: “Does your thesis have a chapter on contraception?”

I should note that squirrels don’t have those awkward teenage chats about ‘the birds and the bees.’ We talk to our kids about the birds much earlier than that, because many birds have squirrels on the menu. As for the bees, we leave them alone and they leave us alone. As for sex, squirrels aren’t as shy about natural behaviors as humans are. Maybe it comes from having to clean our tails with our mouths.

“Umm, not really,” I replied to Mrs. Squirrel. “My thesis topic is 21st Century Political Nuttitude. I think the issue of contraception was settled almost fifty years ago.”

“Think again,” she said.

She tapped a few keys on our big screen TV – a laptop computer – and up popped this:

It seems Rick Santorum wants to ban contraception again. Yes, really.

Oh sure, the night before the Iowa caucuses, Santorum told ABC’s Jake Tapper that “states should have the right to ban it,” then went on to explain that he would not have voted for the Texas sodomy statute overturned by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas. But Santorum was much clearer in an October interview with Shane Vander Hart at Caffeinated Thoughts:

One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.

In the brief interview with Rachel Maddow that Mrs. Squirrel found, Santorum launched into a long explanation about a 2009 Brookings Institute report. In that report, and in a separate article, the authors wrote:

Our research shows that if you want to avoid poverty and join the middle class in the United States, you need to complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before you have children. If you do all three, your chances of being poor fall from 12 percent to 2 percent, and your chances of joining the middle class or above rise from 56 to 74 percent. (We define middle class as having an income of at least $50,000 a year for a family of three.)

Let’s set aside the other things the authors wrote about, such as stagnant wages that threaten the value of work, ensuring that even the poorest children get a K-12 education that prepares them for college, and expanding access to health care while controlling health care costs. Santorum doesn’t talk about those. Like most conservatives, he’d rather focus on poor people’s behavior, and specifically whether unmarried people have children.

Or more specifically, whether unmarried people have sex. Because it turns out there is no evidence for his claim that access to contraception increases the risk of pregnancy outside marriage. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has statistics for teen pregnancy since 1947. It turns out that teen pregnancies peaked in 1957, at 96.3 pregnancies per 1000 girls age 15-19. They’ve fallen ever since. What changed in 1957? The FDA approved the birth control pill for women with menstrual disorders, and “an unusual number of women began reporting menstrual disorders.” By 1960, the FDA had approved the pill for contraceptive use.

In 1966, the year after the Supreme Court overturned state bans on contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut, there were 70.3 pregnancies per 1000 teen girls. That rate fell to 67.5 in the next year, and by the mid-1980s it was down to 51 pregnancies per 1000 teen girls. After rising in the late 1980s to almost 62-per-1000 in 1991, teen pregnancies began dropping again. From 2003 to 2008, the last data cited, the teen pregnancy rate averaged 41.5 per 1000 …

… a 57% drop since the introduction of the birth control pill, and a 40% drop since Griswold made contraception legal nationwide.

That isn’t exactly a stunning statistic. The purpose of contraception is to prevent pregnancy, after all, and the most common methods are quite effective. If Santorum’s real concern is economic – that women who get pregnant before marriage face severe financial hardship – he should want to make contraception more widely available.

But Santorum’s real concern is not economic. It’s religious. Again, from his interview at Caffeinated Thoughts:

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal … but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it – and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong – but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

In other words, Santorum thinks his religious view about human sexuality should be made law. Yet, Charles Cooke at the National Review Online insists Santorum doesn’t want to ban contraception. Cooke clings to the ABC interview, and disregards Santorum’s other comments. In Cooke’s classic conservative dodge, Santorum is simply arguing against judicial activism and expressing a personal opinion. As for Santorum’s pledge to end public funding of contraception, Cooke writes:

Defunding something is not the same thing as banning it. On that logic, to refuse to appropriate funds for NPR is to ban radio broadcasts, and to defund the NEA is to outlaw opera.

No, defunding something is not the same thing as banning it, for people who can afford it on their own. For the rest – the very people Santorum claims he wants to help – defunding it is precisely the same as banning it. If a high school diploma, a job, and not having children before marriage are indeed a footbridge over the chasm of poverty, Santorum wants to take away the handrails. And when more of Those People fell off, Santorum would blame Them.

So Mrs. Squirrel is right. I now have to add a chapter on contraception to my thesis on 21st Century Political Nuttitude. At this rate, I won’t finish it in this century.

Good day and good nuts.