While the Villagers seemed to object, and it didn't go well with the audience, I was quite pleased with Obama's response that the question of when life begins is above his pay grade. I remember Pastor Tim Russert asking, I think, Claire McCaskill a similar question and she was like, "What are you asking? When does an embryo become ensouled?"
Believe what you want, but the important question for politicians is how such things get translated into... policy. And when McCain says he believes life begins at conception (cheer!) it's pretty meaningless unless he's asked to explain how that would be translated into policy. Are blastocysts entitled to child support? Do all late periods need to be reported to the Ministry of Health? And, of course, my favorite: Are those who implant multiple embryos during IVF treatments, knowing full well that most will die, guilty of negligent manslaughter?
I get that the joke was a faux paus because the piety set abhors jokes of this nature, mostly because said jokes draw attention to the fact that they believe horrible things (in this case, that "life begins at conception", a euphemism for the belief that sperm have more rights than women), and that those horrible things are protected from criticism because they call themselves "people of faith" and are reliably so touchy that most people are scared off the hard questions. I'm not, of course. Touchy religious nuts can completely fuck off. I don't think I could muster the enthusiasm to be respectful of touchiness if the belief was relatively harmless, such as that fairies fly out of your butt when you fart in your sleep. But this evidence-free belief that they're touchy about is a belief that I personally am a second class citizen, and so I take special pleasure in mocking it.
On the policy issue---"life begins at conception" has morphed in anti-choice activism from just an attack on abortion and is now an attack on woman-controlled contraception, especially the birth control pill. There's a convulted woo reason for why the pill is "abortion", but it's irrelevant because they made it all up in an attempt to shoehorn a pre-existing faith-based belief into secular law. From the personal belief system of the anti-choice nuts, it's clear that they consider all forms of contraception to be assaults on the natural male need to dominate women's bodies through pregnancy, and "abortion" is a code word for anything that women can do or insist on to escape their fate as flowerpots to demonstrate male virility.* In this view, even condoms are "abortion". They're just not going to roll out those arguments until the anti-pill arguments are mainstreamed. But it's on the agenda, which is why international HIV funding has been tied to anti-condom initiatives.
All of which is to say that while Atrios's thought experiments are fun, the question that reporters need to dog McCain with is whether or not he supports restricting or banning the birth control pill, like his "pro-life" supporters do.
What I wish Obama had said, by the way, was, "I'm not a pregnant woman so it's not my place to say." Call out the motherfuckers on their true intentions and shame them about it.
*And this applies even to women who do have children voluntarily. Planning your children is exerting control, and is unladylike. Anything short of laying back and letting the whims of sperm dictate your fate is suspect.