Feature

Birth control: Should it be free?

As of 2013, all U.S. insurance carriers may have to cover the entire cost of contraception for women, without even charging a co-pay.

Free, universal health care may still be a long way off, said The New York Times in an editorial, but free, universal birth control is about to become a reality. During last year’s heated wrangling over the health-care bill, President Obama sidestepped one bitter fight by having the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine decide the thorny question of whether birth control and family-planning counseling count as “preventive medicine.” The IOM last week issued the “sound medical advice” that they do, meaning that as of 2013 all U.S. insurance carriers will likely have to cover the entire cost of contraception for women, without even charging a co-pay. This is “a huge win for women,” said Sharon Lerner in The Nation, and for all Americans, whatever their politics. A shocking 49 percent of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, partly because poor women often lack effective birth control. About half of those pregnancies currently end in abortion. So anti-abortion conservatives should be cheering the advent of free contraception as loudly as anyone.

“Free birth control has nothing to do with ‘protecting women’s health,’” said Jeffrey Kuhner in The Washington Times. “Rather, it is about consolidating the sexual revolution.” The cultural Left has been on a mission since the 1960s to install the hippie notions of “free love” and sexual promiscuity at the heart of mainstream American culture, and the coming age of free contraception will represent the final triumph of those efforts. Many religious people consider contraception a sin, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh in WashingtonPost.com. Not only do some so-called “morning-after pills” cause the death of a fertilized embryo—an abortion, in other words—but all contraception, by its very nature, “deprives human sexual intimacy of an essential part of its depth and meaning”: the possibility of creating new life. At the very least, therefore, any new laws must come with religious exemptions, to ensure that those who are morally opposed to contraception don’t have their insurance premiums used to pay for it.

You don’t have to be religious to have concerns about free contraception, said the Wilmington, Del., News Journal. Men and women should share a “mutual responsibility” for the consequences of sexual activity. But the new ruling treats birth control exclusively as an aspect of women’s health, which could send young, irresponsible men the message that it isn’t their problem. Besides, said Michael New in NationalReview.com, what is free contraception actually going to achieve? Only 12 percent of women who don’t use birth control cite cost as a factor, and government efforts to promote or subsidize contraception have, historically, done nothing to lower the number of unplanned pregnancies. This is really just another step down the road to “politicized medicine,” where decisions about what’s best for patients are made by ideologues in Washington.

The truth, said Tracy Clark-Flory in Salon.com, is that most private insurers already cover the whole cost of birth control for their female clients. Why? Because “unplanned pregnancies are demonstrably bad for women’s health,” and create large medical costs. Improving access to birth control makes such costly pregnancies less likely. As for the moral and ethical questions, letting pro-lifers opt out of their insurance premiums would be like letting pacifists pay less in federal tax because they’re morally opposed to the military. Free contraception, like national defense, is a commonsense measure that benefits all of us, which is why 77 percent of Americans, of all political persuasions, say they welcome its arrival.

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