Monday, February 07, 2011

The Robust Debate About Covering Birth Control in Health Insurance Policies. Part I.

This post talks about the opposition to the idea that the new health care law might offer birth control as a fully covered medical service. It discusses the motivations of those who are opposed to such an idea. The second post in this series addresses their more concrete arguments.

My starting point is this article in the New York Times (via a good take on Balloon Juice):
The Obama administration is examining whether the new health care law can be used to require insurance plans to offer contraceptives and other family planning services to women free of charge.
Such a requirement could remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health. But it is likely to reignite debate over the federal role in health care, especially reproductive health, at a time when Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the law or dismantle it piece by piece. It is also raising objections from the Roman Catholic Church and is expected to generate a robust debate about privacy.
Don't you love that adjective "robust"? What on earth does it mean here? "Rancorous" is a better term for the quality of that debate, methinks, and it should not be about privacy, as I have mentioned earlier. It should be about equality of opportunity in this society, and on all levels. The cost of contraception is a bigger hurdle for poor women (and men) than for the rest of us. But so are the economic and other costs of an unplanned pregnancy and its long-term poverty-inducing effects. To get contraceptives without extra payments would mean a lot for low-income women and for students, to give two examples only.

The conservatives are very much opposed to contraception, at least in women's hands. Different groups in the conservative base have different reasons for opposing full coverage of contraceptives. The traditional "stay-out-of-my-wallet" people don't want to pay for anything which might benefit some "other" group.

Sometimes that is taken to extremes, as was the case with the Republican politician who couldn't understand why he would have to pay higher insurance premia so that pregnancy care could be covered. He can't, after all, get pregnant himself! And was presumably born through some sort of amoebic cell division himself.

That covering contraceptives fully might actually save tax-payers money in the long-run is the possible counter-argument to all this. Or I guess we could argue that prostate care shouldn't be covered by women's premia, that those of us who don't drive should not have our insurance premia raised by the care of drivers who got into car accidents, that those of us who don't ski should not be expected to cover the cost of downhill skiing accidents and so on. The whole insurance system unravels if go thataway.

Then there are the race-war people and the more-bodies-in-the-pews people. Those groups include all the conservatives who fear that darker hues of skin are going to take over the world and wish to launch a birth war to maintain white numbers, as well as the Catholic boyz who wish to see lots and lots of baby Catholics born. Power is in the numbers, after all, and that power should not be in the hands of women. Rather, women are the weaponry in these wars.

The traditional anti-abortion groups are also, paradoxically, very much opposed to birth control, despite the fact that lack of birth control will raise abortions. This has lots to do with the strong desire to control fertility in general (it is a crucial resource), and women's fertility in particular, and it is entangled with the misogynistic treatment of women in the major Abrahamic religions. The most conservative factions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism all aim for the largest possible number of children out of each woman. She certainly should not have access to birth control!

The last two groups, in particular, have lots of overlap. But I still see the race-war people as not quite the same as the "god-was-a-guy-so-shut-up" people. The former wouldn't mind free birth control (or abortions) for women of the wrong race, ethnicity or religion whereas the latter would extend their rigid rules to all women.

What about the abortion-is-murder lot? Well, birth control is not abortion, however hard some forced-birthers try to convince us otherwise, and even if one views women as those Russian dolls as always containing another real or potential doll, a prevented conception is not an abortion. Whenever an abortion opponent also comes out as opposing birth control I move that person to one of the other groups I have listed here. And also to the I-despise-wimminz-in-general group.