A while ago, a friend on Facebook shared an article about a politician who was opposed to an anti-puppy mill bill. It didn’t really matter if you knew any details of the legislation—obviously, the expected reaction was: “OMG, can you believe someone would be against puppies??? LOLZ!!”
This week, a special panel convened by the Institute of Medicine held its first meeting to determine if birth control will be included among the preventive services that should be covered at no cost under the new health reform law. While it didn’t make the cut the first time around, there’s still hope that contraception could be free for every woman in the U.S.
You’d think a proposal like this would have widespread support. (You might even wonder why we need an expert panel to determine if birth control is a preventive service.) And you’d be very right. According to a poll by Planned Parenthood, 71% of voters believe birth control should be fully covered. That’s a lot. I mean, seriously, you can’t get 71% of Americans to agree that the sky is blue. Only a slight majority believes that global warming is real and just 74% think that the U.S. got its independence from Great Britain.
That ample public support—which includes 72% of Republican women, 77% of Catholic women, and 60% of men—should be entirely unsurprising given just how common contraceptive use is. According the Guttmacher Institute, more than 99% of women use birth control at some point in their lives, making it virtually universal. Perhaps the only thing more widespread is having sex. Even puppies have their detractors after all (I myself am more of a kitten person). But preventing pregnancy when you don’t want to get pregnant? Everyone does it!
Of course, even if the voters didn’t totally love it, it would still be a good idea with an impressive array of support. As Andrew Sullivan noted yesterday, fiscal conservatives should be on board since “publicly funded contraception saves taxpayers about $4 for every $1 spent” and environmentalists recognize that better access to birth control ultimately means fewer greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the Center for Reproductive Rights argues that, “human rights law requires that contraception and family planning services be widely available.” (Ya know, if you care about that kind of thing…) And Planned Parenthood says that, “making birth control available at no cost is the single most important step we can take to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.” Anti-abortion groups are leading the charge, noting that preventing unintended pregnancies is the surest way to reduce the abortion rate and save countless unborn babies. Oh right, nevermind…
In any rational political environment, opposing full coverage of birth control would be considered a laughably out-of-touch position. But we live in the United States. Where birth control regularly gets rolled up with abortion—and anything related to women and their ladyparts—into a radioactive ball of “controversy” that politicians squeamishly bat around. Where the U.S. Catholic bishops, who don’t seem to wield much influence with the more than 95% of Catholic women who ignore their teachings on contraception, somehow have a lot of political clout. Where Republicans are determined to do anything they can, including staging a fit about birth control coverage, to throw a wrench in health care reform.
This proposal should be a no-brainer—and the fact that it isn’t says a lot about how pathetically and dangerously disconnected from the realities of people’s lives our political debate has become.