Opposing birth control coverage should be as ridiculous as hating puppies

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.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/radicalhw/ Shannon Drury

    Disconnected is right. I’m waiting for my uterus to be invaded any minute.

  • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley


    Interesting argument. But it fails on ground of logic.

    You are saying that since a majority (even a large majority) believes something then it must be true. Not true: truth is not determined by majority vote.

    (Bear with me!)

    For example, if a majority believe that gay men are more promiscuous than others, it does not make it true. Agreed?

    Second, the fact that contraception is a ‘good thing’ and saves money (maybe, but I’ll grant you that for the sake of the arguemnt), it does not follow that an insurance company, or the government, should provide it for ‘free’ (note the quotes around free – but I won’t press the point).

    I would argue just the opposite: if it is good and saves money, then the individual should provide for it, in particular as he or she is perfectly capable of doing so (unlike law and order, for example, which requires more than individual and private intervention).

    After all, when I go diving, I pay for my bottles of oxygen. When I need sustenance (food, in other words), I fully expect to pay for it. And if my bicycle’s brakes are unsafe, I don’t really expect my insurance to pay for the repairs (should I)?

    I see no no reason to treat contraception any differently.

    • spiffy-mcbang

      The reason there’s a government interest in this is that people are going to fuck, period. If they don’t have birth control available- and poor people often have better things to spend their money on- you get more unplanned pregnancies, which result in more kids growing up in poor circumstances and in many cases need government support. (Likewise, people need to eat, and if someone can’t afford enough food, they can get food stamps. The alternative is either crime or starvation, both of which cost the government more than just feeding people.) Teens who may not grow up poor are more likely to end up poor as well if they have a kid to take care of before they have any kind of decent living to rely on.

      So do the (admittedly oversimplified) math. On any given night of wild funky intercourse, there’s a 13% chance of pregnancy occurring. Let’s say a condom costs a dollar. Thus, for every eight dollars spent, one pregnancy is stopped. If a kid ends up in a family on welfare or food stamps or Medicaid for a week, the government ends up paying more than eight bucks to care for them.

      No, not every unintended pregnancy leaves a kid in poverty. I’d guess that most don’t. But most kids who find themselves in poverty are there for a lot longer than a week. It’s still a good business decision to spread the birth control far and wide.

    • maya

      Well, no, I’m actually not saying that since the majority of voters believe birth control should be covered, it should be. I’m saying that since the majority of voters use birth control and believe that it should be covered, the politicians and conservative groups who oppose this proposal can’t really hide behind the excuse that it’s too “controversial.” They are the ones who are really pretty far out of the mainstream. My larger point is that debate over birth control is often presented as if Americans are deeply divided when, in fact, there’s a whole lot of consensus.

      Seems like you don’t believe the government should be in the business of ensuring access to health care in general, so I can imagine why you’d see no reason for contraception to be covered. But given that one in three women voters have struggled with the cost of birth control and more than half of young women could not afford to use birth control consistently at some point, clearly some people aren’t “perfectly capable” of paying for it themselves.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lpfischer/ Lars Fischer

    This is interesting. In Denmark, where we traditionally- at least in our own self-image – have a more liberal sexual policy and attitudes to sexuality than in the US, birth control is not free. It has come up a few times, but never gotten much support – mostly with a “come on, people can pay for their own date and their own condoms” argument.

    Abortion is a right, and free (for all, no insurance required; it’s part of universal health care). Sex ed in schools is mandatory – and they’ll ask kids practice putting a condom on a dildo etc. There’s also various campaigns where condoms are handed out – say, in gay bars, youth clubs, dance venues, etc. Medical exams etc related to birth control are free (universal health care). But birth control itself, not free – which means that the procedure for IUD is free, but the device itself is not.

    No idea why the difference. Maybe a liberal attitude reduces barriers, so a “you can pay for your own sport” makes sense. Maybe extensive social care reduces poverty, so that fewer people will be in a “cannot afford it” position. I don’t know. But I do know that if we end up with birth control being free in the US and not here, I will find it amusing.

    • spiffy-mcbang

      “Various campaigns” tend to be how free birth control is handed out here, too. Realistically what we might hope for is an expansion of those. But the argument for “free” birth control is normally focused on getting it to people who have more important things to spend their money on, like rent and food, or teens who generally have much more limited access to money. A millionaire could walk into a PP and grab some condoms- it’s not like they ask for a pay stub- but there wouldn’t be a concerted effort to get birth control into the hands of people who can readily afford it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/samperez/ Sam

      Lars– as someone who used to live in the US and now lives in France, i just want to point something out. In the US, birth control with no insurance costs A LOT of money- even with insurance it can be more expensive than it would be for a french woman to walk into a pharmacy and get it without any coverage whatsoever. I guess the reason people have that “you can pay for it yourself” mentality in Europe is because paying 10-15 euros a month for birth control (when most of your health care is either free or realllllly cheap) doesn’t seem so bad.

      just FYI, i use the ring which is not covered by social security (and therefore not covered by insurance) and i pay 14 euros/ month. In the US, because i had no insurance, it cost me 56 USD / month.

  • http://feministing.com/members/ohheyymonet/ Danielle

    The best thing about birth control? It doesn’t just prevent pregnancy! People use it for all kinds of things, such as regulating an erratic cycle, controlling extremely painful cramps, and thousands of other things! I myself used it to shrink some rather large ovarian cysts and keep them from getting large again. Luckily I have insurance, but I’m still paying 20 dollars a month to prevent myself from being in so much pain every other month that I have to take intense pain medication and anti-nausea pills. If birth control isn’t preventative medicine, I don’t know what is! Lord knows if men were in the same position, birth control would have been free practically since it’s creation. If anyone ever wondered who has the higher pain threshold, the answer is most definitely women. Unfortunately, it’s not by choice.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lacy/ Lacy

    Oh how I look forward to a day when I don’t have to throw money in my “birth control jar”