In a stunning turn of events – if by “stunning” you mean “wholly predictable” – a group of GOP Representatives are threatening to hold up sequester negotiations unless the Obama administration rolls back the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide contraception coverage in employee health plans. Their excuse, natch, is “religious freedom”.
GOP lawmakers reintroduced a bill Tuesday to repeal the contraception mandate. They also pressed their party’s leaders to roll back the provision as part of a continuing resolution later this month to keep the federal government operating.
“This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action,” the 14 lawmakers wrote. “Nothing short of a full exemption for both nonprofit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense.”
The continuing resolution that House appropriators released Monday would not cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, despite years of conservative pressure to defund the healthcare law. But Tuesday’s letter, led by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), indicates that fights over the health law could still roil the funding debate.
I often get blog comments and tweets and whatnot from people who insist that they don’t oppose contraception at all! Oh no, they simply “don’t want to pay for it!” Many of these critics seem to be under the impression that the ACA birth control mandate means that the government/taxpayers are going to be paying for women’s birth control in perpetuity. Which would, frankly, be fine with me since the government/taxpayers fund all sorts of other salutary things. As a practical matter, when I think of all the things I would want my tax dollars going to, universal contraception access is pretty high up there on the list!
That said, alas no, the contraception mandate is not the government paying for all the ladies’ birth control. The mandate requires private employer-based health plans to cover contraception for employees and their family members. There is nothing unreasonable about this since hormonal contraception is legitimate preventive health care that the vast majority of women use at some point of their lives and women are (or should be) seen as full and contributing members of society. Additionally, if health benefits are part of one’s overall compensation package, then they should be treated as no different than one’s salary. Let’s say a group of business owners petitioned the court to be able to forbid their workers to spend their paychecks on anything those bosses disapproved of morally. Most reasonable people would say those bosses should mind their own business because their employees’ lives outside of work are their own.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume those objecting to birth control mandates are arguing in good faith that it’s merely about them not wanting to pay for it. Let’s also assume that those who object to any taxpayer funding or private compensation going to women’s reproductive health services have a unique moral high ground that no one else (like say, opponents of war or of corporate campaign contributions) has. Okay, I’d be willing to make a deal with all the “I don’t want to ban it but I don’t want to pay for it” people. Call it a Grand Bargain if you will, for it would require reproductive rights advocates to make painful concessions akin to those that some Democrats are willing to make in Grand Bargain deficit reduction negotiations.
So here goes: They won’t have to pay for any of it. Not birth control and not abortion (which already doesn’t get federal funding). Go ahead pull all state and federal tax funds from Planned Parenthood or any other entity that provides or refers birth control or abortion. We will pay for it all ourselves! Those of us with the ability to pay out of pocket will do so for birth control, terminations, sterilizations, etc. We’ll bootstrap us up some funds to assist low income women in getting those things! It’ll be hard but we’ll try to make it work. Not one cent of their precious, morally pure money would ever touch services going to the dirty, dirty strumpets.
Alrighty then, here’s what “I don’t want to pay for it” people need to agree to: Leave all of it alone. Support no attempts to restrict contraception or abortion via law. No more. Women should be free to make their own decisions under the consultation and care of their doctors, as long as they’re not paying for it, right? Oh, and they agree to the recommendation of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to sell birth control pills over the counter with no prescription. The Pill would be available for sale with no questions asked to anyone who wants it for the same low price we now pay for generic hay fever meds. Sounds good, right?
I’d honestly be willing to make all those concessions if I really believed the anti-choice movement would leave us alone. The more we compromise with the forces against reproductive rights, the more emboldened they are to take more of those rights from us. The Hyde Amendment prohibited federal funds for abortion (despite it being a legal medical procedure) in 1976, denying coverage to millions of American women. Private insurance plans are increasingly prohibited from covering abortion, on the “I don’t want to pay for it” principle. Same thing is happening with birth control. The Obama administration built exceptions for religious institutions into the ACA for birth control. But they want private employers exempted too, and may well win those lawsuits and get that. Which should make them leave us alone, but they won’t. Arkansas just banned abortion after 12 weeks. States are passing waiting periods and invasive mandatory sonogram laws all over the place. They’re trying that Personhood Amendment in Mississippi again, which (don’t kid yourself) will be used to ban birth control on the off chance it succeeds.
So in the end I’m forced to conclude that no amount of offering to pay for all our reproductive healthcare out of pocket (while many of us still paying premiums for insurance that should cover it since it’s, duh, healthcare) is going to stop them. “I don’t want to pay for it” sounds a lot like “I don’t want you to have it at all” to me. Frankly, pro-choice activists should pushing for the opposite of offering to accommodate abortion and contraception foes on funding. The fight for reproductive justice must include fighting for access to reproductive health services for all women.