February 10 2012
The Cost of 'Free' Contraception
President Obama’s announcement today that religious employers will not have to pay for their employees' contraceptive services has left many voters satisfied, while leaving others scratching their heads.
IWF has been actively covering this issue. Charlotte highlighted some of the questions that still need clarification, notably how “directly” these employers will be involved in providing contraception to their employees. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sticky predicaments society finds itself in when the political class tries to broadly impose a set of values on us (for the record, like apparently 98% of Catholics,* I’m in favor of people having the freedom to use contraception if they choose). And Carrie pointed out the obvious – “insurance” definitionally does not protect against predictable events like pregnancy (we all intuitively understand this when we see commercials for automotive “repair and maintenance insurance”).
This new mandate raises some questions about how the market for birth control might look in a few years. The President may have just dealt a huge blow to the search for alternative forms of contraception with fewer side effects. That's not to say that pharmaceutical manufacturers won't keep tweaking their currently-available formulations every few years (and renewing their patents). But where's the incentive to introduce a brand new product into the market when the incumbent ones already bring in healthy revenues, thanks to the full backing of the government? Most businesses, particularly large ones like pharmaceutical firms, are terrified of cannabilizing their existing revenue streams.
What about male birth control? The promise that a contraceptive pill for men was on the horizon may have been effectively snuffed out today. What I find most worrisome about this mandate is the creeping feeling that it's the first step toward essentially legitimizing the notion that women are de facto, 100% responsible for birth control now. Whatever happened to “it takes two to tango?” Have we just absolved men of any responsibility to use protection (condoms, I should point out, are already cheap and readily available)? At the very least, have we reduced their incentive to do so?
* questions have been raised about this statistic.