In the debate about the “birth control mandate,” left-wing Feminists and liberals want to talk about women’s health because they know they’ve got a polling advantage with women and young people. The Right wants to talk about religious freedom, and understandably so, because this message appeals to some of their base: religious and older folks.
Even though I oppose the mandate, and I think it violates the First Amendment, I’m not afraid to talk about women’s health. I’ll go to the Feminists’ turf and go on offense. But the trouble with fighting on their turf is that they’ve already rigged it with landmines. In this case, they’ve been burying some outright falsehoods in the ears of women. They call it fundraising. It's really called fear-mongering.
If you’re not ready for a dose of truth, you might as well stop reading here.
Lie #1: Without this mandate, women will have trouble accessing birth control.
Any woman in the United States can get her hands on birth control. In fact, as Planned Parenthood points out, 98 percent of all American women who’ve had sex have used contraception.
To get the pill, a woman needs an appointment at her doctor’s office or a local health clinic. Or women can buy condoms, which are available at practically every drugstore or gas station, and hundreds of public schools in the U.S., btw.
So according to the law, women in the U.S. have every bit of access they might need to birth control. If women face other difficulties, like they are 14 and can’t drive to the drugstore, that is another issue. “Access” is one word that’s been terribly misused in this debate. The truth is: The repeal or absence of this HHS mandate will not change laws governing the availability of birth control or condoms, but would merely keep the status quo.
Lie #2: Without this mandate, women can’t afford birth control.
First of all, many women in the U.S. already qualify for free birth control. Even if you have no health insurance, many clinics will offer a low-cost option or help you enroll in a program to get free birth control.
If you don’t qualify for free birth control, here’s one good low-cost option: Wal-mart offers some oral contraceptives at $9 a month.
And when it comes to condoms, the American Pregnancy Association says, “The cost per condom ranges from as little as 20¢ to $2.50 each. Some health facilities may distribute condoms free.” (Also, as a side note, condoms are the only form of birth control that prevents the spread of STDs, so it’s worth asking why we want to subsidize the substitute good of oral contraception and effectively discourage condom use?)
Women shouldn’t have to bear these costs alone (however trivial). And they don’t. It takes two to tango, and in many relationships, men chip in or even take on the full responsibility of contraception. Planned Parenthood says this happens a third of the time.
(In fact, as Libby has pointed out, this mandate will have bad unintended consequences for the development of new types of birth control – including a male birth control pill. If we want men to take more responsibility in the area of birth control, we shouldn’t be happy when the government effectively says contraception is solely a woman’s responsibility.)
So importantly, cost is not a problem. If $9 a month is a health expense that women can't afford, then technically we should be asking employers to first cover the cost of our period by supplying our Midol, tampons, and maxi-pads. Woe unto us!
The truth is: Repealing the HHS mandate would not raise the price of birth control or condoms, which is currently very affordable in the U.S.
Lie # 3: Without this mandate, employers will stop offering coverage for birth control.
Currently, about 90 percent of employers who offer health insurance as a benefit offer a plan that covers contraception. This is without a mandate in place forcing them to do so. They do this voluntarily as a part of their arrangement with their workers.
Some 28 states already have rules that require employers to cover birth control in the company’s insurance plan. These state statutes vary on what kind of exemption is offered to religious employers.
The truth is: Repealing the most recent HHS mandate would do nothing to change this.
There are a few more lies I'd like to address, so look for a part 2 of this blog. The bottom line is there's no war on women's health, and no one is trying to take women back to the dark ages.