In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires all employer-sponsored insurance to cover a comprehensive list of contraceptive drugs and procedures without imposing any cost-sharing on the consumers at the time of service. This sparked an election-year debate that the media claimed pitted women against religious communities that object to the use of contraception.
But the issue is much more complex than that. There are many reasons that nonreligious people should oppose this mandate: It will have adverse consequences on public health, distort health care markets, particularly for contraception, and threatens First Amendment rights.
It’s tempting to see this discussion through the lens of the controversial debate about when life begins or the morality of reproductive choices, but that’s really not the central issue. Foremost, this debate is about the limits of government’s power to compel individuals to violate their beliefs.
Importantly, there is simply no compelling need for this mandate. Sexually active people overwhelmingly report having access to contraception, and programs exist to help those who cannot afford these products on their own. This mandate will also increase costs, distort the market, and could be counterproductive for women’s health.
Instead of this one-size-fits-all mandate, the Department of Health and Human Services should give insurance companies, employers, families and individuals the freedom to purchase insurance policies that reflect their preferences and their needs.