Last week, we reported on a brewing showdown between reproductive rights activists and anti-choice conservatives over expanding access to birth control under the new healthcare reforms. It turns out that the common-sense arguments for making insurers offer birth control at no out-of-pocket cost—facilitating family planning and reproductive choice in general, as well as equalizing access for low-income women of color—unfortunately did not persuade the White House to include it on its new list of free preventive provisions.
Once again, the ass-backward logic of the religious right—that empowering women to prevent unwanted pregnancy is tantamount to endorsing sexual sin—appears to have seeped into federal health policy.
But stay tuned: the pill might find its way into a separate set of guidelines targeting women’s health, which is still under development. The Department of Health and Human Services could still mandate that insurance providers offer contraception without a co-pay in the coming months. However, Anna Clark at Salon warns that a political side effect of this approach is to marginalize birth control as merely a women’s problem:
It must be emphasized, though, that birth control isn’t just a “women’s issue”; had contraception been on this initial list of preventive services, the government could have affirmed that message. Nonetheless, this issue of access is too important to quibble over semantics. Better to spend the energy supporting the campaign on basic contraception as a basic health care right.
From a reproductive justice standpoint, birth control isn’t just a women’s issue but an issue of racial and socioeconomic equity as well. The Guttmacher Institute reports that Blacks and the poor lag behind in various aspects of reproductive health, from unintended pregnancy rates to comprehensive sex-ed programs.
Anti-choice crusaders may not grasp these finer points, but the struggle over free contraception could force policymakers to realize that the decisions that go into producing the next generation entail personal and public responsibilities in tandem. Making birth control free would be a baby step toward undoing the hidden health tax on women and people of color.
Photo: Nancy R. Cohen / Photodisc / Getty Images