Hallelujah! Finally some very good news: the Institute of Medicine, which advises the U.S. government on health issues, has recommended that healthcare plans provide contraception free to women, including the accident-erasing Plan B pill.
The news should cheer three groups: women in general, those who oppose abortions and those who want to lower healthcare costs.
The figures cited by the study tell the whole story: Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. The study concludes that greater use of contraception would reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.
The Family Research Council, a Christian conservative lobbying group, immediately came out against the idea of mandating free birth-control coverage. Its reasoning exudes the politics of selfishness: people who don’t support contraception shouldn’t have to subsidize its use by others.
But don’t people who believe in negative population growth have to subsidize those with large families? And don’t nonsmokers subsidize smokers? Don’t physically fit people subsidize the obese? The decision to have a lot of kids, smoke cigarettes or eat your way into obesity are lifestyle and values decisions the medical costs of which are socialized. Why should it be any different when it comes to contraception for women? And if you don’t think the decision not to get pregnant isn’t a medical matter, then spend some time in a maternity ward.
You can’t have health insurance without one group subsidizing another. That’s what health insurance is about: the collectivization of risk to insure that everyone in the group gets what they need.
One of the most important unknown trends in health care coverage in the recent past revisits one of Ben Franklin’s favorite expressions: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Insurers have been slowly making preventive care entirely free, with neither co-pay nor co-insurance. The idea is that annual physicals, pap smears and mammograms enable physicians to catch ailments early and to counsel patients on lifestyle changes. Offering free-of-charge birth control falls into the same category, because it prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions, both of which cost the medical system much more and endanger women more than condoms, diaphragms or pills.
Let’s remember that the Institute for Medicine is not recommending that we require women to use contraceptives, only to make them more affordable.
With one simple change to health insurance plans, then, we can give women more freedom to control their lives and their bodies; please groups who oppose abortion by cutting the numbers of this legal procedure significantly; and help to reduce future healthcare costs.
It sounds like a win-win-win for everyone, except for those who want to regulate the sex lives of others for moral reasons (and those few illogical souls who equate contraception with abortion). Fortunately for all of us, though, we live in an open society in which sexual matters are not—or at least should not be—subject to government interference except to protect the young or to prevent violence or coercion.