Since the SCOTUS ruling, I’ve been enjoying the occasional troll and debate on the Hobby Lobby decision. I fully understand how narrowly the court has defined its position. I also appreciate that its intent was to exclude forms of birth control that someone might interpret to have an “abortive” effect. I recognize that, by keeping it narrow, SCOTUS deliberately rejected the Constitutional issue–they did not consider it relevant for judging this case.
However, I also recognize that, politically, this ruling was not about the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but rather Citizens United. The Roberts Court invested its integrity–some might even say its legacy–on the concept of corporate personhood in 2010, to much criticism by the public, politicians, the media, and even members of the bar. Allowing a for-profit retail corporation that is not engaged in religious business to negate a law under the pretense of having a religious affiliation is inane regardless of the technicalities involved, and only serves to shore up the legal construct that companies are people.
I don’t agree with the decision, regardless of its narrowly-defined correctness, because I do not agree that (1) corporations are essentially people and should be treated equal under the law in all instances, (2) life begins at conception, (3) an employer’s religious principles should supersede an employee’s own health care decisions, and (4) this is fundamentally non-discriminatory.
Rather, I believe that allowing this narrow point even to be heard by SCOTUS, let alone upheld by them, is using incorporation as a vehicle to drive an agenda that allows public and legal acceptance of religious, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination. This decision contributes to the death by a thousand cuts of real personhood and equality.
Many people I’ve encountered and read have ranted against covering contraceptives at all. This is the consolidated and paraphrased line of thought offered by them in discourse:
Contraceptives are not a basic health care need, and exist primarily to provide women with the ability to seek sexual gratification without meaningful consequences. Therefore, employers should not be forced to subsidize their employees’ lifestyle choices by covering contraceptives in their health insurance.
This is a statement loaded with assumptions, each of which can be dismantled on its own lack of merit, but let’s deal with the whole statement as one body of thought first, before it gets broken down.
The logical deduction from the whole would be this: IF contraceptives are not a health care need and are for sexual gratification only, and a person believes that such things should not be covered by health care insurance, THEN the person should be equally angry about similar meds and procedures that directly relate to male choices for sexual gratification–e.g., penis pumps, penile implants, sexual dysfunction drugs like Viagra, and vasectomies, all of which are covered under the ACA–and willing to advocate as hotly for their removal as they do on the birth control issue.
And yet, shockingly, no one in support of striking contraceptive coverage is even talking about the male sexual health benefits, let alone going to the mattresses for getting such coverage removed. To target only female forms of sexual health care on such grounds, and not even discuss male forms of sexual health care, is sexist and possibly a symptom of embedded cultural misogyny.
Now, I’m going to break it down into its parts:
1. “Contraceptives are not a basic health care need, …”
Prima facie, this is incorrect. Hormonal treatment is used for many things in women’s health issues. Many women are on such treatments to alleviate the symptoms of PMS and menopause, to rectify a chemical imbalance, and to reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer. Taking the Pill for 12 years reduces the risk of contracting such cancers by more than 70 percent. If you are a woman with a family history of it, it behooves you to be on birth control. Furthermore, estrogen clears scarring and blemishes from recurring acne caused by too much native testosterone. It also alleviates endometriosis, a condition in which uterine-lining tissue grows in other pelvic areas, which can lead to scarring, severe pain, and sometimes infertility; the right hormonal cocktail will stop the growth of such tissue. It ameliorates the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition which triggers irregular periods, excessive hair growth, and skin problems. Basically, most modern contraceptives are a chemical treatment that address all manner of health problems. Even previously non-hormonal BC forms like IUDs can now be gotten with a mild hormone additive, just to make sure everything balances out.
Furthermore, there are some kinds of birth control that become precluded with certain life changes and choices. Women with diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or using tobacco are discouraged from using the pill, the vaginal ring, and the implants. The pressure to switch to non-hormonal forms of birth control, like the IUD, increases as women age; during perimenopause our chemical levels fluctuate anyway. At some point after 40, doctors will stop prescribing BC meds with a high hormone content. When that happens, a plain IUD is most often recommended by OB/GYNs. IUDs were two of the four types excluded from coverage in the SCOTUS decision. For those who do not know, the average age of menopause is 51, so we’re talking about 11 child-bearing years during which some of the most reliable forms of birth control are denied to women under current medical practice.
A woman who is on birth control does not have to prove to an employer, a judge, or the kangaroo court of public opinion that she’s on it for health reasons only or even primarily. It is sufficient for purposes of law and public debate to know that there are many valid health reasons that inform an individual’s choice on when to use birth control and what kind she should use. Boiling them all down to “women just want to have free sex on the public dime” is frigid, childish, and wildly hypocritical. Most people over the age of 18 do have sex, men included. And most of the time, it is the woman who purchases the birth control–as a gender we spend 68% more on it per year than men do. Which leads us directly into the next statement to unpack.
2. “… and exist primarily to provide women with the ability to seek sexual gratification without meaningful consequences.”
Also incorrect. Most women do not consider sex to be without meaningful consequences, which is why birth control is so important to women. There are few things more meaningful (and nothing more life-changing) than choosing to give birth and raise a child. It is difficult enough for women to navigate modern relationships while building a career without also bearing sole responsibility for any pregnancies that may result from sexual congress.
Furthermore, it is delusional to pretend that we still live in or could live in the morality of “The Donna Reed Show” and “Leave It to Beaver.” Our country’s morality and attitude on premarital sex has changed in the past 60 years. In spite of the virtuosity permeating then-current media, only 11% of the population “waited until marriage” in the 1950s. So, our impression that virginity before marriage was the norm back in the 1950s is erroneous and “keeping one’s knees closed” certainly did not happen in practice.
Now, the social norms expect a couple to explore their sexuality prior to walking down the aisle. Compared to 11% from 1954-1963, merely 3% of the current population waits until marriage. Even among highly religious groups (e.g., Texas Southern Baptists), only 20% of young religious people polled successfully waited until marriage. In case you can’t translate the math, that means only 1 out of 5 fundamentally Christian kids under age 25 stay virgins until marriage these days. Clearly still a minority.
Does that mean that 97% of all sexually active adults are indiscriminate whores unworthy of having our sexual health attended to and covered by insurance? Or does it mean that the laws should change to reflect the new moral normal?
While premarital sex is (and apparently always has been) normal, the family unit has changed drastically over the same period of time. What happens when a woman gets knocked up? Once upon a time (five decades ago), a pregnancy would have required a shotgun wedding. Out-of-wedlock births have since skyrocketed with the demise of that practice.
In the early 1960s, about 66% of premarital pregnancies resulted in a rushed marriage. Thirty years later, in the early 1990s, the percentage had dropped to 25%. Now, more unexpectedly expecting couples choose co-habitation over marriage, if they choose to stay together at all. Only 7% of out-of-wedlock pregnancies result in a marriage. Add in the rise in divorce rates, the decline in the “happily ever after” dream, and the gender revolution allowing more women the means to support themselves, and an unintended pregnancy more frequently results in a single mother who is both primary caretaker and primary breadwinner by the time the child is three years old. That’s some heavy shit.
In the current social environment, it is necessary for women to have individual control of their sexual lives and decisions: It is a completely fair and natural consequence of evolving out of a social system which treated women as subservient at best and chattel at worst. Biological facts dictate that women cannot avoid being the vessels for reproduction and, therefore, get stuck with the brunt of the child-making decisions. (Trust me, if we could take turns with men on that score, we truly would. Every. Single. One of us.) Birth control is the equalizer which allows women the freedom to choose when and how often we produce offspring.
So no. Women don’t use birth control to make meaningless sexual choices. In the phrase “birth control,” the word “control” is more important than “birth.” If one defines the years of sexual activity as 18-51, it is easy to calculate the difference in cost of contraceptives covered and not covered by insurance.
- The Pill: Covered = $11, 842; Uncovered = $66,644
- The Patch: Covered = $11,842; Uncovered = $66,644
- Vaginal Ring: Covered = $11,842; Uncovered = $66,644
- Depo Shots: Covered = $10,740; Uncovered = $32,496
- Implants: Covered = $8,910; Uncovered = $19,601
- IUDs: Covered = $4,089; Uncovered = $8,178
- Tubal Ligation: Covered = $1,500; Uncovered = $6,000
The costs of uncovered birth control are huge for women who are making minimum wage. Even at Hobby Lobby’s full-time rate of $14/hour, that’s only a $28,000 gross annual income. It’s not much to support a child on, and many women who use birth control already have children and are trying to limit their reproduction to an affordable number of kids.
According to Guttmacher Institute, “a much higher proportion of married than of never-married women use a contraceptive method (77% vs. 42%). This is largely because married women are more likely to be sexually active. But even among those at risk of unintended pregnancy, contraceptive use is higher among currently married women than among never-married women (93% vs. 83%).”
And that leads us to the last piece to unpack.
3. “Therefore, employers should not be forced to subsidize their employees lifestyle choices by covering contraceptives in their health insurance.”
One can point out the logical fallacy of this in two different ways.
(a) Employers are “forced to subsidize” many other lifestyle choices through insurance, such as the intended or unintended effects of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; obesity, heart disease, and diabetes from overeating or eating the wrong foods; STD treatments (ooh! Another category we should cut from coverage!); hospitalization and care from sports injuries and stupid human accidents; and so on. Furthermore, if one objects to lifestyle choices being covered, that slippery slope leads to employer-provided health insurance not covering the cost of pregnancy and childbirth, too. It is, after all, as much a personal decision to have a kid as to not have one. Storks don’t drop babies on random doorsteps.
(b) Employers are not bearing the whole financial burden of providing health insurance. Employees are not getting their health coverage for “free.” They are getting it in exchange for work, as a part of their employment package. Every worker pays some portion of the basic coverage–either before or after taxes, in dollars or in work equity–and every worker shells out for co-pays and deductions when medical services are used. Employers have never been more than a middleman agent providing a pool of customers to an insurance company for a bulk-rate discount in order to make their company more attractive to qualified workers. The employee him/herself benefits from the coverage if used, and the employee him/herself often has the option of increasing and reducing types of coverage in his/her policy for a price.
Use whichever argument floats your boat–use both! Either way, the premise has little merit and is easily ripped apart.