By Andy Isola
Healthcare coverage cannot be framed solely as an issue of individual rights or beliefs because it always affects someone else’s health or access to care. Nothing should trump a patient’s right to make informed decisions or to receive access to safe and legal health care services because healthcare exists to serve the needs of the patient.
Insurance exists as a method of risk minimization. It is not a charity or a morally-based idea; it is a business. Preventative treatment is covered on all but the cheapest plans because early detection and treatment of serious conditions can cost far less than if the patient waits until symptoms become life-threatening. Along the same lines, I believe contraception fulfills this criterion for preventative care. Even insurance companies agree that contraceptive services save money over time or are at least cost neutral. Unplanned pregnancies mean lost work time and lower productivity for businesses, less focus on prenatal care and lower birth weights. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended and about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. If this was really a pro-life issue, access to contraceptives should be lauded as a way to ensure that more pregnancies occur to mothers who are prepared for a child and more able and willing to put an effort into raising that child. I then have no choice but to assume that the Catholic objection to contraceptives stems from the fact they believe access to contraception encourages sex for pleasure.
Russell Shorto’s New York Times article from May 7, 2006 entitled “Contra-Contraception” states that in 2003, the manufacturers of Plan B applied to the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter status. The FDA’s joint advisory panel voted 28-0 that it was “safe for use in the nonprescription setting” and then voted 23 to four in favor of granting Plan B over-the-counter status. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine endorsed the switch. But Dr. W. Hager, a Christian conservative whom President Bush appointed to lead the panel in 2002, shot down the idea because he feared it would “increase sexual promiscuity among teenagers,” which FDA staff responded to with studies that showed no increase. Disregarding these studies, Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the FDA, expressed fear that over-the-counter Plan B would lead to “extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an ‘urban legend’ status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” The FDA denied the application.
By the way, contraceptives have inarguably contributed to a massive decline in the social cost of sex–that is, the emotional investment required for two people to agree to sleep with one another. It isn’t hard to fathom that reducing the risks associated with sex will invariably inspire more of it. This leaves two options: either restrict access to contraceptives and vilify sex, or educate youths on how to safely practice sex. I don’t have to look far to find a study that shows that focusing funding on abstinence-only education has a direct correlation with the rates of unplanned pregnancy.
Free market proponents say that if you do not agree with this type of exemption, you can always get a job elsewhere, or buy individual health coverage. The problem is, people rarely have the luxury of choosing a job based on benefits coverage, especially in the case of healthcare institutions. Catholic hospitals represent 12 percent of all hospitals nationwide, and more than a quarter of Catholic hospitals are located in rural areas. There are often no other hospitals in the immediate area, and the poor may not be able to afford to travel to another institution. Also important to remember: not everyone who works at these hospitals is Catholic. Between 1990 and 2003, there were 183 mergers involving Catholic hospitals, and most of the time, the merged hospitals followed Catholic directives. The people who would benefit most from having their contraceptives covered don’t have a choice, and we’re arguing about who gets the right to make it for them.