The American Right, defenders of individual liberty, are back in our business. They are appalled—appalled—that contraception is popular. For a group that is explicitly “pro-life”, this is an indefensible position. Here’s why they’re wrong, and why it’s not just a political disagreement.
I’m going to pull the authority card out here: I’ve spent the better part of eleven years practicing medicine. Before that I spent four years as an undergraduate, four years in medical school, and three years as a medical resident. I’ve had a chance to learn a few things about medicine. I’ve also had a chance to learn a lot about people over the last several years; my patients have a lot to teach me, and I keep my ears open, because there is no end to learning. To learn you must be humble, and nothing is more humbling than disease. The human body can suddenly and spectacularly fail without regard to a person’s age or moral character, and a lot of the time, there’s not a damned thing you can do but order a nice smoked fish plate for shiva.
The recent arguments about female contraception fall into a few distinct categories—allegedly:
- Political: “I don’t care what you do or what you take but I don’t want my tax dollars funding it.”
- Religious: “My religion forbids contraception, therefore I don’t have to give it to you.”
- Moral: “Contraception is wrong and is part of what is destroying our society.”
The political is odd, in that it seems patently fringe. It’s no secret that I think that libertarians are simply anarchists with haircuts, and are only libertarians so long as they are better armed than their neighbors. Beyond my personal bias, the argument is invalid. The recent argument is about insurance coverage of female contraception. The administration and Congress, through the passage of the Affordable Care Act, have made preventative care a priority, and as part of this, health care plans may not discriminate against women in the provision of preventative services. Among these services is contraception. This is medically valid: contraception in its many forms is good medicine, part of the standard of care. Failure to provide it appropriately could be construed as malpractice. The libertarian argument is, in its pure form, simple nihilism. If the argument is, “don’t use my taxes for stuff I don’t like,” then what they really are saying is, “taxation is illegitimate.” There is no “government pays for sex” clause. This is a clumsy ruse.
Contraception can be used for preventing pregnancy and other just as legitimate medical uses. You don’t—like a condom—use it when you feel like having sex. Most female contraceptives are used daily. If you skip pills, you aren’t protected. There is no “pay to play”. And the government isn’t paying: the consumer is. When you look at your paystub and see the insurance deduction, that’s your money, paying for your health care. The “government” didn’t pay, Rush Limbaugh didn’t pay, President Obama didn’t pay: you did. It’s your right to get equal treatment.
The religious objection is somewhat more morally consistent (often). The Catholic Church, for example, has always been explicitly against contraception. I think that’s insane and morally untenable, but it’s their right to believe it and preach it. It is not, in a pluralistic society, their right to deny equal care to their employees based on sex. (Actually, they can do that among certain Church employees, but whatever.) If the Church, through one of its institutions in the US decides to provide health insurance (a morally laudable practice) they cannot discriminate based on sex. That’s against the law, and not morally laudable. If they are truly serious about removing all hints of support for contraception, they must eliminate all insurance coverage (and pursue the majority of American Catholics who use contraception, but what do I know about Church law?). I wonder how that would go over?
The moral objection, as usually stated by public figures, is pretty much insane, but once again, their right. It is not “pro-life”, but pro-poverty and pro-diseae. Family planning confers enormous benefits to a society. It reduces infant, child, and maternal mortality; improves education, especially for women and girls; reduces transmission of HIV; and reduces poverty. It’s one of the most useful public health measures imaginable. To be against it is to be against these benefits—once again, your right, but not particularly laudable. What is less offensive is refusing yourself to use medications that violate your beliefs. What is gravely offensive is trying to deny these benefits to others.
So is this all just a moral/political/religious disagreement? Can we shake hands and agree to disagree?
No, and maybe.
In this country, one of laws and not of the arbitrary wishes of individuals, those who wish to deny rights to others are not on the side of good.
Those who would mock, attack, and defame those who choose to exercise their rights in an attempt to intimidate are bad people. Rush Limbaugh can believe and say whatever he wants, but he is not immune from criticism and judgement. He and others like him (and the presidential candidates who refused to condemn or even disagree with him) are not good people. They are opportunistic at best, evil at worst.