Would It Be Better for the Government to Pay for Everyone’s Contraception? No.


In what is sure to get interest as a man-bites-dog story, Rick Santorum recently suggested, however reluctantly, that it would be better for the government to provide free contraception than to have the birth control benefit that’s part of Obamacare, which says that insurance plans must cover contraception like other forms of preventive health care, without a co-pay. It’s tempting to be generous and read these comments as an attempt to meet liberals halfway, but liberals should be wary. This is, after all, Rick Santorum we’re talking about.

Santorum started off with a big fat lie, which should have been the first clue that he’s not above board here; he said that the birth control benefit is “forcing people who have views like me to go out and use my money to buy those products.” Santorum clearly wants his audience to imagine that employers are being asked to buy contraception and, I don’t know, provide it directly to employees at work. That is untrue, no matter how you slice it: Federal law does not require anyone to buy contraception for anyone else or even “pay for it,” as conservatives gripe. Employees’ insurance plans are a benefit that they earn as part of their employment, and if an employee chooses to use that benefit on contraception, their boss is no more “paying for it” than if the employee chooses to use her paycheck to buy contraception out of pocket.

Having scared his audience with a lie suggesting that employers are being forced to have condom bowls in bathrooms (not that this is a bad idea, actually, which is why some employers voluntarily do this), Santorum pretended to be magnanimous to the 99 percent of American women who have used contraception at some point in their lives. “It would be less objectionable to me,” he said, “for the government to go out and say we’re going to pay for all the pharmacies to stock contraception and give them out free. Am I paying for it indirectly? Yes, through my taxes, but I pay for a lot of things with my taxes that I don’t like.”

It’s easy to see how liberals might be baited into thinking Santorum is offering a reasonable compromise here. After all, liberals—and most Americans, in fact—support existing government programs that provide contraception to people who can’t afford it, and condom distribution programs that target all people who have need, regardless of income. It seems easy, therefore, to just embrace this idea as an excellent way to get everyone’s needs met while avoiding these sticky fights over employee-earned benefits.

Because Santorum was so half-hearted about this, most liberals who reported on his remarks didn’t take his bait, but a couple of people did try to argue that the idea of government-provided contraception for everyone is a great idea.

But I want to push back, in no small part because I think that making contraception a government benefit instead of part of a package of reproductive health-care services is actually a devious idea whose purpose would be to make contraception harder to get. Even though Santorum suggested just paying pharmacies to hand out contraception, in reality a plan like his would mean removing prescription contraception from its current channels and centralizing it into a government bureaucracy. That would mean that instead of just going to your doctor for a check-up every year and getting a prescription—and charging the visit, like all of your health care, to insurance—you would have to make a special “contraception-only” trip. That trip may even be to a government agency instead of your regular doctor. Already many women, especially poor women, struggle to make it to all their doctor’s appointments, so adding another one entirely would be an outrageous burden on access.

And it’s very unlikely that pharmacies would cooperate with separating out contraception when billing insurance companies, which might mean centralized locations would have to be employed for contraception distribution, creating a barrier for women who would no longer be able to pick up their birth control pills alongside the other things they need from the pharmacy.

Basically, Santorum’s idea would mean separating contraception from mainstream medical care. Once separated out, of course, it would be much easier for conservatives to start targeting the contraception distribution centers for cutbacks or insist that they be put in locations that aren’t accessible. (You know, like they do to abortion clinics.) In addition, separating out contraception from all other medical care in this way would reinforce the false notion that birth control is not “legitimate” medical care, which would contribute to marginalizing and stigmatizing it. That contraception centers would be targeted for aggressive shut-down techniques is beyond dispute. Already places like Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics are shutting their doors due to budget cuts and other attacks from conservatives. This would just make that happen on a much bigger scale.

The safest place for contraception to be is in the mainstream of medical care—available through your regular doctor and local pharmacy and covered, like all other needed health services, by your insurance provider. This helps reinforce the notion that contraception is, in fact, a normal part of health care. And it would make it much harder for conservatives to marginalize contraception or shame women for using it. This way gives women autonomy and privacy; just imagine if everyone had to go to a contraception center for contraception—the anti-choice protesters would love that! But most importantly, it demonstrates that women’s health care is just as important as men’s—just because a form of health care is associated with women doesn’t mean it isn’t real health care.

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  • ChrisFunguy79

    Marcotte is against socialized medicine now? Interesting.

    • cjvg

      Learning to read is not a luxery

      • ChrisFunguy79

        “Reading comprehension is not a luxery

        Is spelling?

        • cjvg

          So since you wrote the exact same way, care to tell me what is not correct? Or are you just being the familiar d*psh*t we all know and do not love

          • ChrisFunguy79

            You do understand what the quotes mean, right?

            Yikes. The school system has failed you.You should ask for your money back.

          • cjvg

            I’m not quoting any one, I’m merely making an observation.
            You do know what observations are don’t you?
            Still quotes are not spelling issues, I would say get your money back but I’m afraid that you went to a Christian private school and good luck getting money back from those!
            PS; this is my third language and most certainly not my native language and still I spell better then you. At least I know how to spell throw!

          • lady_black

            You do just fine. I can’t believe this wanker hasn’t been banned yet.

          • cjvg

            Thank you.
            He does not concern me, I would be worried if someone who actually had an education and sufficient medical background was spouting the BS he routinely vomits

          • Arekushieru

            Also, emphasis with the exact same spelling denotes your own lack of understanding of correct spelling.

          • ChrisFunguy79

            Let me remind you that you work as a checkout clerk.

  • DonnaDiva

    It would also be used as an excuse to further attack abortion rights. “What do you need an abortion for if the government gives you free birth control?”

    • BJ Survivor

      Forced-birthers currently use this argument, claiming that BC is cheap and accessible to everyone, so there is never any need for abortion. Point out the realities and you get their standards fingers-in-ears, can’t-hear-you, re-parroting of their standard dogma.

  • BJ Survivor

    In my state, California, for many years we have had initiatives on the table for single-payer, which include dental care. I believe it is the same for other states that agitate for single-payer. Just because the federal government doesn’t seem to consider dental care to be standard medical care deserving of universal insurance, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

    Condoms break. Hormonal contraception and the copper IUD are far, far more effective at preventing unintended pregnancy than condoms. Also, many men refuse to wear condoms. Monogamous couples really do not prefer to use condoms, because condoms diminish sensation for both partners.

  • lady_black

    SOAP is not a prescription medication, and you are confusing contraception and ‘safer sex.’ Most of the time I have used contraception during my life is when I have been married, thus having no need for prevention of disease. You are making the common assumption that birth control is only used by young women in uncommitted relationships. That’s a false assumption. I have nothing against condoms. They prevent disease and may be an ideal method for those who do not engage in sexual relations all that often. For a woman is who is in a relationship, and thus frequently sexually active, condoms aren’t good enough. Plus condoms treat ZERO female health issues such as menorrhagia, PCOS or endometriosis. You really shouldn’t call other people “idiots” with your teenage male understanding of reproductive issues. For most women, birth control pills ARE safe sex.

  • BJ Survivor

    Am flagging because it’s 5×5 with another sockpuppet.

    • lady_black

      That thought occurred to me. I’m not sure yet.

  • Arekushieru

    Condoms may also be the difference between putting food on the table or going hungry for the day. And, since most women who have abortions are mothers, already, it stands to reason that most women who need access to condoms are also mothers. Because they won’t to prevent themselves from having more children.

    Anyways, @lady_black:disqus and @bj_survivor:disqus, if this guy responds to my comment with a remark about poorer women remaining abstinent, we’ll REALLY know who he is.