Proposed Republican Bill Would Treat Contraception Like a Luxury Good


Contraception is popular—very popular. That’s why Republicans are in so much of a bind lately, trying to placate the increasingly extremist anti-choice movement that demands more attacks on contraception, all while trying to convince the average American that they aren’t attacking contraception at all.

One result of this was a strange bit of business last week: Senate Republicans, beholden to their sex-hostile base, blocked a bill that would allow women to access contraception coverage directly through their insurers if their employers refused to cover it in plans through their standard employee benefits package. And then, to assure voters that they aren’t actually attacking contraception, those same Senate Republicans claimed to have another bill on offer to protect women’s ability to buy contraception. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) assured reporters that this new bill was totally pro-contraception: “Our bill will reaffirm that no employer can prohibit an employee from purchasing an FDA-approved drug or medical device,” she said.

However, she didn’t say how. Republicans currently support giving your employer the power to bar you from using your own insurance plan to pay for contraception, and they also want to give your employer the power to bar you from going directly to your insurance company to get contraception coverage.

Presumably, this bill would protect an employee’s right to use money out-of-pocket to buy contraception, but what if an employer also objects to that? After all your paycheck, like your insurance, is part of your compensation package. If your employer has a veto power over how you use your own insurance benefits—including disallowing you to go outside of the official plan offered at work—why not also argue that because they signed your paycheck, that money is off-limits? Would your “right” to “buy” contraception only come into play if you pay for it out of a separate checking account that you can demonstrate is only funded with money you got from some source other than your job? The abstract right to buy something is pretty meaningless now that the Supreme Court has opened the door to allowing your employer to control how you use the compensation given to you for working.

Perhaps this promised bill will clearly state that benefits are the only part of your compensation package that your boss gets veto power over, and will clearly define paychecks as off-limits to employer control. If so, then I hope they pass it and shut down any hope of anti-choicers exploring the option of expanding employer power over how employees use their compensation package. That would really be something, since Republicans aren’t known for their enthusiasm for any laws protecting workers from management overreach.

But in the end it doesn’t really matter if this bill specifically singles out paychecks as protected from employer control or just affirms an abstract “right” to buy contraception. Even floating this bill shows how much the anti-choice movement is, at its core, just as much about reinforcing class hierarchies and preserving traditional gender roles as it is about punishing people for having sex.

By reducing birth control to a consumer product, Republicans can push the idea that “consequence-free sex” is a luxury item, like a nice car or designer jeans—something reserved for the well-off, instead of necessary medical care that should be available and affordable to all. This becomes especially clear when you realize that anti-choice employers also object to offering insurance plans that cover contraception counseling, meaning that if you want contraception and you work for an anti-choice employer, you will have to make an entirely separate visit to your doctor for the counseling, which you will then pay for in cash. Like your birth control.

Who has the time for that, much less the money? Not workers at Hobby Lobby, even at the highly vaunted $15 an hour (minimum) they earn.

Making contraception both expensive and time-consuming to acquire is an excellent way to signal that it’s only reserved for a fortunate few. It’s easy to picture the conservative definition of the “ideal” contraception user: A woman who has plenty of money and time, and who treats her contraception purchases much like her pilates class or a shopping spree. Ideally, she’s someone whose wealth flows from a husband and not from her own job. Indeed, wealthy women can afford to treat contraception like a consumer purchase item. But the rest of us who are busy and/or run our households on a tight budget are much better off treating contraception as part of regular medical care.

This kind of thinking from conservatives isn’t particularly well hidden. That’s what Fox News’ Jesse Watters was on about with his now-infamous complaint about “Beyoncé voters”: “You know, they depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands. They need things like contraception, health care, and they love to talk about equal pay.” The not subtle implication here was that the only kind of woman who deserves consideration in our society is a woman who is financially dependent on a husband—in other words, a traditional housewife. It’s this mentality that leads to wanting to make contraception a consumer purchase item, available only to women who meet the impossibly high standard of securing a marriage to a man who makes enough money to run a household on his salary alone. (Watters also implied that even women who work full time and live independently are “dependent”—as if our employers are our daddies—but that’s something to unpack in another piece.)

So while Sen. Ayotte was trying to position the Republicans as not inherently anti-contraception with this bill, it’s important to be wary. The effort is part and parcel of a larger attempt to separate contraception from mainstream medicine, to reclassify it not as a medical service but as a consumer product like iPhones or nice shoes. This, in turn, will make it easier to chip away at contraception access, pushing the idea that, like these other fancy consumer goods, it should only be available to those who have the spare cash for “luxury” goods.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte

  • jruwaldt

    This is typical Republican/Libertarian talk: “The government shouldn’t prevent people from buying things; they just need to use their own money.” It’s the current version of class privilege: people don’t deserve what they can’t afford, even if getting them those things will cost less in the long run.

    • Amanda Marcotte

      Of course, one problem is they rejected a bill that would, in fact, allow people to buy contraception with their “own money”, or at least their own insurance benefits.

  • StealthGaytheist

    They really do want to make contraception (like abortion) something only the privileged and wealthy can access. There’s no better way to keep the poor down than keep them breeding and raising babies they can’t afford.

    • fiona64

      Sometimes I think that’s their idea of an answer to the unemployment problem. If women are all barefoot and pregnant at home, men can have all of the ‘lucrative’ jobs that are being selfishly taken up by women who don’t “know their place.”

      • Unicorn Farm

        I absolutely think this is part of it. As we witnessed in the Great Plague of MRAs that recently descended upon the land/ RHRC, many of their grievances arise out of fear and resentment that they are losing power (economic, social, reproductive). It must have been a lot easier to find good work when you didn’t have to compete with women and POC.

        • Shan

          Yeah. Hrrr…. O.o

          Hate to think of it that way but…yeah. The virulence of the MRAs is the same sort as you find with the racists screaming at all the (for instance) border children to “go back to Mexico!” because “Jesus wouldn’t break the law!”

          Somewhere, there’s a Venn diagram outlining the white male privilege that encompasses both the women and the non-whites who benefit from it.

          • fiona64

            Little Dudebro MRA is completely privilege-blind … just like most people who benefit from their privilege.

          • Thinker

            Interesting. How does one arrive at having ‘privilege’ in the first place? Where did it start?

          • Shan
          • Thinker

            From that site:

            “Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class”

            But what led to that circumstance? What happened way back in order to arrive at that conclusion?

          • Shan

            I’m pretty sure that’s covered on the FEM101 site as well. It’s not my job to walk you through thousands of years of history and this isn’t really the forum for it.

          • fiona64

            Obvious troll is obvious …

          • Thinker

            Perhaps its best to not reveal that information.

          • catseye

            MRA’s are to ALL women what the KKK and their ilk is to ALL people of color.

          • Shan

            Eh, I dunno enough about it to really agree or disagree with that since it seems rather a broad statement. My only real experience with MRA dudes is the influx we had here a couple of weeks ago after they had their “historic” conference in Detroit but it makes me kind of inclined to agree with you even though I hope I’m wrong. A bunch of dudebros from AVfM, including Paul Melam himself of “You see, I find you, as a feminist, to be a loathsome, vile piece of human garbage. I find you so pernicious and repugnant that the idea of fucking your shit up gives me an erection” fame, started posting crazy shit on an article here at RHRC about the conference. I believe one of the posters actually expressed the desire to do physical violence to me because I basically called him an entitled crybaby because he seemed to be saying that young college men are oppressed on campuses where women’s groups exist.

            Thankfully, I have even less experience with KKK-ers.

          • catseye

            They have this whole bullsh!t script they use. One comes on a site like RHRC or AlterNet and post something preposterous; then when some reasonable person tries to debunk their claims, they demand “proof, which they then refuse to accept. From there, it devolves into the sort of cr.ap that Elam @-hole posted. You can set your clock by it.

        • BelligerentBruncher

          Speaking of competing for work….

          I mean, we know that college enrollment and graduation has shifted so that more women than men are getting through. What would you like done to fix this inequality?

          • lady_black

            Nothing CAN be done to fix it.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            Why not? Why don’t we set affirmative action quotas for men since they are obviously disadvantaged in terms of college admission?

            Surely affirmative action will work.

          • Unicorn Farm

            I’m really not interested in taking your bait right now. It’s impressive how many assumptions you managed to pack into this post.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            “Oh no, I don’t have a good enough reply to this one. I know I’m a lawyer, but I really need to be able to think more quickly when he stumps me like he did….” — UnicornFarm

          • Unicorn Farm

            You can stamp your feet all you want. Says more about you than me.

        • Thinker

          Well yes. If there is more supply of labor, wages for everyone declines and that forces even more people into the labor pool. Then how do the kids get raised?

          • Unicorn Farm

            “Then how do the kids get raised?”

            Be careful when you clutch your pearls so hard that you don’t break them.

          • lady_black

            LOL. Idiot.

      • StealthGaytheist

        Agreed.

      • paganheart

        BINGO!!!! Yes, this, exactly. I have head such sentiments from some older male relatives, that the reason that men can’t find “good jobs” anymore is because women took them all away, all because “those g*dd*mned women’s libbers” told women that they needed to go out and get jobs instead of staying home and “being good wives and mothers like they’re supposed to.” There are a frightening number of men, and a few women, who believe such sentiments. And even worse, they vote in Every. Single. Election….

  • Siddall

    I imagine a follow-up bill would involve requiring a husband’s note before a doctor can prescribe birth control.

    • fiona64

      Don’t give them any ideas; as it was, 21 years ago my husband had to sign documentation that he was aware I was obtaining a tubal ligation and that it was acceptable for me to do so.

      • Shan

        FFS, only 21 years ago?

        • lady_black

          It’s part of the law for people getting federal benefits. Including military, by the way. It doesn’t apply to everyone.

          • fiona64

            Actually, the 30-day waiting period I also had to endure was part of the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan I had at the time. The “permission slip” was a requirement of the state where I lived. I do not know whether or not that is still the case.

          • Shan

            Did the same apply to men seeking a vasectomy?

          • fiona64

            I have absolutely no idea.

    • Chris Ranmore

      Here in the UK I had to get my wife’s signature to get a vasectomy from the National Health Service. The doctor was vague about what would happen if she had refused but said one reason was to ensure she knew about it! I guess there are some men who would try do it secretly but it would be hard to explain the ice packs…

      • Shan

        Interesting. I’m not sure what I think about that “permission slip” idea, either for vasectomies or tubal ligations.

        • RNfromNY

          Seems like it would be a violation of HIPPA laws in America. If this is still in effect, someone should sue. Male or female, we are both entitled to bodily autonomy.

  • Shan

    ““Our bill will reaffirm that no employer can prohibit an employee from
    purchasing an FDA-approved drug or medical device,” she said.”

    Wait, what? Employers could never do that anyway. I can’t even…Why do they think a bill is necessary to tell employers they STILL have no way of prohibiting their employees from purchasing birth control?

    • Unicorn Farm

      Exactly. This sentence, and the bill it represents, is completely meaningless.
      It’s the legislative tautology of the straw-man response that “you can just buy it yourself, Hobby Lobby isn’t preventing you from spending your money on it”.

      • Shan

        “Hobby Lobby isn’t preventing you from spending your money on it”.”

        Yeah, they’re just making their employees spend their money on it TWICE. Once via the same insurance premiums they’re still going to have to pay even after contraception isn’t covered anymore, and then again when they have to pay for their contraception out of pocket.

        WHO has the “substantial burden” here, again?

        • BelligerentBruncher

          Here’s a thought experiment for you.

          My insurance doesn’t cover vision, therefore I choose to purchase glasses from Costco, by myself.

          Am I spending my money on glasses TWICE?

          • Thinker

            The actual cost is not the main driver here. This matter is far more political than it is economic.

          • cjvg

            Nope it is religious.

          • cjvg

            We went over this before, however you seem to prefer to argue from a dishonest easily refuted position.
            Do they only prohibit MEN from having prescription glasses coverage or is it all people who have the same coverage as you ?

            Are you denied coverage for your prescription glasses because of your employers religious views on the need to correct weak eyesight so you can function fully

            And here is another little thought for you, do your glasses run out, do you have to refill them each 6 months or each year? If you do not get your glasses can that lead to insurmountable health bills, social stigma, loss of your job, severe health consequences and/or death?

            I’m sure that you are going to resort to claiming that you must drive and can not take public transport or carpool since no one lives in where you live, and thus would kill yourself or some other far fetched completely unsupportable nonsense as usual. However the lengths that you go to clearly illustrated the idiocy of your “ethics”

          • BelligerentBruncher

            You think men and women are biologically identical. That’s cute.

            ” If you do not get your glasses can that lead to insurmountable health bills, social stigma, loss of your job, severe health consequences and/or death?”

            Yes.

          • cjvg

            No women and men are not biologically identical, is that why you find it acceptable to NOT cover the single most used female prescription drug?

            Equal treatment does not mean that the genders are biologically identical (but you know that already, your are just desperately trying to ignore that), merely that both genders have their prescription drugs covered by the insurance they pay for!

            Please explain why not having your glasses covered leads to insurmountable health bills, social stigma, loss of your job, severe health consequences and/or death, I would like to see what other nonsensical “argument” you are able to gather out of thin air

          • BelligerentBruncher

            You’re right. Seeing is for stupid people. I’d rather just be blind.

          • cjvg

            So you can’t even come up with one reasonable argument, how sad!
            Of course seeing is for stupid people, just like not wanting to be pregnant every year or not wanting to have 19 kids and counting is only for stupid women. Because we all know that the majority of men rather have sex alone or with another man, right little bruncher

          • Shan

            “My insurance doesn’t cover vision, therefore I choose to purchase glasses from Costco, by myself.”

            Try a little thought experiment yourself:

            Your insurance NEVER covered vision. The cost of it is not included in the premiums you or anybody else pays. Therefore, you only pay for for your glasses ONCE.

            Prescription contraceptive drugs and devices are covered on the vast majority of employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The SCOTUS just gave employers with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to drop not only coverage for those drugs and devices but for the physician visits required to GET them in the first place. So unless the insurance premiums are going to go down by the cost of these drugs, devices and physician visits on plans that *no longer* include the contraception coverage they once had, then the employees who end up paying for them out of pocket ARE going to be paying for them twice.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            You don’t quite understand that the Obamacare contraception mandate is a new thing.

            You know that, right?

          • Shan

            The contraception mandate isn’t new. Over half the states already had what’s called “contraceptive equity” laws on the books.

            You know that, right?

            Nice job ignoring everything else I said.

      • L-dan

        It’s a childish response to the Dem. bill they killed. The Legislative equivalent of internet comments saying “pay for your own pills!” Disgusting to watch the folks supposedly running the country behaving with less maturity than I expect of our students here.

        • Unicorn Farm

          They should call it the “No one’s stopping you from paying for it yourself!!1″ Act.
          *headdesk*

  • vulgarism

    Penis pumps = health care

    Not wanting to be pregnant = anti-health

    Since pregnancy = the natural state that women should be in, duh.

  • Nicko Thime

    Yeah. No war on women. Sure thing,. Whatever you say.

  • BelligerentBruncher

    Make the pill OTC!!

    • vulgarism
      • BelligerentBruncher

        love it….need moarkittykats

    • lady_black

      NO!!

    • fiona64
      • BelligerentBruncher
        • fiona64

          That is interesting information for which I thank you. However, I suspect that the majority of women are not that good at self-screening for contraindications. ::shrug:: I prefer to make such decisions in conjunction with a health care professional.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            Nobody would stop people from making the decision in conjunction with a health care provider just like nobody stops someone who is told to take OTC baby aspirin to work in conjunction with their healthcare provider if they experience side effects or have problems.

            “I suspect that the majority of women are not that good at self-screening for contraindications”

            This was specifically addressed in the article under the section “Ability of Nonphysicians to Screen for Contraindications.”

        • Shan

          Great! And what happens when it’s NOT available OTC and employers have been given legal permission to not even have their company health insurance policies pay for education/referral/checkups to do with any of it? People will be paying the same health insurance premiums as they were before but also have to pay out of pocket for not just the prescriptions but the physician visits required to get the prescriptions written in the first place.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            “And what happens when it’s NOT available OTC”

            Why wouldn’t it be available OTC?

            And I’m not even going to address your other points because they just make you seem like the only reason you don’t want it OTC is because you don’t want to pay for it. And frankly that is demeaning to the struggle for “access” to contraception and just makes you look like a cheapskate.

          • Shan

            “you seem like the only reason you don’t want it OTC is because you don’t want to pay for it.”

            You keep saying that and it STILL keeps not being true at all.

          • Thinker

            Its better for it not to be OTC so that it can be shown that society embraces female sexual liberation via everyone contributing to its cost.

          • Shan

            What does that even mean?

          • Thinker

            If everyone pays into a pool that covers BC pills, then that is a step to acceptability and the normalizing of their use. Its great social engineering.

          • Shan

            Contraception already IS normal and acceptable and the vast majority of health insurance plans already DO cover it. No social engineering necessary.

          • fiona64

            Hey, dummy? Contraception already *is* normal and acceptable. No social engineering involved.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Given that over 95% of women have used them at some point, I would say they are already normal. Have you been living under a rock?

  • KristenfromMA

    Don’t be fooled by the dog and pony show; Ayotte is no moderate.

  • lady_black

    We don’t need a bill stating that you can buy what you want with your own money. Just what I’ve come to expect from republicans… nothing that we need. No bill that they could ever come up with would be more useless if they were actually holding a “Uselessness Contest.”

  • fiona64

    By reducing birth control to a consumer product, Republicans can push
    the idea that “consequence-free sex” is a luxury item, like a nice car
    or designer jeans—something reserved for the well-off, instead of
    necessary medical care that should be available and affordable to all.

    Anyone besides me notice that it’s only female hormonal contraception that’s viewed as a luxury? I actually had some idiot anti-choice male idiot tell me that contraception is a “lifestyle drug for women” (unlike, you know, Viagra, which he argued was medically necessary because men who can’t get woodies might get depressed — seriously, that was his position) and should not be covered by any insurance at all.

    Unbelievable. I am so sick and tired of anti-choice politicians “playing doctor” in this manner.

    • lady_black

      Women with unwanted pregnancies are bound to be depressed.

      • Ella Warnock

        Yeah, well, those women (s!uts!!!) who won’t accept gawd’s greatest gift with unfettered joy are goin’ ta hay-ull. True story.

    • Thinker

      Viagra should not be covered by insurance that others are contributing to. There are so many ads online selling that stuff for next to nothing anyways.

      • fiona64

        Viagra is actually a cardiac med that was found to have the side effect of causing erections. It was sold off-label for that purpose for a long time before obtaining FDA approval for erectile dysfunction.

        And clue-time: *everyone* contributes to insurance pools. Period.

      • Shan

        “Viagra should not be covered by insurance that others are contributing to.”

        Why ever not? Women get HRT drugs covered for sometimes similar reasons.

      • paganheart

        Yeah, and everyone knows that you can trust anyone trying to sell you something over the internet, no one would ever sell you something illegal or fake. Riiiiiiight….

        http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2014/06/06/phoenix-man-fake-viagra-abrk/10097075/

  • Thinker

    It is critical that everyone contribute to the pool that covers BC pills as they concern avoiding pregnancy and its even more critical that they know they are contributing to it. Cost is only one aspect of this issue.

  • marty59

    I remember as a young boy my mother and grandmother crying tears of joy to the Roe v Wade decision and the conversations about mom and grandma being present holding the hands of young women as they literally bleed to death from botched illegal abortions and the dire poverty women withstood during the great depression when their children starved. Yeah, GOP, “the good old days”
    That conversation has never left me. I’m utterly loath to listen to anti-choice people and their utter ignorance and hypocrisy.

  • catseye

    This prole woman has been speaking out since Saint Ronnie first got elected, and I ain’t gonna stop.

  • Rosslaw

    And all the while pretending to be upset that the ACA supposedly gets between a doctor and patient relationship. More right-wing sharia law on the way.

  • RNfromNY

    Chip, chip, chiping away at abortion rights has lead to drastically fewer abortion clinics in the south. If women are not vigilant, we will all be paying full price for birth control very soon. Religious employer or not.