A Libertarian, Feminist take on the birth control mandate: pro access, not pro mandate

Improving access to birth control has been vital in helping women participate in the workforce how and when they choose to do so.

Yet today, many forms of birth control remain difficult and expensive to obtain, even for women with health insurance.  Currently, many insurance plans cover Viagra and not birth control. So it’s understandable that many women would be excited about a mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance that covers birth control.

But being pro access doesn’t necessarily mean being pro mandate. There are three important reasons this mandate actually causes more problems than it solves.

First, the mandate applies to organizations run by people who do not support birth control. It forces employers, for example, Catholic charities, to spend donation money from practicing Catholics to provide health insurance that covers birth control. This is a clear violation of religious liberty and one that if allowed to stand threatens religious freedom for everyone going forward.

As backwards as the Catholic stance may seem to you, it’s important to protect religious liberty, even, and especially, if it’s the liberty is to do things that don’t make sense to you. No one is forcing women to work at Catholic charities, and no one should force those charities to pay for products they find repugnant.

Second, these kinds of mandates just further strengthen the tie between full-time employment and health insurance. Women are less likely to work full-time than men, so they are less likely to benefit from employer-provided insurance. Keeping insurance tied to employment limits women’s access to it, and keeps many women dependent on their husbands for coverage. A much better solution would be one that helped untangle that government-created knot.

Third, when the government pays for something, or forces someone else to, meddling is seldom far behind. We barely have an insurance mandate in place and they’re already telling employers exactly what their insurance has to cover. Do you really want them telling you what birth control you have to take, and how often? Don’t think it could happen? It already has.

Currently, low-cost birth control, whether through insurance, Medicaid or NGOs like Planned Parenthood, is already available to the majority of women. But not every form is cheaply available to every woman yet. The solution to lowering prices and increasing access isn’t using the government to force people to buy it for other people. Untangling health insurance from employment would help the most. Ending the prescription requirement for birth control and encouraging people to donate to NGOs that provide low-cost birth control by making donations tax deductible would also help. Best of all, these initiatives will improve access without violating religious liberty or inviting the government into reproduction. Let’s oppose the mandate not because we oppose access to contraception, but because there’s a better way, with fewer tradeoffs, to get it done.

Update: Here’s a great source on how to increase access to birth control while encouraging freedom and lower prices for all: If We Want Better Health Insurance For All, Why Are We Making It Illegal?

Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

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