Does Free Birth Control Stand A Chance?

In this year of the War On Women, it seems that finally there's a glimmer of hope that maybe the government doesn't actually hate us after all. A non-partisan panel of experts has recommended that several women's services be counted as "preventative care" under the newly enacted health care reform law.

A panel from the Institute of Medicine on Tuesday gave the Health and Human Services Department a list of eight services for women it said should qualify as preventive care, including contraception, HIV screening and support for breast-feeding mothers. Under President Obama's health care reform package, insurers are required to fully cover the cost of preventive care in most cases.

You read that right: Insurance plans would fully cover birth control, as mandated by Uncle Sam. Goodbye, co-pays.

The presidents of NARAL and Planned Parenthood have enthusiastically endorsed the recommendations, but hold your horses on the frolicking — it's not yet clear if the Obama administration will adopt them. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius will make a decision about the panel's report soon. In the meantime, she issued this meatless statement:

"Before today, guidelines regarding women's health and preventive care did not exist," she said. "These recommendations are based on science and existing literature and I appreciate the hard work and thoughtful analysis that went into this report."

Hooray! Guidelines that we're now free to ignore!

Of course, detractors could argue that sexual activity is a lifestyle choice, and that elective actions by individuals shouldn't be covered by taxpayers. When you follow that line of thinking much further, however, it becomes more and more absurd. Nearly every single health issue is the result of a choice or series of choices. Skin cancer? You shouldn't have gone in the sun. Heart disease? You shouldn't have eaten so many french fries. Hit by bus? What were you doing crossing the street? It's not my job, as a taxpayer, to subsidize the choices of rampant pedestrians!

Providing birth control to sexually active women reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus the need for abortions. Remaining unpregnant is always less costly than having a baby and caring for it for 18 years, and I've yet to hear a coherent argument against government-subsidized birth control that doesn't devolve into moralizing and mysticism. On the heels of the announcement, the Family Research Council issued the following nonsensical statement,

"If HHS includes these mandates, the conscience rights of millions of Americans will be violated, including issuers of plans, providers who contract with such plans, and Americans who will pay for the cost of these services," Monahan said in a statement. "HHS should focus on items and services that prevent actual diseases, and not include controversial services just to placate the abortion industry."

I don't even know where to begin. "Conscience rights?" The fuck? I am morally opposed to both the war in Afghanistan and paying for Dick Cheney's steampunk heart, but I'm not within my rights to refuse to pay taxes. Likewise, it's absurd to suggest that medical professionals somehow have a right to not do their jobs. I'm afraid of needles; can I become a nurse who sits at the front desk filing her nails all day and not drawing any blood?

People who become pharmacists but refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or the morning after pill (or anything else related to wanton women's harlotry) because God sez they shouldn't have to are like pilots who refuse to fly over bodies of water because they're pretty sure Poseidon is mad at them. Their moral qualms are not my problem.

Furthermore, wouldn't accessible, reliable birth control reduce the number of abortions? Wouldn't it harm the mythical "abortion industry" that anti-choicers love to invoke?

While the non-partisan panel's recommendation that birth control and other female-specific health procedures qualify as "preventative care" may seem heartening, I'm not getting my hopes up. I'm assuming that if the Obama administration puts its stamp of approval on these recommendations, thus mandating that taxpayers foot the bill for The Pill, it will unleash a wave of crazy screeching Bachmannalia and the streets will run red, white, and blue, with the blood of misspelled protest signs. The good old US of A has a long history of ignoring facts in favor of personal beliefs; after all, only 40% of people believe in evolution, and there are still some who think our President was born in Kenya.

Should the Government Cover Birth Control Costs? [CBS]