Birth control more than pregnancy prevention

Columnist and Columnist

This week a debate on reproductive rights has been the focus of national conversation.

This comes after President Obama announced this past month that the mandate that all women have free access to oral contraception devices through their health insurance will be enforced, beginning Aug. 1 of this year, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The debate comes from religious employers, such as Catholic hospitals and schools.

The Catholic religion (among others) believes using any device to prevent pregnancy is wrong and oral contraceptives like Plan B and other morning-after pills are tantamount to abortion.

So the question then becomes this: Is this new mandate merely insuring that all women – regardless of income or employment status – are equally given the same choice in their own health care, or is this a breach of the separation of church and state doctrine based on the requirement of religious organizations to provide health services, with which they are morally opposed?

In 2011, a study titled “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills” by Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute – an institute that studies and advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights – found that while preventing pregnancy is the No. 1 reason women take birth control pills (86 percent), it isn’t the only reason.

The study found other reasons women use oral contraceptives include “reducing cramps or menstrual pain (31 percent), menstrual regulation (28 percent), treatment of acne (14 percent) and treatment of endometriosis (4 percent).”

Additionally, it found that some 762,000 women who have never had sex use the pill, and they do so almost exclusively (99 percent) for non-contraceptive reasons.

So then is it moral to deny these women medication that helps them be healthier and enjoy a higher quality of life?

As far as the debate over morning-after pills being, so-called, pharmaceutically induced abortion, the question is one that my colleague Mathew Davoli asked in a recent column: When does life actually begin?

In my opinion, life begins at the age of viability, that is to say the age when the baby can survive on its own outside of its mother’s womb. There is no “set” age that this happens, however, the general consensus is babies born at 24 weeks (approximately six months) usually have a 50-70 percent chance of survival once out of the womb.

After getting a lot of heat from religious organizations and conservatives of all stripes – spurred on, of course, by right-wing political pundits like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh – Obama announced Friday that religious organizations will not have to provide oral contraceptives for their employees.

He said the insurance companies used by such employers, instead, will have to provide oral contraceptives with no co-payment or pre-existing condition needed to qualify.

Nevertheless, the right-wing, anything-Obama-does-is-wrong crowd says this compromise by the president amounts to little more than a technicality that still forces employers morally opposed to the mandate to pay for oral contraceptives by paying for the insurance coverage.

I have to say, they have a point.

This mandate does require them to have health insurance in a place that covers services in which their religion does not believe – though I think it is fair to note that several Catholic-affiliated organizations, such as the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities, have issued statements in support of the president’s compromise.

It does not, however, mandate that women affiliated with said religious beliefs actually make use of this service.

Any woman who’s morally opposed to birth control just simply doesn’t have to use it.

But where do you draw the line?

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it is wrong to have a blood transfusion, so if the religious employer argument stands, they could feasibly argue they should not have to pay for insurance plans that cover any type of blood transfusion for anyone, even if the service could be refused by a patient of that faith.

The same would be true for Scientologists and chemotherapy as a cancer treatment. And how many other employers would suddenly “gain religion” as a way to deny any expensive medical coverage to employees?

And finally, I would think that anyone who is morally opposed to abortion would be all for the use of more contraceptives.

More contraceptives do, after all, prevent more unwanted pregnancies and thus prevent more abortions.

Bill Clinton once famously said that abortion should be “rare, safe and legal.”

Right now this is the case, and this mandate will help ensure it stays that way.


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