States' Rights: Don't Grab Our Birth Control

Tanja Giessler   

Tanja Giessler


According to a draft regulation leaked last week, the White House is planning to curb the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control mandate. The birth control mandate of the ACA stipulated that birth control be covered by insurers at no cost to the patient. The new rule would allow broad exemptions from the birth control mandate by only having to cite vague moral or religious objections. In response, many states are pursuing their own ‘contraceptive equity’ laws to ensure the moral abyss of the White House does not put their own respective societies at risk.

Across the country, 28 states have or are pursuing some type of ‘contraceptive equity’ law designed to enable broader and cheaper access to birth control. Last Saturday, the Republican Governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, signed a measure requiring insurers to cover 12 months of birth control at a time, with no co-payment. This came after months of pressure from women’s health advocates on their state legislators.

In Washington last month, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that required insurers to cover a supply of contraceptives for a year at a time, rather than the previous period of three months. This week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper did the same. Massachusetts is currently looking at similar bills and in New York, attorney general Eric Schneiderman has proposed a piece of legislation that goes even further. Schneiderman seeks coverage for all forms of birth control without co-payments and at no cost to the patient, which would include vasectomies (something the ACA does not). The bill was successful in the New York Assembly and awaits vote in the state senate.

The reason the White House can propose this rule change is because it’s not exactly a change of rules, but rather a change of the interpretation of the rules. The ACA does not explicitly state that insurers have to provide free birth control; it demanded ‘preventative services’ and interpreted this as including 18 birth control methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The ACA has suffered an absurd amount of legislative attacks, some of which have rolled back its effectiveness. For instance, a 2014 Supreme Court decision stated that family-owned businesses could not be forced to supply contraceptive coverage if it was against the owner’s religious beliefs.

Now the White House is able to make a much narrower interpretation of ‘preventative services.’ This policy is basically a high-interest loan for the government. In exchange for a small saving now, they are agreeing to suffer the much larger costs that welfare and medical agencies will incur as a result of more teenage pregnancies, higher abortion rates, and a huge population of child rearing citizens at higher risk of financial and professional insecurity.

While many states are rushing to ensure their women are protected, just as many are not. It will surprise few to find out which states are which in this dichotomy. It will surprise even fewer that the states that are not stepping up to protect their citizens carry the absolutist opinion that any decision in favor of small federal government is a good thing. However, this is not a victory for small government and states’ rights. There is indeed a false paradox present for states’ rights advocates in situations such as these. Because for Republicans, this is a classic false small-government ploy. On the surface they say: “If you don’t want to provide contraception, you don’t have to.” But all this does is feed the illusion that some vague individual freedom reigns as a result.

Indeed that is precisely the facile ‘small-government’ perception the Republicans seek to inspire here. The Republican ‘hands-off’ routine has been a common aspect of their magic show since at least the administration of Reagan. They pretend to take a government hand from something they should in fact have a hand on, but is nonetheless controversial. Then like a magician with a deck of cards, and with the public distracted by the free hand, the other is manipulating something they shouldn’t be touching, like Saudi Arabia.

In the example of contraception, the Republicans pretend to pursue small government policies but in fact only absolve themselves of guilt by putting the blame on business owners. You have to give credit to Republicans though; they have a low opinion of the American people and it serves them well. They force business owners to make a decision between their capitalistic and monetary greed, and the societal contraceptive needs of their workers. The Republicans count on the people to choose the former, and hemorrhage the latter, which considering it is society itself, appears to be a very deft, sleight of hand form of betrayal.

While it is good to know some states are doing their part. It is not occasion to avoid the intellectual crux of the matter: There are no moral or religious grounds for objection or exemption. The grasp of your religion reaches no farther than your own mind. Your religious beliefs, whatever they may be, are powerless to impact the lives of others. This is not opinion - your religion is confined to the perimeters of your imagination, that notion is unchallengeable. Subsequently, this is reflected in the wall of separation provided by the constitution. Indeed the American Civil Liberties Union is already preparing a challenge on this basis, as according to deputy legal director Louise Melling in an interview with Vox: “The right to religious freedom gives you a right to beliefs but doesn’t give you a right to impose those beliefs on others. There are fundamental principles at stake here.”

Furthermore, there is no moral argument that can be mounted against contraception, which does not, by account of its abstractness, outweigh the palpable and observable suffering created by the lack of preventative care. When it comes to suffering, which is the core concern of moral questions, it cannot be said contraception causes more suffering than its absence.

If the draft proposal goes through, many American women, especially the poor, would have to pay out of their shallow pockets for their medication. If you’re a man reading this, like I am writing it, and like those wandering absent-mindedly around the White House, it may surprise you to find out just how expensive such medications are. Circumstances differ of course, but even a modest analysis, such as that of the Hart Research Associates in 2014 found that one in three women voters – including 55 percent of young women – struggled to afford birth control. Hence why the Institute of Medicine and virtually every other medical association worth its weight in stethoscopes, recommends preventative care be covered.

In other buoying government related health news: Last Tuesday, The White House announced that the legendary Francis Collins will stay on in his role as director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins is best known for the complete sequencing of the human genome. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R – Tenn.), said in a statement that Collins' retention is “good news for the country and one of President Trump’s best appointments.” Considering Collins has been in charge of the Institute since 2009, and is rightfully the only geneticist most Americans could name, commending Trump on the appointment is like commending the Cleveland Cavaliers for not dropping Lebron James. It is a sad state of affairs for congressional republicans when they are so desperate to find things to commend their leader on, that it wouldn’t surprise anybody if Paul Ryan held a press conference tomorrow to commend Donald Trump for not yet taking a dump on the Resolute Desk.

Clearly, the ability of the government to administer and direct health-related policy is being mortgaged by their impotency in following through on the litany of their failed campaign promises. If only to hold up a neon sign of their impotence, they’ve decided to once again go after the rights of women. It may not happen simultaneously across the country, but this action has and will see the government receive a good slap for its troubles.