I should just make clear here at the beginning that my main interest in and objection to the HHS contraception mandate is that of religious liberty. If the Catholic Church and many Protestant believers did not have a moral objection to contraception and abortifacients, which they are now required by the federal government to provide to employees, this issue would have sailed right by me unnoticed. I simply think that the government encroaching on religious bodies by forcing communities to do that which they find morally reprehensible is wrong, regardless of whether or not I agree with the particular stance of those religious communities. The Amish should not be forced to buy televisions. An orthodox Jew should not be forced to provide my daughter with a baptismal gown. A Muslim woman should not be forced by the government to wear or not wear hijab. This so-called ‘compromise’ seems to do little to address the concerns of those most marginalized by this mandate. For reasons why see a helpful summary by my friend, Fr. John Baker, here.
But, putting all that aside, there is something else that has bothered me about this broad conversation regarding contraception and federal mandates: The near constant refrain from those in support of the mandate that contraception is necessary for a woman’s health, inferring that somehow if you oppose this mandate, you are for making women less healthy. Since when did disease prevention and pregnancy prevention come to be regarded as the same thing?
I was a strong supporter of universal healthcare. It was one of the reasons that I voted for Obama in the last election. We even put a ‘Healthcare for All’ bumper sticker on our car. I still believe in that. Our insurance and healthcare system are broken and this failure has affected many whom I love dearly.
But instances where contraception is somehow medically necessary for women are extremely rare. In reality, oral contraception has been shown to raise a woman’s risk of stroke and breast cancer. We are mandating ‘healthcare’ that makes women less healthy. So let’s be honest, this mandate isn’t about preventing or healing illness in women, this is about ensuring that women can have satisfying sexual experiences while avoiding the natural results of those experiences.
I am all for women having dynamite sexual experiences, but I don’t see how this is such an inalienable right that the government must trample all other commitments to ensure that we do. And if this mandate is really about the government providing sexual freedom to women under the name ‘health care’, then where will it end? If we want to ensure that those adults who want to have sex can whenever they’d like, why not mandate free access to Viagra? Or, if we equate pregnancy prevention with disease prevention, why do we not also see the provision of children to those who desire them, necessary for the ‘health’ of women? Ought we mandate free access to fertility treatments and IVF, even though the latter most often involves some sort of abortive measure?
If we confuse prevention of disease and prevention of pregnancy, there is really no end to what we can mandate as long as we call it “healthcare.”
The other thing that I find absurd about this confusion is that it equates having a baby and having a disease. I am unashamedly a feminist. I think that women’s bodies are amazing and ought to be celebrated, and I can think of little less pro-woman than equating a healthy woman’s body doing the miraculous work that it naturally does with ‘disease’.
I get that many people have no problem with contraception or abortifacients. I am not saying that all women should not use contraception. I’ve used it myself. I am saying, however, that if one chooses to use contraception, which is, by definition, non-essential for health, that one should pay for it. If one does not want to pay for it, there is absolutely free pregnancy prevention available to them: a) abstinence and b) Fertility Awareness Method, which every woman in America needs to learn if for no other reason than you will be far more in touch with your body than you would otherwise. Read about it here.
Among women, particularly educated women, the new trend is to battle to remove the historic stigma of pregnancy and women’s fertility. We are into showing our baby bumps proudly and having our babies naturally. There’s a push (which I’ve been part of) to allow women to breastfeed publically for as many years as we and our babies would like to and to provide women with employment alternatives that support breastfeeding and infant care. We can’t have it both ways, ladies. We can’t ask the culture to applaud and respect our fertile, life-producing capabilities when we want children, and regard them as pathological and deleterious to our health when we do not.
[I posted an update in the comments].