Today’s WTF: Birth control isn’t a health care issue? Really?

After several sponsors jumped ship in the past few days, Rush Limbaugh has apologized (well, sort of) for his comments on the character of law student Sandra Fluke, but the war of words over contraceptive health care coverage rages on. The debate over contraceptive coverage began as a discussion about what obligations and freedoms religious-affiliated organizations should have in providing this type of coverage to their employees. That argument was worth having, and it resulted in changes to the law that would better accommodate employers who have religious objections to birth control. However, thanks to media figures like Limbaugh, the debate has now morphed into one that is far more dangerous, because it is based on a rejection of the fact that birth control is a valid part of comprehensive health care coverage for women.

Some pundits have labeled the use of birth control as a “lifestyle choice” that should not be covered by insurance plans. However, this is not about “getting paid to have sex”. It is a simple matter of making sure that health care insurance does not play favorites by ignoring certain issues that are unique to women’s health. Although so many in the media (including Mr. Limbaugh and his fellow right-wing mouthpiece, Glenn Beck) have voiced concern that employers are supporting “loose morals” by providing contraceptive coverage, this is a distraction tactic that does not ring true. Women who are married need and use contraception just as much as single women do, and framing it as “paying for promiscuity” shows a certain ignorance of how important birth control is to all women who are trying to be responsible for their own good health.

It amazes me that those who are making the most noise about this topic are the very people who seem to understand it least. Question for the middle aged white guys out there: shouldn’t you have at least an elementary grasp on a topic before you go off and rant about it in public? Oy. Alrighty then, it’s time for some basic facts about women and birth control. Yes, I realize this a lot of this will seem obvious to many of you, but bear with me here, people. I’m laying it all down for those who somehow missed Biology 101 (and the past 40 years of public discussion about contraception).

As has already been pointed out in numerous discussions about the issue, some types of birth control are used for the treatment of legitimate medical conditions, including endometriosis and perimenopausal symptoms. But aside from those therapeutic uses, other arguments can be made for the role contraception plays in women’s health. Just as regular mammograms are understood to be a basic preventative health care tool, contraception should be looked upon as an essential preventative measure as well. Women who look out for their own health must be careful about when and how often they become pregnant, and they need birth control to help regulate these pregnancies.

Also, older women must be more cautious about becoming pregnant. After a certain age, many women run a much greater risk of dealing with difficult or dangerous pregnancies, or birth defects. Birth control is an essential preventative tool for them to use in order to responsibly maintain their own health to the best of their ability.

Women often choose to use oral contraceptives rather than other forms of birth control, because research has demonstrated that they can be beneficial in other ways, as well. The use of birth control pills has been shown to reduce the occurrence of endometrial, ovarian and colorectal cancers. It helps to lower the chances of anemia, and it helps to correct bone loss and increase bone mass, among other documented health benefits.

It defies common sense to suggest that women should not expect coverage for medication that assists them in leading healthier lives. Many insurance plans cover preventative prescription medication for conditions including high cholesterol, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes. In order to provide truly equitable care for women, any plan that covers such medications should also include contraception in their coverage.

While each side rages over their selected talking points, the facts remain unchanged. Contraception is commonly included in the comprehensive health care coverage provided by most insurers, and there is a legitimate reason for that. Birth control helps all women – married and single, religious and non-religious – to better maintain their long-term health and well-being. Regardless of your individual faith or political affiliation, it makes no sense to deny the fact that contraception plays a valid and valuable role in preventative health care for women. Unless, of course, you’re a conservative talk-show blowhard who benefits financially from saying laughably ignorant things to provoke people and get ratings. In that case, it makes perfect sense.

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7 thoughts on “Today’s WTF: Birth control isn’t a health care issue? Really?

  1. Your post is a great rational discussion of what has become an irrational contest of wills which, I believe, are based on a simple definition problem. I’ve been trying to determine a good way to begin a blog discussion myself on the topic of ‘birth control’ and ‘contraceptive’ medicine. But, the discussion isn’t really about that, is it?

    I think the problem lies in not properly categorizing the medicines to begin with. A drug is a drug, and may have many uses far beyond the intended use by doctors. Take the drug Cymbalta as a single example with many more possible examples available. I am taking Cymbalta, a drug originally intended for the treatment of serious depression, for the unintended treatment of diabetic neuropathy (pain all over my body). If the insurance company had said that the drug was only intended for depression and my neuropathy doesn’t fit, then I would not be able to afford the proper medicine for myself.

    In this debate about insurance companies providing ‘contraceptives’ to women as a health care issue, I think many people are getting hung up on the word ‘contraceptive’ as a classification of the medicine. Indeed, there are a lot of meds out there that cause a woman to not experience pregnancy. But, those meds have many other uses… The classification system is wrong.

    On a side note… Assuming those meds were ONLY for the use of contraception, why has no one brought up the argument that vasectomies are traditionally covered by insurance companies? A vasectomy, to my understanding, is never used specifically for the purpose of improving a man’s health, but only to prevent pregnancy. What’s good for the gander, must be as good for the goose.

    • Thanks Tim – and you make a great point about classification of medicines. The crossover effects that many phamaceuticals have aren’t really taken into account when most people render judgement on how necessary they are to the well-being of others. And that ignorance really shows in the comments made by Limbaugh, Beck and others. Thanks again for reading and commenting, I appreciate it!

    • Thanks for the comment! I read your post and thought it was very interesting. I think your point is less to do with contraception specifically and more to do with the idea of mandating health care in general, since some of the arguments you made could apply not only to birth control, but to other commonly prescribed medications as well. That’s another debate entirely, though. My point is not so much about mandates or the health care/insurance system itself. I simply think that, in terms of public discussions on the subject, it has been ridiculous to see people claiming that contraceptives have no medical value to women other than for preventing pregnancies, and that their use should be stigmatized as a sign of promiscuity or some sort of moral failure. When you’re talking about a class of pharmaceuticals that has been legitimately prescribed for conditions ranging from abnormal menopausal symptoms to acne, then any moral bashing of those who use oral contraceptives comes off as an invalid and ignorant argument. And looking at the system as it currently exists, with most insurers already having classified contraception as a preventative medication for years now, the sudden fury over coverage seems ridiculous. The idea of faith-based exemptions is not something I have a problem with, but to start making a blanket statement that contraception is not a valid preventative product and has no place being covered by insurance at all, because it’s a “lifestyle choice”…that’s another thing entirely and one which doesn’t address the reality of the situation.

      • Thank you for reading my post and responding to my comment.

        Yes, I am arguing against health insurance mandates (not the same as health care mandates) in general. It is another debate, but it’s closely related and within the scope of this argument since the contraceptives mandate is of course a health insurance mandate. It’s also relevant since you implicitly assume that contraceptives should be covered by insurance. For example, you say:

        “It defies common sense to suggest that women should not expect coverage for medication that assists them in leading healthier lives.”

        Presumably you mean insurance coverage, in which case you have made an assumption that the predictable expense of contraceptives is something that is properly in the domain of insurance. The fact that contraceptives can provide preventative health care also does not mean that insurance should cover them — auto insurance does not cover preventative auto maintenance because it’s a predictable expense.

        I agree that arguments about contraceptives being a “lifestyle choice” and similar are red herrings.

      • Sorry, one more point: the “war on women” and similar arguments from the left are also red herrings that completely miss the point, just like the “lifestyle choice” argument from the right.

  2. Pingback: What’s Good for the Gander… « Defining My Conservatism

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