Among the latest Trump policies to draw criticism is whether or not healthcare providers should be obliged to cover a portion of the cost of birth control in the same way that other medications are currently covered. Currently, birth control must legally be covered by insurance providers, including employers that provide insurance; this was a measure put in place by the Obama administration in 2012. That policy, however, is now in danger of being reversed as the Trump administration has announced new plans to restrict access to birth control by allowing providers to refuse coverage.
The argument in favor of this change maintains that forcing all employers to provide birth control may encroach on the religious rights of some. The new mandate explicitly states that a provider can refuse to cover birth control by citing religious or moral objections. There are many problems with this policy, one of which being that in reality, the comparison of stakes between disgruntled employers and undercovered employees holds no weight in view of the consequences.
The effect of an employer providing birth control as part of their already existing employee health package is perhaps an annoyance, a muttered obscenity while signing the paperwork; it is highly doubtful that this obligation obstructs daily life in any way. If a woman who uses birth control for contraception or other reproductive reasons cannot afford the medication or lacks access to it, her health could be in danger. The fact that her boss does not believe in birth control could theoretically mean she could not practice her own belief in its effectiveness, potentially at the expense of her wellbeing. There is simply no moral comparison of these two conditions, and religious liberty does not grant the right to interfere with the lives of others in such a significant way.
The idea that a company should be allowed to choose what health benefits it provides to employees on religious grounds seemingly defeats the purpose of forcing employers to provide health benefits at all, and it is unabashedly sexist that this restriction applies exclusively to females.
A 2002 article from ABC News pointed out that only weeks after Viagra hit the market in 1998, more than half of insurance providers covered it. This just reinforces the argument that when it comes to reproductive health, only the rights of women are disputed. For this reason, while not acceptable, a lack of male concern with this matter is understandable, expected even. But to ignore this issue is to remain willfully ignorant of what the birth control debate is truly about. Wrapping up misogyny as religion does not change what it is, and many Christians would agree.
But let’s examine birth control beyond the technicalities of politics and spirituality: it is a matter of health, arguably the most important female-focused medication available and main form of contraception. As such, it plays a massive role in many women’s lives. According to Bloomberg Politics, officials within the Trump administration questioned “the links between contraception and preventing unplanned pregnancies,” even going so far as to say that including birth control as a core benefit for U.S. women could “affect risky sexual behavior in a negative way.” The are argument that birth control should not be allowed because it encourages sexual exploration for women is one I choose not to spend much time on, because they belong in 1940, not 2017. Instead, I will focus on the idea that birth control does not alleviate unintended pregnancy.
By nature, birth control is a contraceptive; there is no avoiding that fact. If providing birth control failed to prevent a spike in unintended pregnancies, as the Trump administration’s mandate alleges, then it is ludicrous to think that taking it away will alleviate the situation. It is a well-know fact that the birth control pills are 99.9% effective when taken properly. Many families do not have the means to support more children, and while it may be a convenient response that unprotected women should simply abstain from sex, the likelihood of that happening is slim. In large impoverished families, for example, access to birth control is likely only available because insurance providers are obligated to cover it, and to remove that security for no real reason is unnecessary and cruel.
According to the New York Times, the Trump administration supported its decision with a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which observed that from 1972 through 2002, as “the percentage of sexually experienced women who had ever used some form of contraception rose to 98 percent, unintended pregnancy rates in the United States rose from 35.4 percent to 49 percent.” As Carroll points out, however, it is not surprising that nearly all women who are sexually experienced have used “some form of contraception” at one point in their lives. What matters is whether they use contraception regularly, and the only way to encourage that is to facilitate its use and educate girls about it, not discourage its use by removing funding.
Aside from contraception, though, women most commonly use birth control for a wide variety of reproductive health issues that the Trump administration seemed to completely overlook. I myself know many women who are not sexually active but still use birth control as treatment for acne, cramps, irregular menstrual cycles and other reproductive or hormonal imbalances. If left untreated, these conditions can result in serious discomfort for afflicted women or even bodily harm.
According to Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post, this new mandate restricting birth control access will “increase poverty, teen pregnancy and infant and maternal mortality.” These may be unintended consequences, but they are serious ones nonetheless, and effects more substantial than the discomfort of a minority who have singled out birth control as the latest casualty in a long line of misinformed judgements on commonplace behaviors.
Perhaps most importantly, this latest legal measure is not out to solve any real problem. It exists based on the frustrations of a mere few at the expense of the well being of the masses. Like many of this administration’s decisions, its only purpose is to capitalize on uninformed intolerance toward seemingly random issues at the expense of everyday people trying to live their lives in a healthy, modern fashion throughout this country.