By Taylor Healy '15, Section Head
A short disclaimer before you read this article: as one who uses birth control, the author is naturally biased. But I am going to try to put my personal feelings aside and argue why Obama’s new mandate forcing companies to provide contraception is the best thing for our country. The wording of the mandate states that all private insurance plans are required to cover for women’s preventative services—from contraception to breast exams—without copays or deductibles. The debate surrounding this issue is mainly about the fact that the mandate includes contraceptive devices in this coverage, and requires religiously-run organizations, like Catholic hospitals, to comply with providing these services.
The first aspect of this debate to tackle is the most basic one: health. The health-couched argument against birth control is that people (i.e., women) may be unaware of the potential side effects and health risks related to birth control. Though there are health risks involved with taking birth control, the health benefits of taking birth control frequently outweigh those risks. Many women and girls take birth control not just for the contraceptive benefits. The hormones in contraceptive medicines can also prevent intense mood swings and abdominal pains associated with the menstrual cycle.
Beyond these basic health reasons, it has been shown that women who take birth control tend to be much healthier if and when they go off the birth control for a planned pregnancy. In fact, the main reasoning behind Obama’s recent mandate is the idea that preventative health measures are more effective than those that respond to problems after they arise. By providing women with these free services, the hope is that more women will use preventive measures and thereby stop health problems before they begin. Women who take birth control are more likely to plan their pregnancies, which means that they are more likely to be prepared for responsibilities like prenatal care.
This aspect of the health benefits also relates directly to insurance costs. People who plan their pregnancies have healthier pregnancies, which means fewer preterm births, fewer complications and healthier infants in general. For insurance companies, it makes more sense to provide for the small costs associated with birth control rather than risk having to pay for the bigger and more expensive health problems associated with unplanned pregnancies. In general economic terms, unplanned pregnancies often cause a loss of work time and lower productivity. After a poorly-planned pregnancy, mothers and children alike might have health problems that require more time off than a planned pregnancy would. Doctor appointments for more specialized care when a pregnancy results in lasting health problems can also mean lower productivity in the long term.
It seems like birth control provides health benefits, and in terms of insurance, the mandate can be beneficial for the health of women and children as well as for the related costs and general productivity in the workplace. Furthermore, Obama’s mandate will help individual women financially, as birth control is not cheap. The Claremont Health Center sells birth control for around $15 per pack—that’s $180 a year. This relatively low cost is available to Claremont students because Claremont has insurance that covers birth control, and it also provides students with the generic brand. Outside of the Claremont bubble, however, women pay anywhere from $25 (for generic) to $60 per month for birth control pills.
The most controversial aspect of the argument surrounding Obama’s recent mandate is that it violates the first amendment rights of religious organizations. The argument that the mandate violates first amendment rights is simply unfounded. No one is telling people who are religious that they have to take birth control pills if it violates their religious principles. Furthermore, no religious house (e.g., no church, synagogue or mosque) is required to sell birth control. Catholic hospitals and other religiously-run institutions do not have to provide the funds for birth control under the mandate. The insurance companies, not the hospitals, have to pay for the medicine.
The first amendment holds that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion, but it also states that no law can be made respecting the establishment of religion. This means that no law can be made respecting a religious establishment. To deny birth control to those who work for religious organizations, even though the individual isn’t religious, would violate these individuals’ first amendment rights. Religious employers, who are not the ones providing or taking the birth control that potentially conflicts with their religious beliefs anyway, do not have the claim to first amendment rights that the individual has.
The arguments surrounding Obama’s birth control mandate involve concerns for public health as well as problems with insurance companies. But, mainly, the debate has gravitated toward a contrived idea that the mandate violates religious rights. The mandate makes sense for the health of women as well as for general public health. Economically, the mandate makes sense in terms of increasing worker productivity and lowering the expenses that insurance companies and individuals have to cover in the long term. Most importantly, however, the mandate violates no constitutional rights. Truly, the mandate is the best thing for the United States.