But Viagra For Free, Right?

Dana Goldstein at Daily Beast:

Could prescription birth control—whether the pill, an IUD, or a diaphragm—soon be free of cost for most American women?

Polls suggest the majority of Americans would support such a policy. But the Daily Beast has learned that many conservative activists, who spent most of their energies during the health-care reform fight battling to win abortion restrictions and abstinence-education funding, are just waking up to the possibility that the new health care law could require employers and insurance companies to offer contraceptives, along with other commonly prescribed medications, without charging any co-pay. Now the Heritage Foundation and the National Abstinence Education Association say that, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, they oppose implementation of the new provisions.

The conservative groups are particularly worried that a birth control coverage mandate could include teenage girls and young women covered under their parents’ health insurance plans. “People who are insured don’t want to pay for services they don’t need or to which they have moral objections,” said Chuck Donovan, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation. “Parents want to have a say over what’s covered and what’s not for their children.”

Currently, 27 states require insurers to cover birth control, but federal health reform has the potential to go much further—mandating that prescription birth control be offered to consumers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia free of “cost-sharing,” or payments at the pharmacy counter.

Reproductive-rights advocates are openly lobbying the Obama administration to enact the birth control changes quickly, citing the United States’ high rates of teenage and unintended pregnancy—the highest in the developed world.

“It would be a disaster for women’s health” to exclude contraception from the new requirements for insurers, said Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based research organization.

Amanda Marcotte at Double X:

Co-pays on birth control currently run anywhere from a reasonable $15 a month to upwards of $50 a month. While this may not seem like a huge deal to many, sadly there are a lot of women who find that birth control pills are priced out of their range.  The Guttmacher Institute found that 18 percent of women on the pill in households that make less that $75,000 a year have resorted to inconsistent pill use to save money.  Of course, if you’re in a position where a $50 co-pay stresses your finances that much, you’re probably even less likely to be up for having the baby if you get pregnant, and that much more likely to get an abortion.  There’s a reason that the United States has the highest teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the developed world, and that’s because we’re just not as good at using consistent contraception.  And that it’s a major hassle and expense to get it is a big part of the reason.

The increasingly standard pro-choice adage—anti-abortion groups, when given a choice between preventing abortion and punishing female sexuality, will choose the latter every time—holds up once again.  I’m almost embarrassed for them at this point, since the bait is offered and they can’t help but take it.

Kate at Feministe:

On the one hand, I’m amped to hear that the new health care plan could mean free birth control as a “preventative” medication. On the other, I hate being reminded of the power that these fringe anti-birth control groups wield.

Thankfully, there’s some good news. Goldstein reports that unlike America’s split on abortion rights, public opinion roundly supports birth control. So even if the Heritage Foundation and NAEA manage to get the support of someone like a Bart Stupak, it would be unlikely to gain as much traction.

Digby:

Of course, access to birth control is supported by nearly 80% of the public and most people think it’s nuts to even think about making it difficult to obtain. But these people take the long view about about such things and will move those goal posts slowly as long as abortion rights are in play — which they most certainly are.

But, never fear, the goal is clear:

“I don’t want to overstate or understate our level of concern,” said McQuade, the Catholic bishops’ spokesperson. “We consider [birth control] an elective drug. Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn’t make you sick.”

I’m thinking that maybe the Catholic Bishops ought to think twice about that particular argument. After all, there is some evidence that for a fair number of their clergy, celibacy does contribute to sickness. Serious sickness. The Church isn’t exactly a credible voice on these issues anymore.

John Cole:

I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of a debate over birth control in the year 2010. Do these religious nuts not have anything better to do than to fight battles they lost decades ago? How about a stirring debate on heliocentrism or phlogiston?

Although I guess we should appreciate the irony that the wingnuts spent the last two years screaming that Obamacare would cut your benefits and lead to rationing, and then after it passes, the first thing the religious nutters try to do is… cut the benefits of half the nation.

Steve Benen

Matthew Yglesias:

Politically speaking, I think this is the fight progressives have been wanting to have for some time now—something that would highlight the deeply reactionary and anti-woman ideology that drives the main institutional players in the anti-abortion movement. But will it be possible to get people to pay attention? These non-abortion reproductive health aspects of the Affordable Care Act got very little attention from either side.

Kevin Drum:

But I wonder how much help we’ll get from President Obama? His desire to avoid hot button culture war issues is almost obsessive, and it’s unlikely that he’ll choose this as a hill to fight for. So it’ll mostly be up to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and my guess is that she’ll try to keep the whole thing very low key.

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