Obamacare and Contraception Coverage

by Michael J. New

Silvia Henriquez, executive director of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, has an article in the Huffington Post about the difficulties Latina women encounter trying to obtain contraception; she uses anecdotes to make a case for mandating health-care coverage of contraception in Obamacare. Henriquez certainly succeeds in painting a sympathetic picture of these women. However, difficult individual circumstances often make for bad policy decisions. The barriers to contraception access are generally overstated, and pro-lifers have many good reasons to oppose inclusion of contraception coverage in health-care reform.

In her article, Henriquez discusses the plight of a working woman whose insurance does not cover contraceptives. However, it should be noted that women who fall beneath the poverty line can still obtain birth control through the Title X program. For women above the poverty line, birth-control pills may not be inexpensive, but the expense should be manageable.

Henriquez also discusses a group of Latina women living near the U.S.-Mexico border who lack access to birth control. What Henriquez glosses over is the fact that many of these women are, very likely, either illegal immigrants or recent immigrants. While one can sympathize with their circumstances, there are very good reasons to not offer illegal immigrants and recent immigrants the full range of government social services.

Overall, the lack of access to contraceptives is a myth perpetuated by pro-choice spokespeople. A number of studies indicate that very few women forgo contraception due to high costs or lack of availability. For instance, several years ago, the Guttmacher Institute surveyed 10,000 women who’d had abortions. They found that among those not using contraception at the time they conceived, a very small percentage cited cost or lack of availability as the reason.

Additionally, in “Unmarried Couples with Children,” sociologists Kathryn Edin of Harvard and Paula England of Stanford conducted an intense study of 76 low-income couples from Milwaukee, Chicago, and New York who had just given birth. Edin and England found that only a very small percentage of these women wanted contraception but were unable to afford it. The most common reason that contraceptive use lapsed was that one or both partners felt a need to indicate trust.

Furthermore, the pro-life movement has good reason to oppose mandates requiring that contraceptive coverage be included insurance plans. Mandates for contraceptive coverage might infringe on the conscience rights of doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Contraceptive mandates might include abortifacients — which would result in tax dollars subsidizing abortion. Finally, contraceptive mandates might invalidate the numerous state laws requiring that minors have parental permission before purchasing contraceptives.

Unfortunately, the pro-life movement may not get a chance to fight this politically. The decision about contraceptive coverage is in the hands of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. This is why the pro-life movement would do well to continue its efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.

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