Earlier this month, The Economist published an article on their website about the HHS-contraception-mandate controversy entitled “The data be damned.” This article lauds the purported benefits of contraception and does its best to portray opponents of the HHS mandate as know-nothing pro-life activists. Specifically the article details research which purportedly demonstrates that greater contraceptive availability leads to fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer abortions, and health benefits for women.
Of course, the data presented by The Economist is far from conclusive. Guttmacher Institute research has identified countries where contraception use and the abortion rate rose simultaneously. Now, some research has shown that increased contraceptive use has led to a decline in the teen pregnancy rate. However, there are other factors, including reduced levels of sexual activity among teens and the fact that teens are substituting other types of sexual activity for intercourse. There is also a body of peer-reviewed research which shows that hormonal contraceptives increase the risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and liver cancer.
More importantly, all of the research cited by The Economist is irrelevant to the HHS mandate. Regardless of whether the mandate takes effect, contraception is still widely available in this country. The government funds contraception for low-income women through the Title X program and studies show that few sexually active women forgo contraception due to cost or lack of availability. The main issues in the short term are religious liberty and conscience protections for Catholics and others who oppose artificial contraception on religious grounds.
In the long term, the HHS mandate raises some very important issues about the ease with which a presidential administration can influence health-insurance coverage — and the provision of health care as a whole. This power will not be limited to Democratic presidential administrations. Perhaps this is a topic The Economist should thoughtfully consider before demonizing opponents of the HHS mandate.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan — Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.