It ought by now to have become rather obvious that there is no more a crisis in “access” to contraception in America than there is in access to Tylenol. But, for the sake of argument, let’s step outside of reality’s bounds for a moment and imagine that there were. In such circumstances, we might presume that it would not be of pressing concern to design an entitlement for the nation’s working and insured people while entirely ignoring the poor, the unemployed, and the uninsured. And yet those entertaining the “access” fantasy have done precisely that with their HHS mandate. In short, they have contrived the wrong answer to a problem that does not exist. That is some feat.
Let’s recap: The mandate forces employers to cover their employees’ contraception within their insurance plans, and it does this without allowing the employer to take higher premiums from their employees’ paychecks. Notice a trend? In other words, it addresses those who do not need addressing while cloaking its moral imperatives in the language of the needy. Whatever one’s view of the obligations of society and the state toward the genuinely poor — and, equally, of the wisdom and efficacy of government intervention — the debate that we have been having over the past month is actually about those in society well placed to look after themselves.
Understandably difficult as it might have been to glean amid the white noise that has served as a constant backdrop, what Katherine Sebelius, President Obama, Sandra Fluke, and their ilk are really advocating is that institutions that are perceived to be rich — employers, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, colleges, and so forth — should pay for the conveniences of those who are less well-off, and that they should do this to fulfill a “right.” (Note that if the purpose of a birth-control prescription is to address medical issues other than contraception, most insurance plans already cover this, even if they don’t cover contraception per se.) We are dealing here with a non-issue: Women are not suffering in America because they have to pay for their own birth control. It is this stubborn fact that has pushed the advocates of the mandate to resort so quickly to hyperbole. Unfortunately, their hysteria has been surprisingly successful at conflating in the minds of many “not paying” for something and “banning” it, and effectively accusing those of us who can see that the emperor has no clothes of “hating women.”
But if we are to conclude that not to force employers to cover their employee’s contraception is “anti-women,” then presumably we can also conclude that the absence of the uninsured, poor, and unemployed from the provision is indicative of this administration’s deep-seated hatred of those outside of the work force? It would, of course, be as ridiculous and unfair to suggest that the president doesn’t care about the poor as it would be to suggest that Republicans oppose the HHS mandate because they “hate women.” The truth is that, aside from refuting the lie that contraception is difficult to come by or inordinately expensive, conservatives are flatly rejecting a mandate that imposes higher health-care and payroll costs on employers in order to cover something that is well within the grasp of most employed people — and does so at a time when unemployment is a pressing problem. (And this is before any discussion of the broader, and equally important, questions of conscience rights, constitutionality, and the proper role of government.)
Conservatives have to accept much of the blame for the state of things, as we have repeatedly fallen into the traps that have been set for us. Admittedly, certain high-profile figures and their inappropriate or ill-advised language have not helped us along the way, but the more temperate among us have failed repeatedly to remind America that what we are discussing here is essentially welfare for those receiving a paycheck and carrying a health-insurance card, and that there is no need to be your sister’s keeper when she can keep herself.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.