Politics & Policy

The Birth-Control Battle

Liberals want the government to be involved in the reproductive choices of every American.

Maybe someone can explain to me how, exactly, conservatives are the aggressors in the culture war? In the conventional narrative of American politics, conservatives are obsessed with social issues. They want to impose their values on everyone else. They want the government involved in your bedroom. Those mean right-wingers want to make “health-care choices” for women.

Now consider last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider two cases stemming from Obamacare: Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. Democratic politicians and their fans on social media went ballistic almost instantly. That’s hardly unusual these days. But what’s revealing is that the talking points are all wrong.

Suddenly, the government is the hero for getting deeply involved in the reproductive choices of nearly every American, whether you want the government involved or not. The bad guy is now your boss who, according to an outraged Senator Patty Murray (D.,Wash.), would be free to keep you from everything from HIV treatment to vaccinating your children if Hobby Lobby has its way. Murray and the White House insist that every business should be compelled by law to protect its employees’ “right” to “contraception” that is “free.”

#ad#I put all three words in quotation marks because these are deeply contentious claims. For starters, the right to free birth control — or health care generally — is not one you’ll find in the Constitution. And even if you think it should be a right, that is hardly a settled issue in American life.

The right to own a gun is a far more settled issue constitutionally, politically, and legally in this country, but not even the National Rifle Association would dream to argue that we have a right to free guns, provided by our employers. If your boss were required to give you a gun, your new employer-provided Glock still wouldn’t be free because non-cash compensation is still compensation. The costs to the employer are fungible, which means whether it’s a pistol or a pill, the cost is still coming out of your paycheck — and your coworkers’ paychecks.

“Regular, predictable expenses such as birth-control pills cannot be defrayed by insurance; they can only be prepaid, with a markup for the insurer’s administrative costs,” writes Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle. “The extra cost is passed on by the insurers to your employer, and from your employer to you and your fellow workers, either by raising your contribution or lowering the wage they are willing to offer.”

Last, birth-control pills really aren’t the issue. Both companies suing the government under Obamacare have no objection to providing insurance plans that cover the cost of birth-control pills and other forms of contraception. What both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties object to is paying for abortifacients — drugs that terminate a pregnancy rather than prevent one. (Hobby Lobby also opposes paying for IUDs, which prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.) The distinction is simple: Contraception prevents fertilization and pregnancy. Drugs such as Plan B may terminate a pregnancy, albeit at an extremely early stage.

The plaintiffs in these cases aren’t saying the government should ban abortifacients or make it impossible for their employees to buy them. All they are asking is that the people using such drugs pay for them themselves rather than force employers and co-workers to share the cost. In other words, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want such birth-control decisions to be left to individual women and their doctors. Leave the rest of us out of it.

But leaving the rest of us out of it is exactly the opposite intent of the authors of Obamacare. The law forces not only arts-and-crafts shops but also Catholic charities and other religiously inspired groups to choose between fulfilling their mission and violating their values. You may have no moral objection to such things, but millions of people do. By what right are liberals seeking to impose their values on everyone else? Isn’t that something they denounce conservatives for?

They could have allowed for plans that exclude controversial forms of birth control — or even uncontroversial ones — which would have lowered premium costs and expanded health-care coverage to more poor people.

But Democrats wanted a wedge issue to drum up a new battle in the culture war — a war in which liberals have always been the aggressors.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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