The Corner

Contraceptives and Politicized Medicine


In the midst of the ongoing debate about health-care reform, the mainstream media continues to offer a privileged position to supporters of legal abortion. This past Monday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Vanessa Cullins, the vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Not surprisingly, when the Institute of Medicine advises the government on health services that should qualify as preventative health care, Cullins wants contraceptive coverage to be included.

One of the reasons why conservatives are skeptical about greater public provision of health care is that it leads to a politicization of health care. Decisions about what ought to be covered will be subject to political rather than medical calculations. Furthermore, millions of Americans could be forced to subsidize practices they find objectionable. In particular, contraceptive coverage raises some thorny issues. Would minors be able to obtain birth control without their parents’ permission? Would the conscience rights of physicians who do not wish to prescribe birth control be protected? Additionally, an analysis published by Americans United for Life indicates contraceptive coverage would include ella, which sometimes works as an abortifacient.

From a public policy perspective, the arguments for mandating contraceptive coverage are empirically weak. To cite my favorite statistic, the Guttmacher Institute’s own survey of sexually active women who were not using contraception found that only 12 percent said that they lacked access to contraceptives due to financial or other reasons. There is no existing body of social-science evidence that finds that either government mandates of contraceptive coverage or government spending on contraceptives reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies.

Government funding for Planned Parenthood has nearly doubled since the late 1990s. However, this year a number of states — including Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin — have all cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, even though the effort to defund Planned Parenthood failed at the federal level, Planned Parenthood is certainly facing more scrutiny than ever before. As such, it should come as no surprise that Planned Parenthood executives are very interested in turning Obamacare into a source of revenue.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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