I liked this article, which makes many of the same points I’ve been making.
The Sex-Friendly Case Against Free Birth Control
By Conor Friedersdorf
Mar 13 2012, 10:30 AM ET 44
Its free provision privileges the pleasure-seeking of a cultural majority — but does nothing for cultural minorities, including gays and lesbians.
We’re now in the last stages of a transition to a health care system where what’s covered by health insurance isn’t a matter of what policy an individual chooses to buy, or the deal he or she strikes at work, or even what health care costs are most suited to being covered through risk pools. Nowadays, what’s included in health “insurance” is a matter of what our polity, through its elected representatives, bureaucrats accountable to them, and judges who aren’t, decide that we ought to provide to all citizens. We’ve moved from coverage dictated by what markets will bear to coverage dictated by the sorts of inevitably redistributionist policies that a legislative majority regards as just. It’s gotten increasingly contentious because our values are increasingly implicated, something progressives sometimes try to elide by saying that something is “just part of health care,” [mr-lynne-“That’s life”] a phrase that now effectively means “part of a system in which everyone is forced to participate, and that makes contestable judgments about what ought to be included.” We’ve blurred what is an insurance benefit and what is a subsidy or entitlement, for participating in a risk pool with our fellow citizens will no longer be a voluntary decision, thanks to Obama’s reforms.
Once birth control for the poor is covered, I wonder why so many on the left either don’t recognize or don’t object to the redistributive consequences of pooling contraceptive costs among everyone else, even people who could afford them on their own. Compared to a system that just took care of the poor (or even to a system that included only the cheapest kind of birth control), here is a more detailed but by no means complete look at the winners and losers:
– Those who are sexually active, especially over long periods, benefit at the expense of those who aren’t, whether by choice or for lack of opportunity. This sure seems non-materially regressive.
– A wealthy man who holds assets in common with his wife benefits as the cost of their household birth control prescription is reduced, even as an unmarried, working class woman who wants to wait until marriage to have sex belongs to the risk pool that is defraying their costs.
– The fertile, who benefit at the expense of the infertile.
– Folks in their child-bearing years, who benefit at the expense of younger and older people.
– Those engaged in recreational sex, or who are trying to avoid pregnancy, who benefit at the expense of those trying to have kids.
– Folks who use expensive forms of contraceptive, who benefit at the expense of folks who rely on condoms or natural family planning.
– Straight people, who benefit at the expense of gays and lesbians, who have no use for birth control.
When it comes to marriage or gender-neutral bathrooms or transsexual rights, progressives are careful to insist that cultural majorities shouldn’t impose their heteronormative standards on society, but when it comes to the birth control debate, they’ve been quick to exploit the ways in which their preferences are shared by a cultural majority. They understand that frequently engaging in non-procreative, heterosexual sex while using prescription birth control is widespread.
As they see it, the existence of that cultural norm is an argument in favor of a subsidy for the cultural majority. Never mind that there are Americans who don’t value non-procreative sex, or who don’t value it as highly as some other fulfilling pursuit, whether surfing or Gregorian chants or yoga or hunting. As Amanda Marcotte argued, the straight, secular relationship to sex is “normal.” But why should the sexually “abnormal” (minority groups like gays and lesbians, asexuals, people who never manage to attract very many sexual partners, people who just care about sex relatively less than the average person, or care about other goods much more) have less with which to pursue what they value due to public policy that disadvantages their preferences?
Surely we can conceive of a woman assessing a year’s income, whether at age 18 or 24 or 35 or 44, and deciding that among her $27,000 or $35,000 or $64,000 or $102,000, the fraction that she could spend on birth control in the coming year would be better applied to a Hawaiian vacation, or a charitable donation, or a new dog, or a retirement investment, or a meditation class, or higher status as a Scientologist. Once you decide that society is going to mandate that something is universally available, even those who partake in the benefit lose the ability to opt out and spend their own share of resources in a way that suits them better, if only temporarily.
They can forgo the benefit, but will still need to pay the cost.
Those are excellent points about the “cultural majority” having their way over the rest of us. People who think the poor should have access to free contraceptives ought to be able to contribute to a charity that pays for poor people, without forcing everyone else to support it too. It seems like the point is forcing us to capitulate and lose to them, like it’s a punitive fine for being opposed to progressive feminism.