It is a common misconception that anyone who is opposed to ObamaCare’s “free birth control” requirement is sexist and is waging a “war on women.” In an opinion piece for CNN, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood went so far as to call the government shutdown “an attack on women’s health.”
Actually, the opposite is true. In addition to violating individual liberty by requiring all people to purchase a product (health insurance), the Affordable Care Act itself violates basic principles of gender equality and fairness.
First of all, among the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is a requirement that a list of services for women be covered for free, with no co-pay, by all health insurance plans. This includes checkups, domestic violence screening, STD counseling and testing, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. The law does not, however, require any of these services to be covered for free for men. This is a clear example of gender discrimination. All of these medical procedures are equally applicable to men and women. Men can be abused by their wives or girlfriends, men can get STDs, and men might want to be sterilized or use contraception. There is absolutely no reason to require coverage for one gender but not the other. In fact, doing so reinforces sexist stereotypes – e.g. that women are somehow more in need of care than men are, that women are inherently more vulnerable to domestic abuse, and that issues of sex and reproduction are “women’s issues” as opposed to men’s issues. Contraception is an issue that affects women and men equally, and it insults and demeans women to claim otherwise. Attempts, which Richards condemns, to abolish these mandatory benefits, or at least to allow employers and/or insurance companies to opt out of them, would actually be a step towards gender equality.
Even if you ignore the sexism of certain provisions of the law, the fact remains that the Affordable Care Act is unfair. Health insurance should cover only services and products that are necessary. Preventative services, such as checkups and screenings, are discretionary. Unlike, say, getting a cast when you have a broken leg, or taking antibiotics when you have bacterial pneumonia, checkups and screenings do not solve any medical problems, and there are valid reasons either to undergo them or not, depending on the individual’s values. The point of health insurance should be to protect people from financial disaster if illness strikes. For insurance to cover discretionary services is unfair to people who prefer not to use these services, as it forces these people to pay for a benefit that is not beneficial to them. Coverage of contraception and STD testing is particularly unfair, because these services have no value whatsoever to individuals who do not have sex. Yes, such individuals are a small minority, but they do exist, and they have a right to purchase insurance plans that work for them, and cover only the services that they need.
Richards writes about how helpful free birth control would be to a married, 23-year-old woman who wishes to have children one day but is not financially ready yet. What she doesn’t mention is how the Affordable Care Act hurts people like me, who will see our health insurance prices increase in order to cover services that we derive no benefit from. Why is it assumed that it is a good thing for people who have sex to receive free products at the expense of people who don’t? If you can afford neither contraception nor children, there is always the option of not having sex. To claim that one person’s right to have sex outweighs another person’s right to choose what to do with their own money, is simply unjust.
In the debate about ObamaCare, the issue at hand is not women’s rights, or women’s access to health services. If anything, feminists should oppose these sexist coverage requirements, since it’s anti-feminist to single women out for special treatment. The main issue is whether the costs of a product should be borne by the people who actually use the product, or by everyone, regardless of whether or not they use the product. In my opinion, the first option is the fair one.