March, recognized as Women’s History Month, is drawing to a dreary and demoralizing close. To many women, it hasn’t appeared there was much cause for celebration lately. Women’s reproductive freedom – and it with it our potential for full and equal participation in society – has been under near-constant assault recently by some lawmakers and religious groups.
Just days ago, the Arizona state senate rightly rejected a controversial bill that would have allowed any employers and their health insurance companies to refuse contraception coverage if they objected on religious or moral grounds. The bill would still have required coverage for contraception prescribed for medical reasons others than pregnancy prevention. But women seeking reimbursement from an employer’s insurance company would have to offer proof that their use of contraception was not to prevent pregnancy.
The idea was ridiculous on its face. Contraceptive medications and devices should be covered regardless of their intended purpose. But it’s more absurd when you consider the logistics. Even a woman using a contraceptive primarily for reasons unrelated to pregnancy prevention would reap an ancillary benefit of pregnancy protection from it.
The thought of insurance companies, and by extension employers, trying to probe people’s intensely private and personal concerns to parse this issue with a magnifying glass boggles the mind. One can only imagine the thoughts going through the head of some hypothetical bureaucrat somewhere with his calculator out trying furiously to tally what fraction of each pill might contribute to an employer-sanctioned purpose. Some of the most strident voices on public policy matters like this, strangely, are those simultaneously arguing for individual freedom and limited government while all the while trying to systematically strip women of their freedoms, rights and choices; it is an inconsistent position indeed.
Although the bill fortunately was defeated, it should never have made it that far. The fact that it did is testament to the extremity of the times. And the fight isn’t over. We can likely expect to see more of this type of thing across the country as reproductive issues remain under scrutiny in the national spotlight and women’s rights hang in the balance.
Overall good mental, emotional and physical health is the result of a complex interaction of many factors, and access to contraception may play an important role for a variety of reasons. The current situation does point to a couple of truths: the urgent need for a greater array of effective contraception to be available without a prescription, and the equally urgent need to separate health insurance and employment by converting to a single-payer system for all. That would be one way to resolve the dilemma.
Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina