A Philosopher's Blog

Contraception, Again.

Posted in Ethics, Law, Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 14, 2012
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It seems a bit odd arguing about contraception in 2012. After all, the matter seemed to have been large resolved some time ago.  While it is tempting to say that Contraception 2012 is a manufactured conflict, there do seem to be some points worth addressing in this context.

One talking point that has been presented by some folks, such as mainstream American media personality Rush Limbaugh, is that insurance coverage of contraception is the same thing as paying someone to have sex.

In the case of people who are prescribed contraceptives because of medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts), this is obviously not the case. In cases in which the person is simply using the contraception as contraception, she is still not being paid to have sex any more than the coverage of Viagra and comparable medicine for men is paying men to have sex. At most, what is being paid for is the means to have sex (Viagra) and the means to avoid getting pregnant (contraception). True, these are connected to sex, but covering either is not the same thing as paying people to have sex.

Another common talking point is that the plan to cover contraception will be “using people’s money” to pay for something they do not approve of.

One obvious reply to this is that for most folks insurance coverage is either paid for by the individual or as part of a benefit package for a job. Either way, the person is earning her coverage. To use an analogy, my insurance covered my quadriceps tendon repair (mostly). This was not using some other people’s money since I pay for my insurance. Likewise, if a woman get contraception covered by her insurance, she is paying for that (either directly or by getting benefits as part of her compensation).

It might be countered that some women get coverage from the state, so tax dollars could go to pay for birth control. Since some folks are against contraception or do not want to pay for it, this should not be done.

The stock reply to this is that our tax dollars are routinely used to pay for things that we might not want to pay for or that we might even oppose. For example, I’d rather not have my tax dollars pay for subsidies to corporations and I certainly don’t want to be paying for other dudes’ Viagra.  This is the way democracy works-provided that the spending is set up through due process, by agreeing to the legitimacy of the state we also give our consent to the spending-even for things we would rather not contribute to.

Naturally, it can be argued that we should not be required to pay for anything we oppose and this has considerable appeal (see Thoreau’s arguments about civil disobedience for an interesting look at this matter). However, if we adopt this principle for contraception, it must also apply across the board. So, for example, folks who are against war can insist that war should not be paid for using tax dollars and so on. It seems likely that for every proposed spending there will be a person who opposes it-thus the state should not spend money on anything. While this would solve the deficit problem, it would seem a rather absurd solution.

A third talking point is that contraception should not be covered because it does not treat a condition. This is most often brought up when defending the coverage of Viagra (which restores a natural function).

The easy reply to this is that some forms of contraception are used to treat medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts). As such, this use should be covered. But, of course, this would not warrant the coverage of contraception as contraception.

One reply worth considering is that the framing of the debate begs the question against women. After all, the claim is that anything that is covered must treat or prevent a harmful condition and this would exclude contraception (except in cases in which a women would be medically harmed by being pregnant). However, this framing tends to be simply assumed rather than being argued for, which is rather unfair to women in this regard. After all, the matter of pregnancy seems to be unique (and limited to women) and hence it seems questionable to insist that it must automatically fall under the framing in question. It can, of course, be argued that it does-but an argument is wanted here to show that is the case.

While some might be tempted to cast pregnancy as the harmful medical  condition that is being prevented by contraception, the idea of casting pregnancy as a harmful medical condition has rather limited appeal. After all, while pregnancy puts considerable strain on the woman, it seems rather difficult to cast it as an illness that needs to be prevented or treated as if it were comparable to measles or cancer.

A more fruitful line of approach is to argue that contraception provides medical control over a woman’s quality of life. That is, it enables her to chose whether to be pregnant or not. Doing this clearly falls under the domain of medicine and women do seem to have a legitimate claim to this right. After all, much of medicine deals with maintaining a desired quality of life and women would seem to have as much right to that as men.

Naturally, it might be countered that I am treating pregnancy as a disease (which would be some major rhetorical points against me). But this is not the case. All I am claiming is that given that pregnancy can be rather challenging for a woman and, of course, a child is a major consumer of resources a women has a legitimate right to use medical means to maintain her desired quality of life-just as a man has a legitimate right to use Viagra and its ilk to maintain his desired quality of life. Just as Viaga is covered as a quality of life drug, so should contraception.

A fourth, somewhat uncommon,  talking point is that contraception is on par with abortion, so covering contraception is covering abortion.

One stock reply is the obvious fact that contraception lowers the number of unwanted pregnancies and this lowers the number of abortions. As such, folks who are worried about abortion would seem to have a good reason to favor covering contraception.

Of course, some folks contend that contraception is like abortion in that it prevents a possible person from becoming an actual person. While this does have some philosophical interest, it would seem to entail that every moment I am not out and about impregnating women, I am engaged in acts comparable to abortion. After all, by not impregnating as many women as possible, I am preventing some possible people from becoming actual people. Put a bit less absurdly, if I am practicing abstinence, then I am effectively engaged in abortion since all those possible people will never become actualized.

It could be countered that this only applies to cases in which I am actually having sex (and presumably that I should only be having sex with a woman I am married to). That is, every time I have sex, there should be a roll of the dice to see whether or not the woman gets pregnant. Presumably if either of use chooses to use any method that lowers the probability of pregnancy, then this would be on par with attempting an abortion.  As such, the only acceptable family planning would be to decide to have sex only when one plans on a pregnancy since intentionally preventing it would be unacceptable. I would be interested in seeing some arguments for this that do not involve an appeal to theology.

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24 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on March 14, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Mike, you are missing the point. The question is why contraception should be mandated to be covered at 100% (no co-pays) whereas drugs like insulin that people need to actually stay alive are not mandated to be covered at 100%.

    Effectively, then, you are forcing people who might be having trouble paying for their own life saving drugs to cover contraceptives for others.

    Exactly how can this policy be rationalized?

    • anon said, on March 14, 2012 at 9:02 am

      I don’t think he is. Every single argument I’ve heard is about covering contraception at all.

      Do you realize how many life saving drugs and other lifesaving things aren’t covered 100%? We (as a society) have been forcing people who have trouble paying for their own life saving drugs to cover shit they don’t want or need since forever (even a libertarian utopia would too). I seriously doubt you’ve cared that much about it until now.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 14, 2012 at 9:17 am

        “Do you realize how many life saving drugs and other lifesaving things aren’t covered 100%?”

        Yes. Which is why I oppose the 100% coverage for contraception. It would make far more sense to mandate coverage of insulin or cancer drugs at 100%.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 14, 2012 at 11:25 am

      That is one point, but not the point.

      I would agree that life sustaining drugs should be covered, so if you argument is that contraception should not be covered because insulin is not, my reply is that insulin should be covered. At least under the principle that preventative care should be covered.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on March 14, 2012 at 8:49 am

    And can anyone point to an article from, say, from 1 year ago in which contraceptives were an issue? I doubt it.

    The only real issue involves the government mandate.

    • anon said, on March 14, 2012 at 9:04 am

      From your previous post
      “Mike, you are missing the point. The question is why contraception should be mandated to be covered at 100% (no co-pays) whereas drugs like insulin that people need to actually stay alive are not mandated to be covered at 100%.”

      From this post
      “The only real issue involves the government mandate”

      WTF?

      Also, do you still seriously believe that contraceptives wern’t an issue a year ago. Did the Catholic church, famous for lying about condoms, magically only start caring about contraceptives in the past year? I don’t think so.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

      That is one issue, but folks have generated or revived many other issues, such as religious freedom, women’s rights and so on. I know that the Republican talking point is now that the only issue is the mandate, but just because folks keep saying that does not mean that is true.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm

        No, the only issue is the Democrats forcing about half the people in country to do what they would rather not do. Contraception was not an issue until the mandate.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

          The state tends to be in the business of forcing people to do what they would rather not do-that is why we have police and the military. In some cases, this compulsion is warranted and in some it is not-the problem is not primarily with the compulsive power of the state but what it compels. After all, some folks would rather like to do bad things to other people-but I have no problem with the state forcing them to not do such things.

          How is it half the people? Are you talking about men? Or health insurance providers? Or employers?

          Contraception has been an issue-the Catholic Church has considered it an issue for quite some time. While the mandate did stir things up, it also served to highlight other issues as well.

          An issue is a matter of dispute and there is clearly more at dispute here than the mandate. After all, people on the left and the right are disputing over various matters, thus entailing that there are other issues than the single talking point the Republicans want to address.

          It is, of course, smart of the Republicans to try to claim that there is but the one issue here. After all, when Rush and others helped make it seem that the Republicans were intent on “waging war” on women, this took things into what would seem to be a losing ground for Republicans. As such, they need to pull the narrative back into a field where they have a better chance of winning. Naturally, the Democrats want to keep the debate in an area where they are strong. While this is politics as usual, it does show that there are other issues than the one the Republicans wish to use to define the narrative.

          • wtp said, on March 16, 2012 at 8:00 pm

            “The state tends to be in the business of forcing people to do what they would rather not do-that is why we have police and the military.”

            Ooh…you’re so real-politic. The reason we have police and military is to force people to do what they would rather not? No, the reason we have police and military is to keep people from forcing their will on others. To maintain respect for other people’s rights. To enforce the basic idea that your rights end where they impose themselves on others. Or at least that’s been the basic driving idea in western civilization for at least 250 years or more. That is the purpose of those institutions. Just because you can put the discussion in a context of “some folks would rather like to do bad things to other people” does not mean it extends to the degree of “forcing people to do what the would rather not”. And you write books about fallacies. Of course, you’re going to drop back in with some sophistic BS about “tends to be” or such. This is nothing but simple minded BS dressed up in “philosophy” context. You do not simply make sophistic arguments. You are a sophist to the bone. You have no business teaching philosophy. Pitiful.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm

              “The reason we have police and military is to force people to do what they would rather not? No, the reason we have police and military is to keep people from forcing their will on others. To maintain respect for other people’s rights.”

              That seems to be just another way of saying that the state exists to force people to do what they would rather not do. After all, the state is forcing them to behave in ways they would rather not.

            • wtp said, on March 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm

              You don’t see the difference between those two statements? One is just another way of saying the other? No “winking smiley”? No fallacy there at all?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm

              I do see a difference in wording, but I did argue that the seem to essentially be the same. What is your argument as to why I am in error here?

  3. anon said, on March 14, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Although not a law yet, AZ is trying to pass a bill that will allow companies to revoke insurance for or even fire people (lets face it, what I mean by people is women) who are using contraception. This is not about 100% coverage, this is about coverage at all. According to the article I’ve linked, AZ already was requiring insurance companies to cover contraception for ~10 years.

    http://www.aclu.org/blog/reproductive-freedom/use-birth-control-youre-fired

    • T. J. Babson said, on March 14, 2012 at 11:33 am

      Not biting, anon. I don’t believe that the country is being overwhelmed with a surge of social conservatism. I am far more worried about the uncontrolled spending at every level of government, and the huge debts our children will inherit.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 14, 2012 at 11:36 am

      Such a law would seem to open the door for allowing companies to also fire people who are not on birth control. After all, if I can fire people based on my views of birth control/abortion, then that would seem to extend to whatever view I might hold.

      A colleague of mine speculated that this round of crazy bills is the sign of a last, desperate gasp on the part of a certain sort of folks. However, I think that is rather optimistic.

      While not all women will oppose such laws (and some will support them with a fervor), many women will and this stands a reasonable chance of hurting the folks pushing such laws.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 14, 2012 at 11:53 am

        What exactly was wrong with the way things were: contraceptives were covered by nearly all insurance companies, but they were treated like other drugs and not mandated to be covered at 100%

        Nobody had a problem with this.

        All of this stuff is Obama trying to get his base energized to bravely take on the 10% or so of Americans who are social conservatives, and who pose no real threat to anyone’s liberties.

        • magus71 said, on March 14, 2012 at 9:47 pm

          “All of this stuff is Obama trying to get his base energized to bravely take on the 10% or so of Americans who are social conservatives, and who pose no real threat to anyone’s liberties.”

          Count me among–if not the 1%–than the 10%.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm

        Mike, companies have been able to fire people for smoking for some time now, even if that smoking is done while the employee is away from work. This has always troubled me, but a lot of people are OK with it.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm

          As you’ll note from a previous post, I’m generally not okay with these sorts of grounds for firing.

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    This issue concerns respect for the dignity of women as women, as well as respect for and an openness to new life.

    The Church is against contraception because it short-circuits, or contra-venes, the most natural and amazing feature of the world: men and women, together, make babies.

    The Church is against contraception because it allows men to treat women as sex-objectsby allowing them to have the sex without the responsibility; thereby cheapening her nature as woman.

  5. ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm

  6. طراحی سایت said, on March 16, 2012 at 2:24 am

    A lot of the commments on this blog show that there is complete ignorance about these things

  7. […] Contraception, Again. (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) […]


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