Let’s stop arguing about birth control

I’m looking forward to the year 2040, because that is when we won’t be debating anymore whether birth control belongs in a basic health plan.

Why? Because by then this fight over the obvious just has to have settled into broad acceptance. I could be wrong, of course. Foes of birth control could persist, citing religious objections. One hopes they move on.

In the meantime, lawsuits are flying to challenge the part of the Affordable Care Act requiring contraceptive coverage in employee health care plans. Rulings in the lower courts are all over the place, and so the matter seems likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The theme here is: Times Change. If the justices rule against the birth-control requirement, they will only be delaying the inevitable.

The Book of Leviticus calls for executing adulterers. We don’t kill adulterers today, though some cultures still execute the women involved. (In the United States, even a light stoning would bring charges of assault.)

There was a time when Medicare went against the conservative creed. For many, fighting the birth-control mandate seems another means of harassing the health care reforms.

In 1961, Ronald Reagan bashed the proposed Medicare program in a recording titled, “Ronald Reagan speaks out against SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.” He melodramatically warned that if Medicare wasn’t stopped, “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Today, nearly 50 years after the program’s creation, most conservatives talk of “saving” the program for future generations.

Their idea of saving it might be letting private insurers cut the guts out of benefits. They might want means-testing to the point that Medicare becomes a program for the poor — and Americans with money won’t care whether it lives or dies. Neither approach would leave Medicare the universal benefit most Americans know and cherish, but no serious politician tars it as a path to socialist dictatorship.

Yes, contraception is a somewhat different situation. It goes against Roman Catholic doctrine, even though the vast majority of Catholic women have used birth control without apology. Church leaders challenge the part of ObamaCare requiring such coverage for employees at their hospitals, colleges and charities.

Accommodating people of faith — and some evangelicals oppose birth control, as well — would seem a reasonable thing to do. But only up to a point. I recall a conversation not long ago with a Christian Brother, member of a male religious community within the Catholic Church that does wonderful work with young people. One case involved the daughter of an impoverished immigrant having her second baby at age 16.

I asked him, “Shouldn’t she be getting in touch with birth control?” He shrugged and pointed to his collar. I was not sure whether his shrug meant, “Yes, but I’m not allowed,” or, “You know I don’t believe in birth control.”

To me, the most humane approach would have been to get this girl a health care provider able to dispense contraceptives. Sure, female lawyers, teachers and middle-class homemakers could pay extra for their own, if it came down to that (and it shouldn’t). But the poor most need this kind of coverage. Given the economic and social afflictions tied to unplanned teenage pregnancies, it would also seem a compelling state interest.

Note that I didn’t get into the feminist argument here, though one can be made. Let’s keep this simple: Contraception is so obviously a basic in any health care plan. It’s only a matter of time before we stop making an issue out of it. May that time be short.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is fharrop@projo.com

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