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“The Real Trouble with the Birth Control Mandate”

I consider myself a smart person, and at times articulate.  But every so often, someone comes along with a statement on a particular issue that so easily eclipses anything I could possibly say, the only thing to do is link to it. Reading Ludwig von Mises seems to induce such situations quite regularly.

Today, however, John H. Cochrane at the Cato Institute is that person.  In a post entitled “The Real Trouble with the Birth Control Mandate,” he lays out with impeccable logic just what exactly is happening with the Obama administration’s latest assault on religious liberty.

I will excerpt here, but you absolutely need to read the whole thing:

Why did HHS add this birth-control insurance mandate—along with “well-woman visits, breast-feeding support and domestic-violence screening,” and “all without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible”—to its implementation of a provision of the new health-care reform law? “Because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies,” says the HHS advisory panel. Because these “historic new guidelines” will make sure “women have access to a full range of recommended preventive services,” says the original HHS announcement. To “increase access to important preventive services,” echoes White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Notice the doublespeak confusion of “access” and “cost.” I have “access” to toothpaste because I have two bucks in my pocket and a competitive supplier. Anyone who can afford a cell phone can afford pills or condoms.

Poor women who can’t afford birth control are a red herring in this debate. HHS isn’t limiting this mandate to the poor anyway. We all have to pay. The very poor typically don’t have employer-provided health insurance in the first place. “Allowing women to space their pregnancies”? Was there some sort of federal ban on birth control before this?

Emphasis is mine, and it is absolutely true that poor women are being used as political pawns here. It really sickens me when inevitably this is the way the debate is framed. There is nothing wrong with allowing “access” to birth control to anyone, poor or otherwise. There absolutely is something wrong with forcing others to pay for it, and most especially when those people find birth control morally reprehensible.

Here’s a good mandate: Let’s mandate that every time a government official says that the government is going to “help” some category of voter, he or she has to say who they are going to hurt in the same sentence. Because it has to be someone.

But what about the fact, you may ask, that unwanted children are a burden on society as well as to their mothers? Perhaps there is a social interest in subsidizing birth control? Perhaps there is—but if so, this is an awful way to do it.

The minute pills are “free,” under insurance, the incentive for drug companies to come up with cheaper versions vanishes. So does their incentive to develop safer, more convenient, male-centered or nonprescription birth control. And by making pills free but not condoms, the government may inadvertently be contributing to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

This a specifically situational restatement of Frederic Bastiat’s point in his famous essay “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.” Bastiat, by the way, is another person whose writings cause me to wonder if I could ever say it better.

Ultimately, the assertion that women are being directly attacked if this law is not passed is atrociously vapid. But even assuming, ad arguendum (and very generously), that it is correct, it still provides no justification for the direct attack on others through appropriation of their wealth and work. One wonders if Obama’s mother ever told him that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

As for the churches, Cochrane is very much correct when he makes this a simple issue. One should not belabor the point here:

There is also the issue of religious freedom. Our nation is divided on social issues. The natural compromise is simple: Birth control, abortion and other contentious practices are permitted. But those who object don’t have to pay for them. The federal takeover of medicine prevents us from reaching these natural compromises and needlessly divides our society.

Or, as this A. Barton Hinkle piece at Reason so eloquently puts it,

This is like ordering Jewish schools to buy pork for their cafeterias and then claiming to respect Judaism because synagogues are exempt.

This kind of savagery toward religious liberty is all in a day’s work for Obama. But lest those who are secular think that this does not apply to them, recall that you are not exempted either. The justification is different; the injustice the same.

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