Contraception attacks must be rejected
It is, of course, 2012, but you’d never know it from the public debate among our elected officials. Last week brought us Republican Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord – a nurse – singing the praises of abstinence as a cost-free alternative to contraception, even for married couples. And Republican Rep. Jeanine Notter of Merrimack warning that birth control pills lead to prostate cancer. And a wealthy backer of Rick Santorum pining for the good old days when, he said, women used aspirin for contraceptives: “The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
Today will bring a committee vote on a resolution sponsored by the Republican leadership in the New Hampshire House calling on the federal government to rescind its rule requiring that health plans provide coverage for contraception. Coming later this session: a measure undoing the New Hampshire law that includes a similar mandate.
Is this what anyone imagined 21st-century politics would be about? Do Republicans really believe that debating the value of birth control will win them many votes?
For New Hampshire lawmakers who haven’t given the matter much thought – the ones hoping to focus like a laser on the economy – here’s a gentle reminder: The insurance mandates on birth control at the federal level and the one that has existed in New Hampshire for more than a decade with no controversy are good for women, good for families, good for your constituents, good for the community.
The new federal law requires insurers to provide birth control to women without a co-payment. The rules also eliminate the co-pay for other preventive measures, including prenatal care, counseling and equipment for breast-feeding, and screenings to detect gestational diabetes in pregnant women, HIV or signs of domestic violence. The state law requires insurers who provide prescription drug coverage to also cover birth control.
These are significant improvements in women’s reproductive health. They are also financially prudent.
On average, women pay up to $600 a year for birth control pills, the most popular form of contraception. Compare that with the federal government’s estimated cost of an uncomplicated pregnancy and childbirth: $7,600. And that’s just the starting point when it comes to raising kids.
In other words, there is a serious financial saving to be had by helping women avoid unintended pregnancies. And when you consider that nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, according to the Centers for Disease Control, this is no trifling issue.
When this debate erupted earlier this month, President Obama’s critics accused him of trampling on the freedom of employers who had religious objections to birth control. The compromise he struck – forcing the insurers, rather than employers, to pay – hasn’t quieted the opposition. Suddenly, strangely, the debate was about birth control itself.
Insurance mandates are nothing new. In New Hampshire, state law requires health insurance plans to cover a wide variety of procedures and services – everything from hearing aids to chiropractic care to treatment for autism to artificial limbs to (at least for now) midwifery. Surely basic reproductive health services belong on this list.
We urge state lawmakers to reject the resolution aimed at the federal government. If and when GOP leaders introduce their bill to undo the New Hampshire contraceptive mandate, legislators must reject that one too.