Birth control has been a political and religious soccer ball for the last few years, especially since a mandate for it appeared in Obamacare in 2012.
The challenges against the mandate have been so numerous that, this past July, the White House launched a national campaign to gather suggestions. As someone who works in family planning, and as a Christian, I’ve had a hard time understanding what exactly has created the uproar among conservatives.
For me, access to birth control is personal. My wife and I wanted to ensure a stable home, financially and emotionally, so we agreed before marriage that we would wait to have kids. Then we spaced our children apart and stopped at two because we felt we could not support any more.
It’s called “family planning”—intentionally planning to create a family which would not exceed our capacity to support. This means delaying, spacing, or limiting the children you have. I strongly recommend family planning for everyone who has sex.
Birth control is the most reliable way to practice family planning. Despite its value, many people seem to be against the birth control mandate in health insurance. The current Republican candidate, Donald Trump, hasn’t explicitly said he is against the mandate, but he has offered some indications through his choice of allies.
For many reasons, this makes little sense.
Very similar mandates existed for years with little attention
A federal birth control insurance mandate has been in place since the final days of Clinton’s presidency and was supported and enforced by the Bush administration. In 2009, the Weekly Standard reported on the trials of Catholic educational and health institutions under Bush, noting that most had grudgingly succumbed to the rule.
Also, prior to Obamacare, roughly two dozen states already had rules mandating coverage of birth control. Many Republican governors supported and signed these laws—among them Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and George Pataki. These men were not blind, ignorant, coerced, or anti-religious when they signed their laws. Several religious groups lost state-level lawsuits like this (in 2004) or this (in 2006).
In short: such a mandate wasn’t new under Obama, was barely newsworthy under previous presidents, and had already survived numerous lawsuits.
The mandate makes good economic sense
Birth control pills can cost anywhere from $160 to $600 a year, while an IUD might cost up to $1000. Meanwhile, the cost to deliver a baby easily costs over $6,000, even with insurance. And out-of-pocket costs of raising the child average $12,000 in just the first year. So birth control saves a lot more money as it costs.
As a result, the insurance company is saving more money than they’re receiving, so insurance-provided birth control is not really coming out of our tax dollars. They could pay people to use birth control and it would still be cheaper than covering pregnancies and infants. Remember: their business is the cost of our health, not our actual health.
Birth control pills are also a hormonal treatment for several health issues. 14% of all American women who take the pill, including a third of teen users, do so for only non-contraceptive reasons. At the least, these ought to be covered as any other medications.
Abstinence is not the only answer to preventing pregnancy
Some people have told me that if women don’t want to get pregnant, they shouldn’t have sex.
First, sex and pregnancy are not the woman’s responsibility alone; the man is equally responsible.
Second, by age 20, nearly 80% of the population has had sex. Even among teens who take religious “purity pledges” to abstain from sex until marriage, at least 66% break those pledges. And over their lifetimes, 95% of Americans have had sex before marriage. That’s a lot of opportunities to make babies. Thus, we are willfully negligent if we do not provide people with the knowledge and resources for using birth control.
Third, abstinence is a ridiculous answer for happily married couples who decide they cannot support more children. They’re struggling to make ends meet and cover health expenses, and yet you want them to stop having sex? Try working that into a campaign slogan.
Condoms are not the only answer to preventing pregnancy
I’ve been told that condoms are freely available from health services, so there is no need to make other birth control methods free. But there’s one major flaw with condoms: they require cooperation from men. Unfortunately, men have a lot of excuses for not letting anything get in the way of their dicks. It ruins the mood? It feels weird? It’s uncomfortable? A screaming infant pooping in your bedroom at 2am is all of those things, and more.
It’s the will and practice of the American people
To whom do politicians listen if not the people? (That is a rhetorical question.)
Contraception is not “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”
I hear this religious sentiment a lot. The key concept here is “counter to how things are supposed to be.”
If we mean “sex of a kind that the Bible disapproves of” then we must admit that these kinds of sexual acts existed long before modern contraception, so they cannot result from it. Furthermore, various forms of pregnancy prevention have been around since ancient times, and yet the Bible never addresses the issue directly.
However, if we mean “sex that would not be possible without modern man-made technology”—e.g. “unnatural” in a literal sense—then why draw the line at contraception? Air conditioning lets us work in comfort even when it’s unbearably hot (in violation of Scripture?). Telephones let us talk to people who aren’t nearby. Automobiles. Power saws. Tylenol. Oil drilling. Refrigerators. Viagra. Modern American living is full of “unnatural” but widely accepted technology.
Yes, children are a gift from God, but that doesn’t mean more children are better
Psalm 127 says, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children on one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
If you live in a culture where community issues and legal transactions are handled by speaking with men wearing robes and sandals at outdoor council meetings held by the gates to your walled township, then yes, you should apply this scripture to yourself. You will need more boys than your enemies in case you get into a dispute and need backup to argue (or fight) in your defense.
However, if you live in a culture where the number of your offspring has little relevance to your legal authority, then you should merely recognize that yes, children are a gift from the Lord, and so is a safe pregnancy and delivery; but no, your kids are not part of your legal, economic, and physical defense options.
Cultural context is key.
The Bible contains sex stories difficult to translate into modern contexts
Genesis 38 tells the strange story of Onan, a son of Judah. After his brother died, Onan was instructed by his father to sleep with his brother’s widow, per religious law. Onan avoided pregnancy by using the natural pull-out method of family planning, and so God killed him.
Some folks believe this means you should never try to stop the natural result of sexual activity (pregnancy) even if you’re using a natural method (withdrawal). In fact, sex without procreation has long been viewed as a sin by major theological leaders such as Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church. But the sin of Onan was not about a sex act. It was his violation of God’s law about caring for his childless brother’s widow.
Continuing Onan’s story: after he dies, the widow dresses up as a religious whore so that the clueless and horny Judah, her father-in-law, gets her pregnant. And even though this clearly violates God’s laws, Judah is not killed by God.
And this is hardly the only curious sex story in the Bible. After offering his daughters to be raped by a gang in Sodom, Lot fled with them into the mountains, where they got him drunk and slept with him. The book of Judges describes a story of rape nearly identical to that in Sodom, but which ended in dismemberment and war instead of fiery destruction from the heavens. Kings of the Old Testament had concubines — hundreds, in Solomon’s case — explicitly for extramarital sex. We only have to read to the fourth chapter of the Bible to find the first example of polygamy.
Rape, incest, harems, multiple spouses: all are things that today’s Christians consider sinful, even though they were apparently acceptable in the Old Testament.
We now see these stories as if exhibits in a museum, separated from us by a vaguely transparent barrier of time and foreign culture. But they are not foreign enough. In Christ, women are equal to men, and Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) points out that “The words and actions of Jesus underscored His elevated opinion of women.” — and yet we still hang on to the idea that women are responsible for things like pregnancy and rape.
As a result, Christians need to be cautious about how we interpret Biblical stories about sex. We need to make sure that our values are actually lining up with Christ’s. Too often we are stuck in the Old way of thinking.
Your “religious freedom” is not more important than mine
If a Catholic hospital hires a Methodist, whose religious freedoms should take precedence? It appears the courts usually side with individuals over corporations. When a religious institution willingly hires people who are not aligned with its beliefs, provides services to people who are not aligned with its beliefs, and accepts funding from sources that are not aligned with its beliefs, then the institution has chosen to subdue its own religious rights beneath those of the individuals with whom it interacts.
In other words: if you don’t want to support my religious beliefs over yours, then don’t hire me for your jobs, enroll me as your student, or spend my tax dollars via government grants.
In a related topic, leading Southern Baptists wrote in 1973 that “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.” That’s right: major conservative Christians originally described Roe vs. Wade as an affirmation of religious freedom. How times have changed!
For all kinds of reasons, the birth control mandate makes sense, and modern statistics show its positive effects.
Thanks to birth control, the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. is lower today than ever before. For every 100 teenage girls, there were approximately 2 births in 2015, compared to 9 births in the 1950s, even though they’re having just as much sex.
Thanks to birth control, couples are delaying children into their late 20s and beyond. The childbirth rate among women in their 30s is more than 5 per 100 women.
In addition, over the last three decades, the teen abortion rate has dropped by more than half, from 4 per 100 girls to 1.5 per 100 girls. Among women of all ages, the abortion rate has dropped to its lowest point in American history, thanks to birth control.
So, if common arguments against it don’t stand up to history or economics, why is it such a contentious political topic now?
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