Libertarian Fail on Birth Control

Emily CrockettEmily Crockett has written one of the best articles I’ve read all year, Timothy Lee, Latest Mansplainer on the Birth Control Benefit, Gets It All Wrong. It all started with the puppet video about reproductive rights. Crockett tweeted out a link to the video adding, “Puppets are creepy. So is your employer deciding whether you can get birth control.” Apart from the unnecessary puppet slight, I’m right with her. But then came Timothy Lee. You may know him, because I’ve written about his excellent writing about intellectual property. He a libertarian and when it comes to such issues, he is surprisingly good.

But when it comes to most issues, Lee is just an ignorant conservative. Truthfully, he reminds me of myself at that age. Anyway, he replied to Crockett’s tweet with this own, “Luckily people are free to pay for their own birth control.” Just on it’s surface this is such a stupid comment. What’s the point of having health insurance through your employer if they can decide what kind of care is reasonable? As Crockett noted, an employer might be a Christian Scientist. In that case, they ought to be able to stop their employees from getting cancer treatments because God can cure everything except for broken bones.

The whole thing does point out the need for government provided single-payer health insurance. But, of course, Lee would be totally against that. Just like a typical libertarian who has thought through everything half way, Lee forgets about the history of employer provided healthcare and how it is part of people’s compensation. Because here’s the thing that isn’t widely known: Hobby Lobby—the company going before the Supreme Court to try to deny their employee’s birth control coverage—provided health insurance before Obamacare that—Wait for it!—provided birth control coverage. So taking it away now is just a way of giving women a large cut in pay.

What’s more, the whole thing shows that this is not about religious liberty at all. It’s about grandstanding. And if the Supreme Court finds for Hobby Lobby, it will show that it is no longer a judicial body but just a bunch of (at least five) partisan hacks. That’s why I’m not at all convinced that Hobby Lobby will lose. But based upon what Lee said, I can only assume that he thinks they ought to win. And it demonstrates that libertarianism is at base just a philosophy developed by the power elite to justify and expand their power. Thus, libertarians tend to upper-middle class (or better) white men. It is not surprising that Lee is an upper-middle class white man.

Crockett goes on to make some excellent points about the issue. I recommend checking out the whole thing, but here’s the guts of it:

Now, the option to deny women this opportunity is supposed to be about religious liberty. But in all the hand-wringing over the souls of secular corporations like Hobby Lobby, many forget that employees—flesh-and-blood people, not abstract entities—have religious liberty too

It’s funny, isn’t it, that there has been so much public outrage over an issue that just happens to be about helping women determine their sexual and reproductive autonomy. Is there any other procedure covered by insurance but objected to by a religious minority—blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses, or vaccinations for Christian Scientists—that we would seriously consider letting members of those groups not just refuse to use themselves, but also deny to others who don’t share their beliefs? Why do we give so much deference as a society to people with sincerely held beliefs that just happen to harm women, and why do we consider letting them set such a dangerous precedent that could so easily restrict other freedoms in the name of an employer’s “conscience”? …

The thing is, that’s not a question people are bothering to ask about Viagra—which does require copays but is still covered under insurance—or prostate exams, or well-baby visits. The “we’re paying for you to have sex” meme really got off the ground when people got it into their heads that women are getting “free birth control.” C’mon, we can’t have freeloaders, can we? Freedom isn’t “free”!

Except it’s not about the no-copay thing, at least not really. That fueled the fires of indignation, but the religious right is pushing for insurance plans that don’t even cover birth control—and most of them already did, even if they required copays. That’s an extra step back, and one that makes coverage for Viagra that much more awkward to explain.

The whole episode goes to show how stupid it is to glibly apply ideology to complex issues. But this is the way with libertarianism, is it not? There’s some theoretical ideal that it pushes without a thought to the practical consequences to actual people. Timothy Lee’s tweet is entirely typical of the libertarian world view. There answer to every problem is, “Well, be rich!” But when you look at actual issues and actual human beings, the philosophy is cruel and useless.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Libertarian Fail on Birth Control

  1. Mumble… one thing about the Hobby Lobby people, in their defense they’ve been fairly reasonable about "pre-conception" contraceptives. But they’ve got the notion, shared by many many people, that once a sperm cell has penetrated an egg that a viable fetus — a living thing, sacred to God — has been formed, and that any attempt to kill that fetus or to prevent it from being embedded in the woman’s uterus is a moral crime. Rape, incest, padephilia, make out sessions going too far — no matter what the circumstances of that conception may have been, trying to end a pregnancy is deliberate murder.

    So sigh. Lot’s of people feel this way. I’m not one of them, but I’m not on the Supreme Court, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if 5 justices there soon decide this is exactly how they feel.

    Which isn’t actually a comment dealing with your post so I’ll add this: We’ve made fewmale contraception into a very big deal in this country, largely becase our rulers want it to be. So women have to go to doctors to get prescriptions for The Pill, those prescriptions have to be reauthorized every few months, the prescriptions are filled by phramacists … Looks like and sounds like medical practice to me, so yeah, getting the pill ought to be covered by Obamacare.

    But there is a happy alternative: give up the notion of contraception as medicine. Sell it over the counter. Let anyone buy contraceptives, at any age, with no prescriptions and no IDs. Treat the pill as just something like chewing gum, and encourage competition to bring the price down, and then it won’t matter to anyone whether contraceptves are covered by Obamacare. Isn’t this an idea sure to appeal to every type of American conservative?

  2. @Mike – Is that question factitious? Because they certainly will have a problem with it. In this issue we have a nexus of a whole lot of conservative pathologies. One, of course, is just the hatred of anything that helps the poor. This is, after all, their own damned healthcare law that they just loved up until the very second the Democrats embraced it. But the bigger pathology is simple hatred of women–or at least women as autonomous beings. No one (other than the eggheads at the Catholic Church) was talking about the birth control pill being a kind of abortion ten years ago. Give the protestants time; they’ll get to being against every form of birth control–and then masturbation!

    I also want to add that these people are against these things because they’ve been told to be against them. The Catholic Church debated whether than egg had a soul for hundreds of years. These are highly academic and difficult arguments. And this is why most American Catholics don’t accept them. But for the protestants, it’s just "get the evil secularists" dogma. I doubt one Christian in a thousand understands the distinction between conception and implantation when it comes to this stuff. In their minds it is just "killing babies." What’s more, it is all about when the [i]soul[/i] enters the body. And I don’t see how that ought to have any relevance to government policy. But it does to these people because they want a theocracy.

    The whole thing really angers me. (Obviously!) Hobby Lobby and the other companies are only doing this stuff for political reasons. They want to destroy Obamacare. And these should be settled issues. We should be dealing with other issues like eliminating poverty. Instead, we are trying to fight against an issue that will increase poverty. And I think that is part of the reason for the attack.

  3. Well, it was a semi-facetious remark. Or maybe a 3/4-facetious remark. But not totally facetious — I’m old enough to recall when if a guy wanted condems ("rubbers"), he had to wait in a drug store till the pharmacist was alone and then explain in whispers what he wanted to purchase. It’s still a bit of a shock to wander through a drug store, or even a supermarket these days, and find rows of these little flat boxes sitting out on display where God and 8-year olds can see them.

    Moving on, but still keeping to my experiences, I got to point out that Conservatives did NOT view Obamacare (or Romneycare) as "their own damned healthcare law." Just about all American conservatives have hated any flavor of "Socialized Medicine" since JFK and LBJ came up with the idea of Medicare. It’s part of their self-identification, like hating Commies and taxes. You want to tell me about the Heritage Foundation, I’m sure. But most conservatives never heard of Heritage, never heard of Massachusetts health care law until Obama was elected, and never would accepted such a thing as anything at all a Real Republican would ever even think of making a law. Conservatives make very poor policy wonks, if you haven’t noticed.

    As for "the political reasons" that motivate Hobby Lobby’s owners and others, I see that differently also. Mostly, conservatives have a very simple view of things: "There is stuff that is bad and I am opposed to bad things and they either are against the law or they should be. Period." ]

    I’m opposed to murder. It’s a Bad Thing, and the law makes it illegal, and that’s that. I’m opposed to theft, and it’s against the law. And I’m opposed to Adultery and it’s — whaddya saying? It’s illegal, everywhere, do look in the law books! And auto dealers who set back odometers on used cars, that’s illegal! And kids shouldn’t have sex before they’re married, or at least they shouldn;t talk about it, so we need a law. And abortion is murder so that’s a crime too and we have to have a law …

    Summed up, conservatives think the law should coincide with their moral views, a notion partially inculcated by the fact that some laws do indeed so coincide. The notion that laws should be obeyed despite not so coinciding is a little harder to sink in — which partially explains drunk American servicemen in Arab nations. And conservatives are totally blind to the idea that laws might incorporate policies, such as Obamacare or Easy Divorce, which transcend individual moral beliefs but which seem useful for the overall society.

    Probably I could gussy this up a bit by waving at Maslows’s Heirarchy of Values, but the comment’s gone on enough…

  4. @mike – I’ve written various times about what was going on with the "conservative healthcare plan." It was never meant seriously. It was the bait in the usual conservative "bait and switch." It was there to stop single payer or even something like the Clinton plan. But the idea was always to abandon it the moment that it because politically viable. So I suspect that we are in agreement, but I write in short hand here. However, the fact that Romneycare got passed is some indication of some level of conservative support. But of course, reasonableness is much more common on the state level among conservatives.

    As for the second point, I think you need to distinguish between conservative elites and conservatives. And even there, I think you are only referring to a the social conservatives. Most conservatives I talk to are supremely reasonable. (Well, on economic issues, which are my thing.) But as a group, they are easy to manipulate with a certain kind of simplistic rhetoric.

    But one doesn’t take a case to the Supreme Court without being politically sophisticated. And the fact remains that Hobby Lobby apparently wasn’t even aware they were paying for birth control coverage before. It was only when it got politicized. That is: it was only when right wing radio and TV got on it that they noticed that this was an outrage, an outrage I tell you!

    But let’s get back to this issue of making the pills available OTC. Do you really think that conservatives would not start freaking out about it encouraging 14-year-olds to have sex? That’s a serious question because we both know that you are an iconoclast!

    (BTW: I too remember those days. I always found it humiliating and seriously thought about buying them through Adam & Eve, which I learned about in an add in the back of [i]Rolling Stone[/i].)

  5. Supremely reasonable, eh? You must run around with a tonier set of conservatives than I did in my days …

    (Actually, my impression is that once upon a time, in Goldwater days, young capital-c Conservatives were fairly bright people who attempted to argue logicically. One can argue back that their premises stunk, but … Today, young conservatives are much less ideological, and often much less impressive as reasoners. IQ levels seem to have dropped.)

    But that’s not the issue. Would making the pill available OTC work? Yes it would freak conservatives out at present, but in the long run … I think it actually could work, to be honest.

    I’m not a lady, never bought the pill myself, and I’ve never been to Europe, so I can’t testify as an expert. But my impression is that getting a prescription for the pill renewed in most of Europe involves a 2 minute chat with a nurse, rather than a half hour consultation, sometimes with an examination, with a doctor. And it’s geting easier and easier to get a presciption filled through the postal service in this country. So contraceptives have lost some of the Big Medical Deal mystique they had 50 years, and might as well be cleared for OTC usage as Isopropen and ZyrTec and various other things the law lets us buy these days. Like contraceptives for guys.

    There’s a minor issue in that not all contraceptives work equally well for all women, and so some number of women really would benefit from consulting a doctor or pharmacist and being steered from one brand of pill or one dosage of hormones to another. But that’s an absolutely legitimate medical issue which health care ought to cover anyhow (and as far as I know, does).

    As for whether this is "encouraging 14-year-olds to have sex", I dunno. The blunt fact is 50 years ago, most American girls lost their virginity at about 16. And the last time I noticed a statistic, about 5 years ago, most American girls lost their virginity at about 16. You wanto know at whiat age I think most Amereican girls will lose their virginity in the year 2065? Take a wild guess.

    We’ve got a lot more transgender issues coming up to tittilate American society, I suspect. We’re going to confront that funny little semi-secret American medical tradition about transforming boy babies with small penises into little girl babies who have to take hormone pills every day of their life. We’re going to have more little sects popping up demanding their religious right to polygamy and polyandry. We’re likely to see a whole lot more bisexuality. The laws going to learn to look elsewhere at some amount of incest. I suspect people are going to switch from straight to gay and back or sideways, just as quickly and easily as people now shave off beards or regrow hair after a Brazilian wax job. Stuff is going to be optional!

    I foresee weightier issues ahead than 14 year olds. But I’m a conservative old coot.

  6. @mike – I said reasonable, not reasoning. Not young, Tea Party folk. The problem with them is that they will agree to Dean Baker style reforms. But in the end, they will vote to screw the poor even though they actually believe in leveling the playing field. For example, they are all against the bank bailouts, but they really got going as a result of help to troubled home owners.

    If you haven’t done so, you should read Emily Crocket’s article. For one thing, not all women will want to be on the bill. There’s also the IUD. And there is the issue of gender equality: why is Viagra covered? Regardless, there is still the problem that now vast numbers of conservatives believe that the pill and the IUD cause abortions. I also think you are giving these people more credit than they deserve. This isn’t about reproductive health; it is yet another effort to destroy Obamacare.

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