(Editor’s note: This commentary is an edited version of an Op-Ed that appeared in The Detroit News on October 10, 2012.)
The Life of Julia. The Planned Parenthood v. Susan B. Komen Foundation debacle. Sandra Fluke. Women's health care this year has been depicted as a partisan "war on women," rife with attacks on women's rights.
But let's examine the policy argument behind this suffragette language.
President Barack Obama's current re-election website cites a Planned Parenthood statistic that some women could save $18,000 over a lifetime on birth control thanks to the Affordable Care Act. This has been depicted countless times in popular and social media as "empowerment."
This is patently absurd. If a woman is using the pill — still the most consistently effective and affordable non-permanent option available — for her entire reproductive lifespan, she would be spending about $10 per month for thirty years, which amounts to $3,600.
Free birth control exists already — it's not comparable to cancer treatments or insulin shots. But the use of birth control for endometriosis pain or other ailments was already covered by Catholic universities and others even before the individual mandate — as long as the patient had a doctor's prescription.
What's more, what is "basic" health care to one person — woman or man — is essential health care to someone else. The basic packages required by law are the direct result of special-interest lobbying for contraceptives, dentists, psychotherapy, chiropractors, hair plugs and many different medical needs.
According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance's 2011 annual report, there are currently over 2,000 "individual mandates" counting those ordered by individual states, and each mandate raises the cost of insurance premiums by the comparative value of the medicine.
A reality check might be the Merck controversy in 2007. This chemical and medical manufacturer lobbied state legislatures so aggressively to require the use of its new cervical cancer vaccine that voters and public health experts began to realize that, hey, this was actually a business trying to sell its drug. Mandating public and private schools inoculate sixth grade girls against a sexually-transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer was neither supported by a cultural crisis nor by escalating levels of cervical cancer among adolescents.
Eventually, people moved on to other concerns, even as the HPV vaccine became mandated in some 41 states. Merck's response to the opposition? "The timing wasn't right."
Mandating at the federal level raises the lobbying stakes and the insurance burden on everyone. If you're insured, you are paying more for the entire package, which must recoup the cost of the mandate. If you are uninsured, the premium will be higher unless you have a voucher. The moral rock upon which these women stand crumbles when you consider the shared financial burden.
And since when did the right for the government to weigh down everyone's health care costs with special-interest mandates become "women's health care?" The National Women's Law Center ranked the health of states for women, and the top killers were the exact same as they were for men. Sedentary living. Obesity. Unhealthy eating. Smoking. Heart disease and diabetes.
That's clearly where the focus should be. Instead, politicians are bickering over $10 birth control available at any Rite Aid.
I understand how the "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" cultural standards for women's sexuality can provoke women to say, "There should be a law." But we're putting our faith in a chimera — there's no legislation that could change people's hearts. It's up to women to live their lives with dignity and intelligence, rising above the Todd Akins of the world.
Outsourcing a cultural discontent to the government is a prohibitive proposal in today's economy — and grants power back to an outside authority, which is the precise opposite of what classical feminism is about.