The Blunt Amendment Fallacy: The Pill Is Just Basic Healthcare

What Women Really Think
March 1 2012 5:03 PM

The Pill Is Just Basic Health Care

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A woman holds prescription contraceptives.

Photo by Tim Matsui/Getty Images

Rachael, in some ways I can understand what you're saying about the debate over contraception and the issues of religious liberty. But in reality it's not that simple. For example, what about the fact that the pill is used as treatment for disease, such as endometriosis, which is currently experiencing an uptick among young women in the United States, and can lead to infertility? (Never mind the debilitating pain that might lead an employee to miss work during her period.) The pill is also is shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Hence doctors prescribe it for women's HEALTH. This is why it is a women's health issue.

And this is where I find it very difficult to feel any patience with the conservatives-just-want-freedom argument: It's just not that simple. Were we to live in a world in which the church could opt out of covering the pill for its employees, we would live in an unequal world, where men had more access to basic care than women did. To me, THAT is meddling. As Amanda points out, your employer shouldn’t have that much control over your private medical decisions.

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I come from an extended Catholic family. Let's say one of my cousins works for a Catholic hospital and needs to go on the pill because she, like me, has endometriosis. Does she have to pay for it herself? Or set aside cases of illness. Let's say that she is concerned about the strong history of cancer in our family, which is genetically connected to colon cancer. Does she have to *change jobs* in order to get what should be a basic access to medicine?  The pill is hormone therapy, basically. It's not something you use just because you're having sex. Of course, I happen to believe that even in that case it's still a women's health issue, and that all contraception should be covered. But even if we grant that, not reimbursing for the pill would still be extremely limiting for women. And this is why feminists and liberals are upset about it.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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