The Health Care Debate Is Over How Much Control Your Employer Should Have Over Your Private Life

What Women Really Think
March 1 2012 3:53 PM

Cheeky Obama Campaign Captures the Debate

Nancy Pelosi defends contraception coverage.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news briefing with reporters

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Rachael, I'm sorry that the Obama campaign's cheeky little ad about contraception and health care coverage upset you, but I personally found it clarifying. One thing that's gotten lost in all the discussion about whether or not an employer should be able to block your access to contraception coverage is that the health insurance that an employee gets for working belongs to the employee, not to the employer. It, like your wages, is compensation for the work you do. Demanding that employers be able to retain control over how benefits are used after they are earned by employees sounds downright Orwellian to me. It's no different than saying that an employer should control how you spend your wages you've earned. This ad makes that clear: Regardless of conservative hand-waving around the issue, having your employer retain control over how you use benefits you've already earned is giving your employer far too much control over your personal decisions. It's a violation of your religious liberty, just as surely as it would be if they forcibly deducted 10 percent from your paycheck to give it over to the church of their choice.

My only real complaint with the ad is that it didn't capture how much power over your private medical decisions the now-dead Blunt amendment would have given your employer. Allowing employers to forcibly deduct benefits from your compensation package because they disapprove of how you use them would have affected more than contraception. Employers would have been able to take away your right to use your health insurance for your children's vaccinations, for basic gynocological care, and even for diabetes. In an effort to pretend that this wasn't about contraception, Republicans put all health insurance that workers have earned into peril, not just their contraception coverage. 

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It's interesting to me to see so many folks who claim to find abortion immoral and upsetting so eager to denounce universal health care and the contraception mandate that went with it. You would think that opponents of abortion would like to see our abortion rate go down. We already know that countries such as the Netherlands, France, and Germany have much lower abortion rates than we do, because these countries put a premium on the prevention of unintended pregnancy through a combination of universal health care and prioritizing contraception access. We also know that the high price of contraception is one reason we have such a high abortion rate in the United States. While unintended pregnancy rates for higher-income women who have no problem affording contraception have gone down 29 percent since 1994, those rates have gone up 50 percent for poorer women, bringing the abortion rate for that group up by 18 percent. These are the women whom the HHS regulations will help the most, allowing them to catch up to the dramatically dropping abortion rates for women of means. Taking contraception out of the "luxury" column and doing like they do in much of Western Europe and putting it in the "affordable for everyone" column will go a long way to getting us to those nice, low abortion rates those countries enjoy. You'd think anyone who found abortion icky would be the first to sign up for that program. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

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