Thursday, January 2, 2014

Contra Contraception

Justice Sotomayor issued an injunction against mandated contraception coverage on behalf of a Roman Catholic order of nuns based in Colorado. Religious arguments still have some sway from time to time, it seems.
The Obama administration has repeatedly defended the birth control requirement. “The president believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said last month.
This is such obvious malarkey that there must be some other moral intuition at work than what meets the eye. Particularly since it is the government that dictates that women must visit a doctor before being allowed to purchase oral contraceptives.

With this case, we're not all that different from the sea captain in Locke's Venditio. From a particular point of view, a risk of surprise pregnancy is sort of similar to being just offshore minus an anchor: there's heightened uncertainty, and a substantial burden should the unexpected occur. For low-income, low-wealth young women, the BATNA is desperate. Therefore, contraception should be cheaper. Anything else is unjust, I reckon. I'm not sure how this counts as anyone "dictating" anything to women, but a desperate BATNA argument is the closest fit for the Carney quote up there.

But I'm still a bit puzzled why an employer should have even the first thing to do with a woman's reproductive choices. Unless she's in the sex trade, of course. If the market (I'll omit the scare quotes, but you and I both know that pharmaceuticals hardly constitute a pairwise market) for birth control is unjust as-is, why make things more difficult by involving firms? Why not directly subsidize contraceptives? Aren't out-of-work women just as (if not more) coerced by circumstance?

The practice of tying third party health service payment to employment is the Arnold Rimmer of in-kind compensation, doubly so if you buy the erroneous argument that health services are a public good. Why push this silly idea further when it comes to reproductive decisions? Shouldn't the decision to bear a child be one made by the mother with support from her intimate network? "Get the government out of my vagina" makes a fine appeal to liberty, privacy, and common dignity. It seems eminently sensible to extend that idea to, "get my boss out of my vagina." Sotomayor's injunction hardly goes far enough. If contraception is not euvoluntary, sloppy patchwork "solutions" are third-best in a world where a second-best solution is not only available, but politically viable.


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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?