Free Contraception: What are the Implications?

The Associated Press released an article over the weekend about a proposed provision in the new healthcare legislation that passed through Congress. Part of the healthcare overhaul was a proposal to provide preventative care to patients at no cost. According to the article, “A panel of experts advising the government meets in November to begin considering what kind of preventative care for women should be covered at no cost to the patient.” The question before the panel is whether or not various contraceptive methods should be included as “preventative care.”

There are a couple of ethical issues at play in the work of the panel and the government in general. I will not deal with all of them, but some of them include: 1) Is it the government’s role to provide free healthcare? 2) What is the definition of preventative medicine? 3) Is contraception preventative medicine? 4) Do certain types of contraception violate matters of conscience for which taxpayers should be exempt?

I will not deal with the first two questions, but I want to address the final two. Dr. David Grimes, an OB-GYN and professor at the University of North Carolina, is quoted in the article stating,

“There is clear and incontrovertible evidence that family planning saves lives and improves health. Contraception rivals immunization in dollars saved for every dollar invested. Spacing out children allows for optimal pregnancies and optimal child rearing. Contraception is a prototype of preventative medicine.”

The questions to ask Dr. Grimes are: 1) What is improved health? 2) How do you define “optimal pregnancies”? 3) What is “optimal child rearing”? My guess is that he would define improved health as avoiding any medical condition that is viewed as undesirable in the eyes of the patient. He would probably say that optimal pregnancies are only those that are carefully planned and spaced at previously determined intervals. Finally, his definition of optimal child rearing probably has something to do with caring only for children that are the result of planned pregnancies and not being burdened by too many children.

I certainly do not desire to go back to the Middle Ages for my medical technology, but viewing pregnancy as a medical condition against which you can “immunize” is medieval at best. We are talking about the creation of life, human beings, babies, not the measles. Contraception is a bigger issue than merely the prevention of a medical condition.

In Psalm 127:3-5, Solomon writes, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”

We need to evaluate our own motives and perspectives on the use of contraceptives so that we are in keeping with God’s desires. If we view children as a burden or another line item on the expense chart, we are not in keeping with God’s perspective on children. God is very clear—children are a blessing.

When looking at the various types of contraceptives that are being considered as a free service, we must consider how they function. The article notes that this initiative “would remove a cost barrier that may be keeping women away from more reliable long-acting birth control.” This more expensive form of birth control includes intrauterine devices (IUDs) which function, in part, to change the endometrial lining of the uterus to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.[i] In addition, some forms of the IUD depend on copper wires to prevent fertilization or implantation. Thus, a woman is placing copper in her uterus for up to ten years at a time, running the risk of developing other medical problems as a result of the IUD.

Another form of birth control that will create controversy regarding this proposed initiative is the so-called “morning after pill.” This is a pill that can be taken within a few days of sexual activity to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. This method of birth control has generated much controversy through the years and many states have made allowances for pharmacists who have conscientious objections to dispensing these pills.

In both the case of the morning after pill and IUDs, the question comes to when life begins. If you believe that life begins at conception (as I do), then these methods of birth control are of serious concern. If you believe that life begins at some other point, I would challenge you to try to specify at what point after conception life actually begins. Does it begin at birth? What about viability in the womb (which seems to get earlier and earlier with progressing medical technology)? What about brain activity, motion, etc? The clearest point at which a change of state occurs and something new exists is conception. And if new life begins at conception, then these methods of birth control raise serious ethical concerns.

At the end of the day, we may not have any say in what the healthcare reform looks like, but we need to express our beliefs to our elected officials and inform them that we have a problem. Unfortunately, the article states that aside from Catholics, “most other religious conservatives have stayed out of the debate.” May we not repeat our folly from the abortion debate of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Let’s make our voice heard and protect life.

5 comments

  1. You don’t address the issue of whether “the government should pay for free health care.” There is no such thing as ‘free.’ Someone is paying and when there is a government funded health care program, the taxpayers, (i.e., we) are paying for it.

    I don’t know if you are for or against that, but I gather that you are against because you raise the question. If you are against, how can you ask the government to “protect” life. You don’t want it to save existing lives but you are worried about the never should have been born unwanted children what are what is really driving up your taxes.

    1. Jim,
      I did not address that particular question, but my general answer is no in the form that we have seen this new healthcare bill propose. I am not against providing healthcare at no cost to the patient for life-saving procedures and other essential medical care. However, in the past it was the various church denominations that did much of this (especially across the South) because they started hospitals and clinics to care for those who could not afford healthcare. The government has stepped into that role in the last 50-100 years.

      In my opinion, birth control is far outside the scope of life-saving medical care. Yes, I have heard the argument that birth control prevents unwanted children from being abused, mistreated, and left to care for themselves. But that is an entirely different problem, and there are other ways to care for these children if their parents really do not want them (e.g., adoption).

      You make the statement that “never should have been born unwanted children…are what is really driving up your taxes.” Do you have any documentation for that statement? Are there any studies on the costs of “unwanted children” and what they cost taxpayers? Your statement makes a bold claim but you provide no support or documentation.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I don’t have specific hard data but an unwanted child is more likely to have fetal alcohol syndrome, be neglected or otherwise unsupervised, and unsupported emotionally and intellectually. These things put the burden on the child and society if the kid is going to rise above those challenges. All of these things lead to, at best, unproductive citizens and at worst, criminals and there is a huge cost to society.

    Of course, this issue is one of the ideological fault lines in our society and you can always cite cases of kids from good families going bad and kids overcoming bad family experiences, but those are probably the minority.

    I don’t have any answers but I don’t think we should exclude any opportunity to solve the problem.

    1. Jim,
      Sorry for the delay in responding. The interesting thing about your reply is that you describe the problem not being the children but the parents. So it looks like the better solution to the problem is not to kill unwanted children in the womb, but to train these expecting mothers and fathers about the responsibilities of parenthood. If they are not willing to take that responsibility, then we can show them other option like adoption.

      Without hard data that unwanted children cost more money, I am afraid your argumentation simply does not hold water.

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