Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Free Birth Control

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

A federal judge in Missouri recently threw out a legal challenge to the Obama health care law. The premise of the charge was that it violated the first amendment right of Freedom of Religion by forcing all health insurance plans to cover free birth control. Some believe that the blessing of life is given by God's grace and therefore pregnancy should be encouraged instead of put off. The law exempts health care plans provided by churches, religious institutions, and places of worship for this very reason.

The argument came down to this: Should people be forced to financially contribute to something that goes against their religious beliefs? (It's a very nominal contribution at that, thus the philosophical debate is much more interesting.) The court basically said that it is in the nature of democracy and social order for everyone to contribute to the goals of society as established through legislation created by elected officials. It is a dangerous precedent to do otherwise. For example: If my religion disagrees with a war currently being fought by my government on my behalf, does that give me the right to withhold taxes to my government? The answer is no, because otherwise no one would ever pay taxes.

Being a policy writer as opposed to a legal scholar, there is something that I find even more interesting: Free control reduces abortions by 62 to 78 percent as compared to the national rate. The national rate is a mix of people who have to pay full price, a co-pay, or nothing at all to obtain their birth control, as currently determined by health insurance corporate policies as well as government and non-profit programs.

Let's recap that, by letting women obtain birth control for free instead of for $10 to $40 per month, our nation can decrease the number of abortions by two-thirds. That is one huge outstanding incentive effect that I would not have expected. Considering that half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned, it is slightly less surprising. But make no mistakes, this policy just works. Only if all government programs were so effective at achieving their stated goals.

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