Takeaway from Hobby Lobby Case? Make Birth Control Available Over the Counter

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case perfectly illustrates the conundrums we run into in a state-run society. When it comes to contraceptives, we need to get government and employers out of it — birth control should be available over the counter.

The essence of the state is such that it uses force to uphold laws. Under a system of force, someone is going to be upset by the thing they’re being forced to comply with — in this case, the force in question was the “contraception mandate” in the Affordable Care Act that required employers of a certain size to provide access to contraceptives in their insurance plans.

Now, I’m a staunch believer that birth control should be widely and readily available. No one should block women’s access to it — not an employer or a Supreme Court judge. The Hobby Lobby case has me in a tizzy just like everyone else, because I don’t like seeing women unable to access a pill that’s safe, prevents pregnancy, reduces ovarian cysts, helps women enjoy sex for pleasure, reduces menstrual cramps — the benefits go on and on.

But I also don’t like seeing government force people to comply with laws they disagree with — or force them to do anything, for that matter. The ACA mandate in question should have us all questioning the role of state power in relation to women’s bodily autonomy and personal freedom (yes, personal freedom applies to the morally questionable individuals who run companies like Hobby Lobby, too).

The question being debated all over the Twittersphere (and wherever else people talk politics) has been — does a woman’s freedom to use birth control/control her own body trump a religious employer’s freedom to refrain from funding something they believe (however ridiculously) is immoral, or vice versa? Is the true injustice here that the state (in this case via the ACA mandate) is forcing religious employers to provide birth control, or is the injustice that the religious employer is denying a woman access to something that’s her personal right to use?

When it comes down to it, no matter what SCOTUS ruled, someone was bound to feel wronged. After the ruling, women felt wronged. But if SCOTUS had ruled in favor of forcing private companies to provide something they find morally objectionable, religious employers would have felt wronged.

But you know what? It’s not really a dichotomy.

The fact is, this issue doesn’t have to be a case of reproductive rights advocates versus religious employers. We can craft a society in which religious employers don’t have a hand in private medical decisions and women are free to spend their money how they see fit.

Employers shouldn’t infringe on your personal medical decisions. They shouldn’t impose their personal moral beliefs on you. In that same vein, the state shouldn’t force employers to provide something they genuinely do not want to provide — no matter how regressive that view may be.

The whole thing could be resolved if we stop linking healthcare to employment. This will grant everyone freedom of choice — employers won’t have to worry about funding personal medical decisions they disagree with, and women will have the freedom to choose an insurance provider that covers contraceptives.

Or — even better — let’s make birth control available over the counter, so women will have the freedom buy it alongside other personal care items that carry similar low risk (allergy medication, aspirin, you name it) at their local drugstore.

Birth control is one of the safest drugs available, but it’s been entrenched in government regulations since Day 1. In Bloomberg View, Virgina Postrel points out  a 1993 declaration from The American Journal of Public Health: “more is known about the safety of oral contraceptives than has been known about any other drug in the history of medicine.” So why do women have to get permission from their doctors to use it?

The answer is blatant extortion, as Postrel writes. Under our current system, upheld by the FDA, doctors profit. They hold birth control hostage to get women to come in and pay for an invasive pelvic exam every year — something that’s not medically necessary or even linked to birth control at all. If birth control were available over the counter, this debate over whose-freedom-trumps-whose would be moot. Everyone would be free to act in favor of their personal moral convictions.

Laurie Rice of Atlas Society expands on the marriage of government and business as it relates to contraception in a flawless post:

“Beyond left and right, though, the good guys and bad guys in the contraception battle are all mixed up. Liberal feminists with the best intentions for women’s reproductive freedoms still aren’t identifying the actual problem: government power. There isn’t enough criticism of the government’s authority, as such, to control the market and thus control women’s access to the products that can improve their lives.”

So, no — a business should not prevent its female employees from using birth control on its insurance plan, morally speaking. But the government shouldn’t force them to provide it, legally speaking.

“A legal decision just further enmeshes the government with the private sector,” Rice writes. “In a fully free market, health insurance companies would be able to do business directly with their customers, instead of through employers. The current system is cobbled together through decades of mandates, subsidies, and regulation.”

In a truly free society, employers could hold their moral convictions, but government wouldn’t force women to bear the burden of those convictions. Healthcare wouldn’t be linked to employment, and women could go to any convenience store to buy birth control, just as they would with aspirin or antihistamines. No harm done, and everyone’s happy.

The solution is so easy, so apparent, that it’s kind of mind-boggling the debate is being framed around religious freedom and corporate personhood and not, hey — this drug is as common and as safe as nearly any we can acquire freely in the marketplace. Why the hell is it being held hostage?

If U.S. citizens would turn their eyes away from what the state or their employers will “allow” them to do and rally around the tenants of a truly free society, this debate would have been squashed long ago.

In the meantime, I fully support plans to boycott Hobby Lobby to showcase that fighting tooth and nail to bar their female employees access to contraception is unfavorable and morally abhorrent. After all, where we spend our money is the ultimate freedom of choice.

Julie Mastrine is a writer and feminist. She is the Activism Marketing and Social Media Manager at Care2 and is a social media volunteer for Stop Street Harassment. Follow Julie on Twitter and check out her e-book.


Update 7/1 12:28 PM: It’s important to point out that the Hobby Lobby case specifically affects IUDs, Ella, and Plan B, not birth control pills. Many social conservatives believe these contraceptives cause abortions, which is not true — they prevent implantation. However, the Supreme Court decision could open the door for companies to deny cover of birth control pills through their insurance plans in the future.