May the Force Abandon You: Heller and S. 2578

Heller 3Face it ladies, Senator Heller’s (R-NV) just not that into you.  As noticed by the NRDC, Senator Heller was one of those who voted in favor of sustaining the GOP filibuster of the Hobby Lobby Decision fix.  Here it is, big as “Pro-Life” itself, on Senate vote 228, Senator Heller’s opposition to a bill that would have:

“Affirmed requirements, notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, that: (1) an employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees must provide coverage of a specific item or service for the employees or their dependents where the coverage is required under federal provisions or regulations pursuant to those provisions; and (2) group health plans sponsored by an employer or employee organization, and any health insurance coverage, must provide coverage required under the Public Health Service Act, including preventive health services.

Authorizes the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury to modify regulations concerning coverage of contraceptive services by group health plans of religious employers consistent with the purposes and findings (regarding coverage of birth control services and the Supreme Court decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell) of this Act.” [S 2578]

Simple, if the employer offers group health insurance plans as part of the earned benefits in the employee compensation package, the plans must meet federal standards; if the employer is a non-profit religious organization the rules can be modified.

But, but, but… The Republicans have another plan — yes, and it doesn’t address the problem. The GOP version of the legislation merely states that “no employer can block any employee from legal access to her FDA-approved contraceptives.” [TP]  All this does is reiterate that contraceptive medications are legal.  We already know they are legal, and there’s  a big difference between “Access” and “Affordability.”  For some individuals Affordability determines whether or not there is Access.

There appears to be a singularly silly bit of balderdash on offer from the Right Wing that contraceptives are available at the corner convenience store. [NBC]   They are, if your definition of ‘contraceptives’ is what we oldsters called a Rubber.  They aren’t, if we’re discussing The Pill, actually several kinds of pills, which are available only by prescription.  This means, of course, that there is an appointment with a physician required, and a prescription to be filled.  Honestly, I never thought I’d ever have to explain this to anyone, but in case Nevada contains some troglodytes only recently emerged from the cave, here goes:

#1. Contraceptives require a prescription, and a prescription requires a visit to a physician.  Physicians want to be paid.  In Massachusetts, for example, the cost for a female exam ranges from $185 to $240 per visit. [BCMa pdf]

#2. The notion that any woman can get prescription Pills for $9 per month is a myth.  Yes, there are some contraceptives which can be purchased in a pack of 28 for $9.00. However, some women are prescribed specific pills for specific purposes, and to address specific symptoms.  Jezebel explains:

“Birth control pills are made of hormones—sometimes just one hormone and sometimes a combination of two hormones (progesterone and estrogen). The combinations and sequences vary and are selected for each patient to distinctly meet her needs. For example, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) will need a different level of hormones than other women and thus, her prescription needs to be carefully managed under a doctor’s care. The same goes with women suffering from irregular menses, dysmenorrhea, vaginal bleeding, ruptured cysts, or hemorrhagic cyst. That being said, birth control can cost a woman up to $129.99 per pill pack.” (emphasis added)

By the way… women don’t take Pills the way men take Viagra, when the “mood is right.”  So, the range spans the low end $9 form to the $130 per month packets, every month.  Some of the simpler compounds (estrogen/progestin) can be in that lower price range, but when folate is added (estrogen/progestin/folate combinations) the price tag hits the $116.00 per month for a 28 pill packet. [GoodRx]  The type of prescription medication is determined by the physician, and there are at least 57 types of birth control pills ranging from $18 to $130 per month. [GoodRx]

Remember, not so long ago, when the Republicans were bellowing that any federal reform of our health care system would be putting a third party in between a person and the physician?  That’s exactly what the Supreme Court did in the Hobby Lobby decision. It inserted an employer between the woman and her doctor, in essence telling the doctor, “We’re sorry if in your best professional judgment an IUD is the best option, because we’re not going to offer coverage for that in our group health insurance plans.”  By the way, an IUD costs between $500 and $1,000 and must be inserted by a health care provider — not the guy at the counter at the Gas ‘N Go.  And, NO, it doesn’t cause abortions.

Cheesy Whines

Why should an employer have to pay for something he doesn’t believe in?

Because — He’s providing an earned benefit (group health care insurance plans) as part of the total employee compensation package. Employee compensation packages are regulated.  There are minimum wages, there are overtime provisions, and there are rules for what must be covered in employer sponsored group health insurance plans.

Why do we have to give women free birth control?

Because — it isn’t free.  Employer sponsored group health insurance plans are usually set up such that both the employer and the employee are paying into them.  Why should an employee have to pay into a plan that doesn’t meet the federal standards for comprehensive health insurance coverage for basic medical services? However, there’s more to this argument isn’t there?

Send the children out, it’s time to talk about sex.

There are at least 5 million reasons for a comprehensive health care insurance plan being required to cover some contraceptive prescriptions — that’s the number of women in the country who suffer with endometriosis.  That’s a ball park figure because the NIH estimates that from 6% to 10% of all women in this country have this condition. [NIH]  Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects about 5% to 10% of the female population, especially those between the ages of 18 and 44.  [NIH] Serious menstrual irregularities plague about 9% to 14% of the women in this country. [NIH]  Add all these numbers up and there are more than enough medical reasons contraceptive medication is covered in comprehensive health insurance plans.  But we know why many couples use contraceptives…

Contraceptives are used when partners want to have sex and don’t want more children.  To the Talibanic among us this is “sex without consequences.”   This sounds a bit silly because most sexual intercourse comes without those little consequences.

“..women who are 25 and have been trying to get pregnant for three months have an 18 percent chance of getting pregnant in their next menstrual cycle. By contrast, women who are 40 and have been trying for three months have only a 7 percent chance. After one year of trying, 25-year-old women have a 10 percent chance of getting pregnant in their next cycle; 40-year-old women have a 3 percent shot.” [HuffPo]

Obviously, if the woman has an irregular menstrual cycle it’s harder to “lower” those chances, but the odds of producing a little consequence are still rather low, even for healthy, young, females in their prime child bearing years.   Therefore, let’s leave the odds-making part of the procreation argument and move on to the recreational part — which has more health benefits than one might expect.

The Health Information Database provides this happy news:

“Frequent, pleasurable sex in marriage has countless emotional and physical benefits for both partners. In fact, sex, marriage, and well-being are closely related.  Studies show that frequent sex can help you live a longer and healthier life. For men, it can lower the risk of prostate cancer. Sex improves blood circulation and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also has a positive effect on the immune system, which helps to protect you against diseases of all types.”

But wait, there’s more — posture improvement, muscle tone, functioning as a sleep aid, chemicals released in the brain assist in memory and mental functions, sexual activity burns off cortisol which in turn reduces appetite (weight loss anyone?) — with the added bonus: “The chemicals released in the brain during sex – oxytocin, serotonin, phenyl ethylamine, endorphins – all play a role in diminishing both chronic and acute pain.” [HID]

But for all the scientific wonders of sexual activity, perhaps the best reasons are emotional and psychological, and good for sustaining the marriage:

“Feelings of commitment and affection between partners are heightened by sexual activity. Sex boosts your self-esteem, reduces insecurity, and causes you to feel better about yourself. It makes you more optimistic and helps to combat depression. It is also one of the greatest stress relievers imaginable.” [HID]

With all this in mind, why would anyone oppose the use of contraception if it made marriage partners more likely to engage in the intimacy which produces all these good results?


Patriarchal religions, and that includes most of the major ones, devalued women.  There are Biblical references to women as property, as inferior beings, as subservient to male partners, but interestingly enough neither Jesus nor Mohammed was quite as strict on the subject as their followers. [RatWik]  Couple this with a common interpretation of Genesis 2 and we have the quotidian put down.

God planted the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:9), and the Serpent advises Eve to eat the fruit because “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4)  The First Couple eats the fruit and God tosses them out of the garden.

What do they realize when they awaken? They are naked. The rest of the animal kingdom doesn’t care.  Note, it’s not God who has a problem with nakedness — all the rest of the creatures aren’t sewing fig leaf fashions.  But then, all the rest of the creatures haven’t decided they have the god-like capacity to pronounce judgment about what’s good and what’s not.  Somehow, the message that mankind lost the innocence of the natural state, and set itself apart from the rest of Creation got transformed into Eve Bad Adam Good  But for Her.

Just how far this transformation can go is illustrated in John Knox’s  1558 “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” Knox was particularly displeased with female monarchs,

“To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; contumely to God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.”  [BBC]

What Knox got for his trouble was the succession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England.   However, his 16th century sentiments still have their followers.  The idea that nakedness = sex, and sex = bad, and women tempt men, ergo women are bad, requires some mental gymnastics, but we appear to have an abundance of those who find this plausible.

The Victorian Era promoted motherhood and domesticity, and the unfortunate notion that sex was something to be endured while “closing one’s eyes and thinking of England.” Fast forward to women in the 1930a, and the advice is essentially the same, “nothing destroys the happiness of married life more than the lazy slovenly wife.” [Telegraph]  Notice, that’s not philandering, or lazy and slovenly,  husbands.  Fast forward once again, and we have Republican mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh proclaiming that men who support the contraceptive mandate only want sex.

“But the thing I have learned is that men are totally supportive. Today’s young men are totally supportive of somebody else buying women their birth control pills. Make sure the women are taking them, ’cause sex is what it’s all about.” [Politicususa]

From John Knox (and others) to the advice columns and treatises of the modern era; right down to the atrabilious Limbaugh, the old canard that sex = sin, maintains its force.

That force was in evidence yet again in Senator Dean Heller’s vote to filibuster X. 2578.  May this force leave us.

*Update & Mea Culpa for mis-identifying the bill number in the original, a mistake deeply regretted.

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