.
March 6th, 2012
12:56 PM ET

Opinion: Insurance coverage for birth control is a right, not an 'entitlement'

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.  You can follow her on Twitter @carolynedgar.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

(CNN) – Rush Limbaugh may have offered a tepid apology to Sandra Fluke for his vicious, unprincipled attack, but it’s doubtful Limbaugh is truly sorry for his choice of words. By painting Fluke, the Georgetown University law student whom he excoriated for her pro-birth control testimony before Congress, as a “slut” who wants taxpayers to pay her to have sex, Limbaugh attempted to give the GOP more weapons to use against President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. In typical Limbaugh fashion, his methods may have been sloppy, but effective.

Limbaugh’s reframing of health insurance coverage for birth control – a right supported by the Bush Administration without question for over a decade – as yet another “entitlement” sought by greedy liberals was not lost on conservatives, even as they chided him for his poor choice of words. A Wall Street Journal opinion writer, for example, argued that Fluke “went to Congress looking for a handout.” Never mind that Fluke spoke not of her own sex life and her own personal use of birth control, but of the experiences of friends who were denied access under Georgetown’s student health plan to birth control pills used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Notable in Fluke’s testimony was the story she told of a friend who lost an ovary to polycystic ovarian disease because Georgetown refused to provide her birth control pills even though, as a lesbian, the woman was not concerned about pregnancy prevention.

Referring to insurance coverage for birth control as an “entitlement” is false and misleading. Fluke did not go to Congress seeking “free birth control,” but to argue in favor of a principle that has been law for over a decade. In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn't provide birth control violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the EEOC ruling, employers who offered men preventative care medicine such as erectile dysfunction treatment also had to provide women preventative care medicine such as birth control.

As working Americans know, employer health insurance coverage is not free. Employees pay part of the cost for these insurance programs through payroll deductions. Most employer insurance programs require co-pays for doctor visits; thus, obtaining a prescription for birth control isn’t “free” for most employees, with or without a prescription co-pay. University student health plans also typically require students to pay annual premiums, along with tuition payments and other expenses. It is a gross mischaracterization to claim that a woman who expects the insurance she pays for to cover the medication she needs is looking for taxpayer-funded “entitlements.”

Limbaugh is merely the latest conservative to speak of birth control as something used only by women with loose morals so they can have free, easy sex. Rick Santorum has said about contraception: “It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” In other words, it’s bad for women to have sex without the fear of conception. Conservatives deny waging a war on women and women’s health, yet they continue to speak of women’s sexuality in Victorian terms.

In all of this focus on single women gone wild, there’s a missing element: men. A few days ago, I asked on Twitter: “If having sex makes a woman a slut, what does that make the men who have sex with her?” A few conservative men came at me with Limbaugh-like slurs. Remarkably, the men wanted to know why women like Fluke couldn’t go to Planned Parenthood for free condoms, or derided women for being too cheap to buy “20¢ condoms.” None of these men seemed to realize that the Pill and condoms are not mutually exclusive – that women who are on the Pill still require their partners to use condoms to protect against the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted disease. They also seemed not to comprehend that condoms are used exclusively by men, not women. More importantly, all of the men debating contraception seem to forget that men, too, benefit from the avoidance of unplanned pregnancies, as does the society at large.

Also missing from the birth control debate are married women. While the right has focused on castigating single women for their sexual activity, among the millions of women who use contraceptives are married women who rely on them for family planning. While married women’s voices have not been the loudest in this debate, both Republicans and Democrats know that married women will be making their voices heard loudest on this issue at the ballot box in November.

If Limbaugh’s comments revealed anything, it is that Americans are still uncomfortable with women’s sexuality, fifty years after the advent of the Pill. Uncomfortable or not, American women are not interested in rolling back the clock to a time when they had no control over their own sexuality or fertility. Birth control isn’t an “entitlement,” but it has provided women socioeconomic freedom that they are not willing to give up. Limbaugh and others can call women who admit to using birth control “sluts” if they want to, but all they’re doing is mobilizing women to fight back – hard – to maintain the liberty they’ve enjoyed for half a century.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Carolyn Edgar.

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Vithae

    This is my first time on your website. You have aswmoee skills Jennifer! I love how clean, fresh, and honest your photography is. Beautiful, just beautiful!Those are some great goals =]

    April 18, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. JOSE0311USMC

    I'M A HISPANIC GUY.. I AGREE WITH REPUBLICANS, WHY SHOULD I PAY HIGHER INSURANCE RARE SO WOMEN COULD HAVE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS.....HERE MY SUGGESTION, IF WOMEN WANT BIRTH CONTROL INCLUDED IN THEIR INSURANCE ?? HAVE THEM PAY MORE....WHY SHOULD MEN –SENIORS HAVE TO PAY EXTRA SO WOMEN CAN HAVE BIRTH CONTROL STUFF ?? WOMEN WHO ARE GOING TO BE MESSING AROUND ??SHOULD PAY MORE...

    March 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bl4ck0utsUn

    Actually birth control pills prevent women from ovulating i.e. Producing an egg. It prevents the ovarian folicle from maturing. No egg no zygote no fetus! No abortion!

    March 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      WOMEN WANT BIRTH CONTROL PILLS ?? PAY EXTRA FOR INSURANCE...THOSE THAT DO NOT WANT BIRTH CONTROL PILLS , SHOULDN'T HAVE TO PAY EXTRA..THE SAME WITH SCHOOL TAXES, IF YOU NO LONGER HAVE KIDS GOING TO SCHOOL, WHY SHOULD BE FORCE TO CONTINUE PAYING SCHOOL TAXES ?? NOT FAIR...

      March 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bl4ck0utsUn

    ED treatment. 2 major causes of ED, diabetes, and high blood pressure! I say if you screw your body up, and you can't get it up. Maybe my taxes shouldn't go for you to get your ED treatment! Haven't heard from any men with hormone driven cancers being given estrogen to stop the spread of that cancer in essence you are taking birth control pills for women to keep prostate cancer in check! I like the agreement me and my husband worked out... I had the babies he got fixed! Ever seen a grown marine cry?

    March 7, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jackie

    If I was the insurance company writing medical coverage to women of child bearing age, not only would I supply birth control pills "paid by insurance plus a co-payment from the policy holder", I would ram it down her throat every night. The price tag for one complicated pregnancy will cover the cost of millions of birth control pills. You scream and rant and rave about the cost of welfare and the cost of medicaid the cost of food stamps, but yet your intelligence level is so low you would stop birth control. Personally I could care less if you take any birth control precautions or not, but your view isn't mine or probably any other females. Maybe you have noticed, most of the stupid comments about birth control are made by males. Do you really want your wife or partner to have a child every nine months or so and I don't care what religion you are. If you possibly think that the females that are part of a religion that bans birth control are not using birth control you are an IDIOT. If you noticed the 10 and 12 childen families have gone by the way side. Of course the female uses birth control she just don't tell anyone. The rhythm method is no more full proof today than it was 100 years ago. GROW UP, just how dumb can an educated nation be.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dana

    Robert,

    Is this also your opinion about erectile dysfunction medications? If not, why?

    March 7, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      WOMEN THAT WANT TO HAVE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS IN THEIR INSURANCE ?? SHOULD PAY EXTRA...PROBLEM SOLVED...BUT ASKING SENIORS–MEN-TO ALSO PAY FOR IT ?? IS WRONG.

      March 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
      • JOSE0311USMC

        MEN THAT WANT VIAGRA IN THEIR INSURANCE SHOULD ALSO AGREE TO PAY MORE, IT SHOULD BE BY CHOICE....ASKING WOMEN AND SENIORS TO PAY HIGHER INSURANCE RATE SO WOMEN CAN HAVE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS-AND MEN CAN HAVE VIAGRA IS WRONG... PAY FOR IT IF YOU WANT EXTRA STUFF...PROBLEM SOLVED.

        March 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MarkMWhite

    Healthcare is not subject to normal market forces! Anything that you have to buy at any random moment in order not to die is not something to which a rational supply/demand calculus can apply. Check out "Penny Health" articles on how to reduce the cost of insurance.

    March 7, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. BCohio

    If you want it ALL!, Move to France with the rest of the Liberal Socialist!... This time next year France will be where the Greeks ARE!... Dead Broke!.. Then you will get to see what it's like to have it ALL FOR FREE!... Until you run out of OTHER PEOPLES MONEY!...

    March 7, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Who in the h*** said birth control should be free under an insurance plan?! Women pay premiums for insurance, women aren't asking for a free handout, they're asking that the insurance companies cover prescription contraception, instead of leaving them swinging in the breeze!

      March 7, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
      • Marsha in IN

        Go to Plan parenthood

        March 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
      • JOSE0311USMC

        BUT THEY WANT EVERYONE TO PAY FOR IT..NOT JUST WOMEN...WHY SHOULD I PAY EXTRA IN INSURANCE SO WOMEN CAN HAVE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS... IT SHOULD BY CHOICE, WANT BIRTH CONTROL PILLS ?? YOU SHOULD PAY MORE.

        March 7, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      If you are worried about the cost of birth control causing us to go "GREEK"(Economically speaking)..Birth control is far cheaper than tax payers paying for children on welfare..or foster care or healthy start insurance for the kids for 18 years..A true fiscal conservative would be all in favor...I have insurance,I pay a copay and premiums..but I want all welfare moms and students or anyone else who does not a want a child to get it..because it the end we will pay for 18 years of health coverage for children on healthy start..WIN-WIN Situation..:)

      March 7, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  9. hamsta

    i dont know where these lunatics get the idea that birth control is some sort of cancer treatment like chemo or radiation therapy but if history has taught me correctly the pill and norplant causes cancer.thats why they had to keep decreasing the dosage.sacchirine and nutrisweet also cause cancer.30 years later they are both still found in diet cola.my friend got dropped by his insurance company because of cancer and had to spend most of his life savings on chemo.@jazmine thats a lame excuse to get your birth control

    March 7, 2012 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazmine

      You obviously don't know anything about PCOS. I didn't say that birth control is used to treat cancer. It's not. It's used to PREVENT it in women that have conditions like PCOS. With PCOS, a woman (like me) often doesn't menstruate. This means that, while I'm not having my period, the lining in my uterus is building up each month. Because this lining is building up and not being expelled by the body, this can cause problems. Like cancer of the uterus.

      March 8, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. hamsta

    @sue ellen totally agree @jazmine tell that to a cancer patient and i bet they spit on you.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazmine

      Why would a cancer patient spit on me for using birth control to treat my PCOS?

      March 8, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. SueEllen

    We need birth control to control the amount of anchor babies and future welfare recipients were going to have in this country!

    March 7, 2012 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Anyone having a child as an "anchor baby" or to get welfare benefits isn't going to use birth control. Think about what you just said.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      MEXICANS NEED BIRTH CONTROL..THEY PRODUCE LIKE RATS AND TAX PAYERS TAKE CARE OF THEIR KIDS...WELFARE HAVE DOUBLE FROM A FEW YEARS AGO...THE HOSPITALS ARE ALWAYS PACK WITH ILLEGALS GETTING FREE HOSPITAL CARE..HEY GO TO THE E.R. TELL THEM THAT YOU ARE AN ILLEGAL AND YOU GET FREE HOSPITAL CARE..

      March 7, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jazmine

    Actually, birth control is a right. Not because it prevents pregnancy but because it can, and IS, used to treat medical conditions. I am an example. I have PCOS. Without my birth control I'm at a much higher risk for cancer, ovarian cysts, and other health problems. I do not menstruate without my birth control. I need my birth control to be healthy. And I'm not the only woman with this and other conditions that birth control helps to TREAT.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tim W.

    You have the right to health care, you just dont have the right to force others to pay for it...including taxpayers ! If a pill is used for a medical problem then insurance should pay for it BUT if its used for birth control then NO ! The taxayers and insurance companies should not be forced to pay for boob jobs, butt lifts, birth control, viragra, etc etc etc........now a insurance company that does provide these may have more people useing them BUT they should not be forced to provide these services by law !
    Again you have many rights BUT you do not have the right to have insurance companies and/or tax payers to pay for it !

    March 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Robert

    you can defintely tell a woman wrote this article. Hey lady! How about insurance coverage for condoms??

    March 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • grandma

      Hey idiot! CONDOMS DO NOT REQUIRE A PRESCRIPTION!

      March 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
      • Guest

        Hey Grandma! There are other over-the-counter options for women. Not every form of birth control needs a prescription.

        March 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. just say no!

    ya.. and paying for me to go out to eat every night since i can get better food out there than what i can cook for myself.. that should be a right too!!!
    I'm sorry.. if you don't want to have kids.. easy solution... it doesn't cost a dime. Keep it in your pants.. or for the other gender.. keep it out of your pants.......

    PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY......

    March 6, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • just say no!

      btw.. I am not advocating outlawing birth control.. if you want it.. be my guest .. buy it.

      And if by chance the insurance co.. you have ( or will have) covers it.. fine.. It should be choice.. not mandate.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dduke

      I just hope that white girl on TV is not allowing blacke men to even make eyes on her.....no no no

      March 6, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  16. PAY FOR YOUR OWN CONDOMS

    .

    March 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      Hey, rocket scientist – condoms are not covered by medical insurance. We're talking about prescription medication.

      March 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      AGREE... PERSONAL THINGS, YOU PAY FOR IT, INCLUDING BIRTH CONTROL PILLS. OR PAY EXTRA IN INSURANCE.

      March 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  17. NO ILLEGALS

    birth control is NOT a right
    stupid people

    March 6, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  18. rodger

    The article proceeds from a faulty premise. The difference between insurance coving medication for erectile dysfunction and not contraceptives is that ED medication treats a condition in which the body is not working as it is supposed to, contraception prevents the body from working as it is supposed to (and ED medication is not "preventative" as the article states. It would be discriminatory to cover ED medication but not fertility medication, or to cover vasectomies but not contraception, but comparing contraception to ED medication is apples and oranges

    March 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Have you not read or heard anything about birth control pills?! It's been stated OVER and OVER again in news articles that some women must take the pill for medical conditions OTHER THAN contraception, i.e. "treats a condition in which the body is not working as it is supposed to".

      March 7, 2012 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
      • pghmom

        Yes birth control pills have valid medical uses, not just as contraceptives. The point for the Catholic Church is that birth control pills work by preventing implantation of fertilized eggs, and thus they are abortifacient because they cause the death of a fertilized egg. As you should well know, for Catholics and many others, life begins at conception – thus, the use of birth control pills for even medical conditions is problematic. I cannot imagine why the woman that Ms. Fluke refers to (who lost her ovary because the plan did not cover the pill) would submit to surgery rather than finding a clinic where she could get her prescription filled at a reasonable price. I know many are thinking, "Why would they cover surgery, but not the medicine, which is much less expensive?" Because it's not about the money. It's about valuing life and living out your values. Women, including Catholics, are free to follow their conscience about such matters – but just don't expect the Catholic Church to pay for abortifacient medications.

        March 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
      • Dana

        Yet one more reason why misogynistic religions need to end.

        March 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ellie

      Rodger,

      Contraceptives are not just to prevent pregnancy. They also help treat issues like endometriosis. Get a clue and look that up. They help a womans body to "function" correctly just like ED meds. I have it as well as many other women. Without BC or IUD's there are alot more issues and missed work and bills that can't get paid unless you want to be the one paying for it like all the babies on welfare.

      March 7, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Teresa

      IMHO repeatedly using the term(s) 'birth control' or 'contraceptives' is highly misleading. The medication in question and the reason it is so profoundly necessary for so many women is because the medication compound that aids in preventing unwanted pregnancy also alleviates physically debilitating symptoms due to endometriosis, uterine fibroid tumors, cystic growths of the female reproductive organs etc........ It would behoove everyone to call it what it is – medication!

      March 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Random

    I disagree with the ignorant old man as much as anyone. However health care is not a right, much like healthy food is not a right. Do not pretend the government cares about us, because if they did, cigarettes wouldn't still be for sale in every gas station.

    March 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Chase D.

    Thank you so much! With all of the fallacies, inaccuracies and myopic views everyone has been spewing over this birth control/insurance issue, FINALLY someone cites the LAW. Further, thank you for broadening the discourse past the innane thought that this issue is about "loose" women. For a second there, I thought I was traveling back through time, when birth control was actually a taboo. WTH?! Next conservatives will be trying to enact Jim Crow like statutes to keep minorities from voting or something similarly KKKish...oops, strike that.

    March 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Alexis

    Thank you for telling the story straight! Birth control is a right that many women have fought for and I, a women, am not willing to just give away that right just because an ignorant man stuck in the Victorain period resorts to name-calling to make his point. A point that is not supported by the facts of the proposed law!

    March 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      uh, actually. You are wrong. Birth control is absolutely NOT a right. sorry.

      March 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
      • Retreat Hell

        Why? I'm a independent who leans towards republican for economic issues aka Ron Paul, and democratic for topics like this aka Bush administration.

        March 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Nobody is trying to take away your right to buy contraceptives. They are merely saying that if you want to use it, buy it.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |