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On July 21, the health news site Natural Society featured these breaking news headlines: "Newer Birth Control Pill Linked to Higher Risk of Blood Clots"; "Birth Control Increases Risk of Contracting, Transmitting HIV"; and finally, "Medical Panel Pushes for Free Birth Control for Women."
Hmm, one might ask, who was on this medical panel? Dr. Kevorkian? But no, it was the Institute of Medicine, advising the Department of Health and Human Services on "preventive services for women" to mandate in virtually all private health plans under the new health care reform act.
HHS says it delegated this task to the IOM so people would see the outcome as based on "science" rather than politics. But IOM's report seems based less on science than on the ideology of authors who share Planned Parenthood's view of sex and procreation, several of whom have served on the boards of PP affiliates and other pro-abortion organizations. The report says enhanced access to contraception will reduce abortions, though there is ample evidence against that claim. In fact, the panel recommends that health plans must cover all drugs approved by the FDA as prescription contraceptives – including the newly approved "emergency contraceptive" called Ella, which like RU-486 can cause an abortion weeks into pregnancy. When asked about a conscience exemption for those who have a moral or religious objection to this, an IOM spokesperson said it wasn't her panel's job to take account of other people's personal "feelings." Many fear HHS will take the same approach.
Secular news media – Time, U.S. News, USA Today, L.A. Times – obediently repeated the panel's public relations message that it is offering "free" birth control for women. That message is nonsense. Currently women who want birth control coverage pay for it through their premiums, and sometimes also have a co-pay or out-of-pocket expense. Under the new mandate they will still pay for it, but the cost will be buried in the overall premium – and everyone else, including churches and other religious employers as well as individual Catholics, will be forced to pay for it in their premiums too, so payments coerced from those who object will make birth control coverage a bit cheaper for those who want it.
And what about the "cost" in women's lives from those blood clots and cases of AIDS? Researchers have known about both problems for years. In 2005, for example, a study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control noted: "The positive link between pill use and HIV infection was… supported by a meta-analysis of 28 studies, including seven prospective studies." Most American women haven't been told this. Ironically, other "preventive services" recommended by the IOM include screening for sexually transmitted diseases. But why would you mandate something that can cause what the other services on your list seek to prevent?
The other big "cost," of course, is the cost to freedom of religion and respect for conscience. Though not alone in its view, the Catholic Church has long been prophetic and counter-cultural in warning that artificial contraception and sterilization do not enhance women's well-being. No American, of course, is required by law to believe that teaching. But should the government, in the name of all Americans, now coerce even the Church's institutions into acting on the opposite view -- when the evidence supporting its message is stronger than ever?
Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information about the bishops' pro-life activities, visit www.usccb.org/prolife.
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