Contraception and Collectivism

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Here is a freeze-frame in the continuing march of American socialism, in all its brutality and parasitism.

Jennifer Erickson is an employee of Bartell Drug Store in Seattle. Men would come in to pick up their Viagra, and sometimes have it covered by their companies’ health plans. Meanwhile, her fellow female employees would come in to pick up birth-control pills, but the expense was not usually covered by Bartell.

That really got on her nerves. Jennifer herself had to pay for her own contraception. The outrage! The injustice! So, with the aid of Planned Parenthood, she sued her own company. And now a federal judge has ruled that Bartell, the oldest family-owned drug store company in the country, must provide free birth control to all women who are covered under its health plan. And we can expect to see this extended nationwide to other firms. Why? Because this is the only way to comply with a law passed by Congress in 1978 called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

From the name of this law, you might think that such a law would prohibit employers from punishing women employees who are expecting. It does do that. And it says not a word about the right to use contraceptives at employer expense.

But every day, someone discovers some seemingly crucial medical procedure or drug that isn’t covered in most employer plans. This is always announced with shock and outrage, as if the HMO or the boss man were trying to increase human suffering. In the Viagra/Pill case, feminists have darkly speculated that American bosses are trying to keep men virile and women fertile in order to bolster patriarchy.

In fact, both employers and insurers strive to find any possible way to economize on expenses, which is what companies in free enterprise are supposed to do. These health packages are enormously costly and hugely wasteful. The fewer items covered under the plans, the better off everyone will be in the long run. That’s true of Viagra as well as the Pill.

But three years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — one of 10 thousand Soviet-like agencies that festoon the nation’s capitol — decided on its own that the Act should also protect the Pill for free. The EEOC said that in order to treat women as the equal of men, as prescribed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, women have to be singled out for special treatment.

Got it? What, precisely, that means in practice is up to federal judges, working in union with other unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. In this case, it means the Pill mandate.

What is wrong with this mandate and all such orders? First, they violate federalism; there is nothing in the Constitution that permits the EEOC to centrally plan health care plans in this way. No federal judge should have jurisdiction in this kind of issue, and they should not have the power to force any business to provide anything to its employees.

Second, what businesses wants to provide their employees is something best worked out in contracts between employers and employees. There is not a preordained correct solution to this problem. We can expect that in a free market, there will be many packages available and what emerges as the norm will be the result of negotiation and agreement, not coercion.

Third, these mandates drive up the demand for prescription drugs, making them more expensive, and imposing a terrible drag on small and medium sized businesses. One reason Europe has such a stagnant business sector is that it has many more of these expensive mandates on business. The welfare state wars against innovation and rivalry in the business sector, and employs bureaucrats at the expense of regular people.

Fourth, the ruling infringes on the moral consciences of some employers, who object to contraception on religious grounds. When these kinds of religious objections appear, the way a free society deals with it is through privatization — everyone is responsible for his own behavior and no one will be forced to subsidize the behavior of another. This dictate violates that old liberal solution to the problem of conflicting moral values.

The solution is found in the idea of freedom. In a market system ruled by contract, the employees will come to understand something that many do not understand now: benefits don’t appear out of nowhere. They come out of funds that would otherwise be spent on wages. Ultimately, employees do pay for their health care, even if they do so by a circuitous route.

The problems in this pathetic story are the EEOC, the federal judiciary and the silly legislation that allows them to exist. They are completely out of control, and if you doubt it, ask yourself who or what is willing to do anything to stop them. Is there any limit?

We don’t need other and better rulings from judges; we need a completely new system that will respect some limits and deter any more bejeweled welfare bums like Jennifer Erickson from trashing everyone else’s freedoms in order to cut down on her out-of-pocket expenses. And that would free Bartell and other companies once again to fire abusive and disloyal workers.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

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