Jonathan Cohn via New Republic: QEDaily: Hobby Lobby, Sex, and Responsibility
Say this for Erick Erickson, the Fox News pundit and editor of RedState: He tells you what he’s thinking.
On Monday, after the Supreme Court announced its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, Erickson used Twitter to summarize his interpretation of the decision: “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.” It wasn’t the first time a prominent conservative in the media suggested the contraception controversy was actually about personal responsibility. Back in 2012, Rush Limbaugh famously attacked Sandra Fluke, then a college student advocating for contraception coverage, as a “slut” because “She's having so much sex she can't afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."
I assume that many and hopefully most conservatives don’t think the way Erickson and Limbaugh do. They object to the contraception mandate on more principled grounds. They think it encroaches upon their idea of religious freedom—or, in some cases, because they think universal health care generally violates their sense of liberty. But I wouldn’t assume Erickson and Limbaugh are total outliers, either. I’ve never seen polling on this precise question, so I can’t be sure, but I suspect a large fraction of conservatives would make the same basic argument that Erickson and Limbaugh have, albeit with more delicate language. If people want to have non-procreative sex, they would argue, then these people should pay for their own birth control—or deal with the consequences. (Update: SenatorMike Lee, the Utah Republican, just did.)
A few responses come to mind. For starters, women sometimes use contraception for reasons that have nothing to do with birth control. They need it to deal with medical conditions like abnormal bleeding or pelvic pain. (Zoe Fenson writes about that at the New Republic today.) Sometimeswomen need the most expensive forms of birth control, implants and inter-uterine devices, because oral contraceptives give them severe side effects. As my colleague Rebecca Leber pointed out yesterday, the ability to plan and time pregnancy has very real health benefits, for individuals and for the public at large. That is why the medical establishment recommended that “essential benefits” under Obamacare include contraception in the first place. And, of course, non-procreative sex is something in which the vast majority of people, married and unmarried, engage. If Erickson wishes to raise moral questions about that practice, directly or indirectly, he can. He’s not going to have much company.
Still, Erickson, Limbaugh, and the rest are correct that the contraception mandate raises questions about responsibility. They’re just wrong aboutwhose responsibility. You’ll notice I mostly referred to “women” above. That’s not an accident. Every unplanned pregnancy involves actions by two people. But, historically, it’s been one of them, the woman, who ends up bearing a disproportionate share of the consequences—physical, emotional, and financial. And if she wants to avoid pregnancy by using birth control, it's frequently up to her. Having a child is the greatest thing in the world. I have two kids myself. But, even under the best of circumstances, it’s tough.
There’s a reason so many women were outraged on Monday. They saw the decision as yet another attempt to preserve the old double-standard—to dump most of the responsibility for reproductive health and child-bearing on them, in ways that inevitably deter gender equality. With comments like Erickson’s bouncing around cyberspace, it’s easy to see why they had that impression.