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February 10, 2012 at 1:49 PM

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Civil Disagreement: Obama's birth control decision

Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is an occasional feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Today they take up the Obama administration's ruling requiring health plans that cover maternity to offer free birth control.

Lynne Varner, left, and Bruce Ramsey

Bruce Ramsey:Lynne, here is an issue that divides progressives and non-progressives in how they define freedom. The progressive says, "all people should have" X, whatever X is. In this case it is "all women should have access to birth control," with the weasel word "access" meaning that it should cost them nothing. To non-progressives like me, that is not freedom.

Freedom is making your own decisions. That means the people who design insurance plans make their decisions, and employers make their decisions and employees make their decisions. Some employees will have health plans at work and some won't. Some plans will be generous and some won't. Some will cover contraceptives with or without copays and some won't. What you get depends on what you choose, and what some other people choose, and what your bargaining power is.

I think birth control is fine. I believe in it. Some people don't believe in it. I don't think they should have the right to forbid me to have it, or you to have it, but I don't think you or I have the right to demand that they offer it.

This should not be a big deal. Birth control is not that controversial really, and most plans will cover it. If you don't have it where you work, you can buy it on your own. It's not that expensive.

I object to the progressives' whole method of thinking about subjects like this, which seems to be, "Birth control is good for women," and therefore, "All women should have it," and therefore, "The President of the United States should order all insurance companies (or employers, etc.) to provide it for them." And when people object to the President ordering people around in this dicatorial way, the retort is, "You don't believe in birth control?"

Lynne Varner replies:Bruce, America's perceived sense of meritocracy is at odds with itself when we begin to separate what is good for us and who can have access to it. If health care, shelter, food, water or education - to name a few things - are good for us, who shall we deny these things to? The idea is only discomfits those on the wrong side of the question.

At any rate, President Obama has retreated from his regulatory stretch of the health-care law to compel religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and universities to provide birth control. Women will still be able to get birth-control coverage, but insurers will cover the costs, not employers/religious groups.

Insurers in 28 states, including Washington, are already compelled to cover contraceptives. But that leaves a lot of states where birth control has become a political football. Personhood measures in states such as Colorado and Mississippi, the perennial effort to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding and similar efforts are attempts to take away the freedom to choose birth control.

You would think those who oppose abortion would leap enthusiastically toward birth control and ensure its broad access. But culture wars are rarely about what makes moral and good sense.

As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote: Politicized culture wars are debilitating because they almost always require partisans to denigrate the moral legitimacy of their opponents, and sometimes to deny their very humanity. It’s often not enough to defeat a foe. Satisfaction only comes from an adversary’s humiliation.

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Bruce Ramsey, you said 'birth control is not that expensive'. It IS that expensive... MORE
I just don't know why this is such a big deal. Any woman who wants an abortion or birth... MORE
I think Bruce Ramsey gets it backwards when he says that freedom is making your own dec... MORE

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