This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Should Politics Trump Women's Health?

The last few days have been full of news about attempts by members of the Republican Party in the US to trample on the reproductive health rights of women. The Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure organization had to back down on their decision to defund Planned Parenthood, and their newly installed vice-president who had promulgated that policy wound up resigning. The latest issue has to do with the yet-to-be-implemented health care laws known colloquially as "Obamacare." I happen not to be much of a fan of this new health policy largely because I think all of the evidence from rich countries with higher life expectancy than ours (and most rich countries have a higher life expectancy than the US) is that you either have to have a national health insurance scheme or, like Switzerland, a mandate that everyone buy health insurance from a private provider. Neither approach puts the burden on the employer, and this latter issue is why the Obama administration is now in trouble with the right-wing over the way in which reproductive health benefits will be provided to women. In the United States most health insurance is purchased through a person's employer, and this puts the employer in the position of judging for its employees what might or might not be acceptable in the health care realm. The New York Times has the story.

Facing vocal opposition from religious leaders and an escalating political fight, the White House sought on Tuesday to ease mounting objections to a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Catholic universities and charities — to offer birth control to women free of charge.As the Republican presidential candidates and conservative leaders sought to frame the rule as showing President Obama’s insensitivity to religious beliefs, Mr. Obama’s aides promised to explore ways to make it more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions, perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions.
But White House officials insisted the president would not back down from his decision last month that employees at institutions affiliated with religious organizations receive access to contraceptives.

The reason that this is more of a political issue than a religious one is that data suggest that Catholic women--who would be most likely to be the ones working in a religious-based organization opposed to birth control--are just as likely as any other group of women in America to be using contraception. This is not an issue that women are raising. Rather, it is an issue that others are raising that would, in essence, deny them the same level of reproductive health care that other women would be receiving. There may be a way out for the Obama administration, however, based on current practice in Hawaii:
Administration officials say one avenue for resolution might be to look at how Catholic institutions in the 28 states with similar laws have dealt with the issue. One possible compromise might be to emulate Hawaii, where the rule is in effect, but where employees at religious institutions that do not offer free contraception can get birth control through side benefits, which the employees nominally pay for but which often end up being free.

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