Berth Control

It isn’t just contraception; it’s a power struggle

March 10th 2012

One of the more remarkable manifestations of the current campaign is the sudden foofooraw over contraception. That Santorum would make an issue of it is no big surprise; he’s been considered the religious nut all along. That the rest of the party would jump on the bandwagon as part of a larger casting of conducting “a war on women” is nothing short of amazing.

They have to be pretty confident that between the pressure to prevent poor people from voting, and the insane corporate corruption brought about by Citizens United, they are going to steal this election no matter what they say or do, because they sure aren’t bothering to appeal to voters.

Still, better to assume that the battle isn’t lost, and these fascistic maniacs haven’t already seized control of the country.

The GOP tried to make an issue about the Catholic Church having to pay for birth control in the form of health insurance packages for non-church personnel—i.e., employees at church-owned hospitals or charitable foundations and the like.

For two weeks, the GOP tried to build this into a major campaign issue, showing how Obamacare promoted immorality. Those were pretty strange ideological waters to be sailing; birth control hasn’t been a major moral issue for the vast majority of Americans in over fifty years.

The GOP spent the fortnight getting ever more vociferous and extreme over the non-issue, and tried to pump it up that the state was seizing control of the churches, or employers, or was a Marxist revolution, or some damn thing.

Then Obama dropped a bomb on them. Insurers had agreed to provide contraception free as part of all health care packages. The church could no longer howl that it was being forced to pay for something it regarded as immoral.

It was no surprise that the insurance companies were more than willing to go along with this. It isn’t their job to serve the Pope, and the fact is contraception saves them a ton of money. Pregnancy, abortion, child-birth and child-rearing are far more expensive, and insurance companies don’t want to spend money they don’t have to. Contraception is in their best interests.

So the battle was over.

The battle was over amongst sane people. Rush Limbaugh weighed in, branding women who take birth control as “sluts” and prostitutes. It’s a symptom of the pathology of the far right that they were surprised that most of Rush’s advertisers promptly dropped him. It’s an example of how far the GOP have declined that they felt compelled to try and defend Rush. Supporters brought up David Letterman and the time he joked that Palin’s daughter was involved with Alex Rodriquez, unaware at the time that the daughter he was referring to wasn’t Bristol, but the younger one. Of course, Letterman promptly apologized, but apologies are not part of the right’s sensibilities. They neither make apologies, and nor do they accept them. That right there is a suicidal stance in any society.

The GOP can’t win on this one. The church can scream all it wants, but the fact is a solid majority of Catholics approve of health-care coverage of contraceptives. There isn’t a demographic outside of the GOP that doesn’t, save for a few cults. Aside from alienating most voters, it also reminds voters that medical coverage has sharply improved as a result of Obamacare coming into effect.

But there is an element to this story that isn’t getting much attention, and it may be, in many ways, the most important element.

The GOP, and the Catholic Church, have been arguing that it is immoral to force an employer to pay for elements of health care that go against the employer’s moral or ethical beliefs.

By this logic, a Jehovah’s Witness employer could insist that insurance not cover blood transfusions, and a Church of Religious Science employer could insist that insurance companies only cover the cost of sending some church elders to pray for the afflicted. And of course, all employers in America are already free to not offer health care at all, and these days, a lot of them don’t.

Why should they? They pay their employees such lousy wages anyway that the employees can sometimes qualify for Medicare. Sometimes. Assuming they don’t need a car or a roof over their head. Failing that, there’s always the ER, followed by personal bankruptcy, although of course the GOP is looking to make it impossible to use bankruptcy to shelter from unpayable medical debts. All part of turning America into a corporate vassal state, you see. Your creditors will be happy to come up with some sort of forced labor arrangement to keep you out of the debtor’s prisons. Soon there will be a chain of work camps, devoted to “debt management.”

But it raises the larger question: why should ANY employer have any say at all in the level and quality of health care people get?

Employers hate having to deal with health care insurance. Not only is it a cost burden, but the results are seldom what employees want and in fields where the workers are valued and command premium wages, a poor health-care plan can cost an important hire. There’s a lot of paperwork, and even employees who think they have a decent plan because they’ve never had to put it to the test eventually realize that their pay might be considerably higher if it weren’t for the costs of those plans. And most employers, as businessmen, realize that insurance companies have a pretty good markup on those premiums.

OK—they HAD a pretty good mark up on those premiums. One of the stipulations of Obamacare is that 80% of the premiums must go to actual health care payouts. It had been around 60-70%. Obamacare will drive the greedier and less efficient insurers out of the health-care racket, and no great loss.

But the question has to be asked: why should employers have ANY role? Why would they WANT any role?

The answer, of course, is control. Control of the workers. Employers use health-care as a bargaining chip. They use it to lure employees. They use it to keep employees, although, thanks to Obamacare, the threat of losing all health-care coverage because of termination is no longer the most immediate threat that it was. If your wife has cancer, you don’t end up in a situation where you either work overtime off the clock or she dies; coverage of ongoing medical problems continues despite termination.

The coverage is somewhat better, too. Recissioning—the sudden refusal to cover employees for a variety of reasons, often capricious ones—is now illegal.

But it’s still inferior to what workers in America want and deserve.

It gives far too much control to business owners, who already have more control over the lives of workers than is fit. It’s used to justify low wages (even amongst employers who don’t even offer medical benefits!) and it’s used as a threat, overt or implied. And now they are demanding that the health coverage employees get be tailored to suit the morality, not of the person receiving the health care, but the entity that is paying for it. And one of the greatest diseases that afflicts the American psyche is the notion that one’s personal values are the natural laws of the universe.

The Blunt Amendment, which would have given employers this fantastic new power over the lives of their employees, failed in the Senate on a party-line vote. The GOP marched in lockstep, but at a great cost: one female Republican Senator, Olympia Snow, decided she had had enough of the insane partisanship and the forced discipling of the GOP cult, and announced she was quitting at the end of her term in January and not running again. Another, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, broke ranks afterward, openly admitting she deeply regretted her vote for the Blunt Amendment. And that was in the Senate, home to absolute lock-step party discipline. Imagine how many Republican women decided they weren’t going to vote Republican this fall.

If the Democrats get the House and keep the Senate and White House, the issue of single payer must be revisited. It isn’t just that it will save trillions of dollars, although it will do that. It isn’t that it will significantly improve the lives of most people living in America, although it will do that, too.

It’s because, at a time when the GOP is working hard to strip workers of all the few remaining rights and benefits they have, and reduce women to second-class status, this is a time when working people all across America can say they don’t care if the boss believes in a cosmic sky muffin who hates the pill; he doesn’t get to decide if they have access to that or not. No woman should ever need permission from her employer in order to get the pill. It’s not the employer’s business, no matter who that employer is, no matter what he believes. It never was, not since the days of feudalism.

With single-payer, workers take a big step toward the economic self-reliance they deserve.


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