HHS Birth Control Mandate Is Not Like Requiring Vegan Stores To Sell Beef
by Elizabeth Nolan Brown | 25 Comments | Share a Tip
Today in my google news feed, I came across an item saying the Obama administration had mandated that all food stores selling refrigerated goods must sell beef, even if the store otherwise only sells vegetarian or vegan foods. What could possibly be the rationale behind that?, I wondered, clicking through to the “story”—which turned out to be a satire intended to demonstrate the unfairness of the administration’s mandate that all health insurance plans cover birth control. But requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control pills is nothing like requiring vegan stores* to sell beef, for two very simple reasons.
1. You can buy beef all around; not so for birth control. As it stands, the majority of (if not all) supermarkets and food-sellers carry meat (even convenience stores carry beef jerky, hot dogs, etc.). There would be nothing to gain by mandating that a few stores that didn’t start doing so. If a nearby vegetarian foods store didn’t sell beef, you could simply zip over to your nearest regular supermarket to pick some up. But most birth control is only available with a prescription, purchasable at a pharmacy, and affordable with health insurance. With the majority of insured Americans covered under employer-sponsored health insurance plans (and the individual health insurance market so pathetic and prohibitively expensive), it’s not like most women can just say, ‘Oh, my plan doesn’t cover contraception? I’ll just switch.” Health insurance plans are not like supermarkets.
2. The government has a legitimate interest in ensuring widespread access to contraception—not to beef. Contraception is incredibly important to women’s health. It helps prevent unplanned pregnancies, which helps reduce the number of low-income and/or single mothers who may need to receive government assistance or may turn children over into the foster system (not to mention reduces the abortion rate, something that’s not necessarily a ‘legitimate government interest’ but is, nonetheless, considered a good thing by many people—including religious conservatives and Catholics who oppose the birth control mandate). There’s no real reason, however, why the government would have a legitimate interest in promoting beef consumption or any sort of arbitrary dietary choice.
In the comments to the original comparison post, author Diane M. Korzeniewski writes:
One thing I’m certain of is that if vegetarian shop owners were forced to carry beef, a good many non-vegetarians would be in an uproar. There would be a much bigger stink.
Um, that’s because such a move would be a pointless, intrusive and unprecedented (in this area) exercise of government power. But regulating health plans and what sorts of coverage they must provide is already something the government does. Unlike some sort of weird beef carriage mandate, the HHS’ birth control mandate is not a novel or surprising regulation. Yes, some Catholic universities and organizations might have problems with offering health insurance that offers birth control, but people in all sorts of businesses and industries have all sorts of problems (ethical, political, practical) with all sorts of government mandates. You don’t get to pick and choose what regulations you follow.
* Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that there is possibly no such thing. Have you ever come across an all-vegan, or even all-vegetarian, store?
You can reach this post's author, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, on twitter or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org