The testimony by Sandra Fluke before a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on February 23 sparked a firestorm from the right which precipitated an avalanche of rhetoric from the left. As with most “controversies” both sides miss the point entirely as they would rather try to denigrate their opponent by casting them as being in opposition to the simplistic two word slogan each chose to rally behind (“women’s health”, “religious freedom”).

To the Right: This is not about religious freedom or any kind of “attack” on religion. The issue is one of freedom period. Freedom means not having the government force choices on people.

To the Left: This is not about women’s health or reproductive rights. Lack of insurance coverage does not proscribe someone from obtaining those services particularly in this case where the cost is nominal relative to other monthly consumer expenses. If government wanted to actually help women they could do so by rolling back regulations and allow contraceptive pills to be sold over the counter – this would dramatically drive costs down by removing an unnecessary barrier to a safe and common drug.

The case Ms. Fluke makes is not novel. Her argument is the one used by all those who perceive the world to be misbehaving. The thought flow is this: 1) Some aspect of the world is not behaving as I want therefore (2) I will co-opt the power of the state to force my worldview on those that are not currently conforming to it. Both sides do it: minimum wage laws, blue laws, drug laws, vice laws, business regulation, etc. They are all the same: force Party A to behave as Party B desires. The Orwellian justification for such interference? Freedom. But in this government double-speak world, freedom doesn’t mean being free from forceful influence, rather it means exerting forceful influence on some in order that others may have the freedom from making hard choices. The justification of force rests on the false proposition that individuals are trapped (lacking in freedom) by their circumstances and thus are not free. The irony is that the entity which claims to guard our freedom (government) is the only entity that truly has the power to restrict freedom. Ironically, government restricts the freedom of some and justifies its actions by falsely claiming the party against which it aggresses is guilty of the very thing it itself is doing. The truth is that (within the limits of government restrictions) we do still have choice. Exercising that choice is not always easy, but it can be done. To suggest one has no choice because some choices are difficult is to suggest we have no free will and thus no accountability i.e. “I’m not responsible for my actions because I simply followed the choice-path of least resistance – I had no choice.”

To suggest one has no choice because some choices are difficult is to suggest we have no free will and thus no accountability i.e. “I’m not responsible for my actions because I simply followed the choice-path of least resistance – I had no choice.”

Absent outside interference our collective choices would transparently reshape the world to be the one we collectively desire rather than the one that a minority who has co-opted government is able to impose on us. If employees don’t like working conditions they can all quit and thus that company will change or go out of business. If we don’t like ABC Co we can all stop buying their products and they will either change or go out of business.  Think this can’t work? Witness Apple, routinely criticized by Greenpeace for years, they have now made changes to their products that earn them kudos by that same group. Additionally they have responded to criticism of working conditions in their Chinese manufacturing partners by joining the Fair Labor Association.

Her testimony only serves to highlight that not choosing is a choice. Her first argument centered on cost in an attempt to elicit feelings of sympathy for the plight of these women and married couples who cannot afford contraception. “Women … have no choice but to go without contraception,” she says. Wrong. They have a choice and they made their choice. Their choice was that they value other goods and services (e.g. cell phone, internet, dining out, cosmetics, latest fashions, subscriptions, etc.) more highly than contraception or paying for an individual policy that does offer contraceptive coverage. And that’s ok. We all have our own value scale of prioritizing how we spend our money. The problem is expecting someone else to foot the bill for the thing you want but put at the bottom of your value list. You’d look pretty stupid if you decided to forego your cell phone plan in order to pay for contraception but then insisted your auto insurance provide free cell service. But somehow if the reverse is done it is ok? Requiring insurance coverage for voluntary routine expenses is simply government-mandated subsidization (those not engaging in an activity paying for those that do). Claiming it is “free” is disingenuous. Nothing is free, those costs are simply passed onto all policyholders.

In a further attempt to elicit sympathy for the “high cost” of contraceptives she then overstates the cost burden with a little slight of hand. She claims $3,000 is the total 3-year cost (3 years is standard for law school and is what we must assume since she does not specify the time frame) and that cost is “practically an entire summer’s salary” IF one is on a “public interest scholarship”. Setting aside for a second the irony of complaining that the free money one is being paid to go to school is in insufficient to pay for this other thing you think should also be free, we see that what she is saying is that the TOTAL cost of $3,000 over 3 YEARS is a disproportionately large percentage of 1 YEAR of stipend salary. That’s like saying the $30,000 I spend in electricity over 10 years is 100% of my 1 year salary and thus that undue burden is justification for me to expect someone else to pay for it.

Her next appeal is to evoke outrage in the listener by citing extreme examples as though they are the norm. But again the example backfires if one actually considers what she is saying. The examples include multiple stories wherein women who had a true medical need for contraceptive pills were denied coverage and thus negative consequences ensued because they weren’t willing to buy the pills on their own. If it was medically necessary, then yes, of course it should have been (and in most cases is) covered. But tales of insurers trying to avoid paying claims is nothing new. What is new is her revelation about the complete lack of priority these women gave to this supposedly essential medication. As mentioned previously, if it was really that important they could have reorganized their priority scale so that they did not go without the medication they needed. The figures cited ($83-$100/month) are quite inflated over actual contraception costs ($20-$50) but even these inflated figures are “doable” by even someone making minimum wage. It’s not like the pills are $10,000/month.

Lastly she then paints a false dichotomy of it being wrong that a woman would have to choose between a “quality education and our health” in response to the question of “You knew what Georgetown’s policy was when you came there – if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” So, apparently there are no other non-Catholic laws schools in the entire country that are on parity with Georgetown in terms of quality? I guess she’s never heard of Yale, Stanford or Duke. But to answer the question she did not answer: Yes, she was aware of Georgetown’s policy prior to coming there, but rather than accept the consequences of that choice she’d rather the government step in and force her will upon those running the school.

Insurers should be free to offer plans that have contraceptive coverage and plans that don’t. Consumers should be free to choose whichever plan they want. And employers should be free to offer or not offer whatever insurance they want. That’s what freedom is, the freedom to make your own decisions, even if it is a hard one.

Now, enjoy this little video done by Reason.tv 😉