The Controversy Behind the Birth Control Mandate
by Maegan Hilliard, Solanda Lee, Chloe Lin, Tito Thomas, Tisa Thomas
A recent controversy erupted when Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student
was invited by the Democratic party to speak about the birth control mandate. While advocating
for a federal plan to provide free contraception, Fluke was met by insulting opposition from
Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio talk show host. Rush Limbaugh degraded Sandra Fluke by
calling her a slut and a prostitute. He commented that the reason behind Fluke’s support for the
birth control mandate was because she was having “too much sex.”
The controversy began when the Department of Health and Human Services set forth a
birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act which would ensure free coverage of
contraception for women. The mandate provides services such as sterilization procedures, FDA-
approved contraceptive methods, education and counseling1. Religious conservatives argue that
such a mandate is unconstitutional because it forces many religious institutions such as religious-
based charities and universities to cover contraceptives as part of their insurance coverage. Even
liberal Catholic organizations such as the Catholic Health Association and Catholic charities
raised concerns over the mandate. Objectors defined the mandate as a direct attack on religious
This concern is understandable as a religious organization should not be mandated by a
government to conduct activities against their own teachings. Yet, that concern here is not valid
as only religiously-affiliated organizations fall under this mandate. Even after exemptions were
made for some religious organizations, opponents argued that the mandate “still forces us to act
against our conscience and our teaching2”. The exemptions and provisions were accepted by the
liberal religious organizations and organizations that actually work with healthcare initiatives.
However, the more doctrinal groups still defined the mandate as an attack on religious liberty. It
is difficult to understand what these objectors are concerned about especially after the creation of
Even more troubling, the opposition has misconstrued basic facts about birth control.
For example, the opposition argued that birth control would encourage sexual promiscuity.
Promoting birth control would supposedly lead to a disrespect of the sanctitiy of family life
and values. However, this line of thinking ignores other important uses of birth control and
the economic and social benefits of contraception. 58% of women use birth control for non-
contraceptive purposes3. Birth control can be used to control menstrual cramps and prevent
ovarian cysts. No sane religious individual in their righteous mind would argue that this function
of birth control could somehow destroy family values.
The absolutism of the opposition is also troubling in another manner. Suppose a religious
employer believes that only faith healing is applicable even in extreme cases. If an employee
falls sick, then the employer could evidently argue that he/she should not be forced to provide
a comprehensive health care plan since it violates his/her religious doctrine. Of course, any
absolutists in the birth control debate would be repulsed by the faith healing employer denying
coverage to his/her employee. In that case then, if the “religious liberty” argument does not work
for a believer in faith healing, then why should the government exempt those who oppose birth
control solely on religious doctrine?
Furthermore, there is evidence-based conclusion that birth control has wide socio-
economic benefits. Birth control is a form of prevention, and a cost-efficient one at that. In fact,
a recent study of the Brookings Center on Children and Family showed that birth control and
family planning can save taxpayers up to 1.32 billion dollars4. Furthermore, research has also
shown that access to preventive health services like contraception is positively associated with a
decrease in maternal and infant mortality rates. Moreover, access to contraception is also linked
to reduced rates of ovarian cancer risk. Lastly, and most importantly, access to birth control
helps decrease the number of unwanted pregnancy and abortions.
The biting criticisms and unwarranted personal attacks over this issue have revealed the
real problem: the politicization of women’s health. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the
benefits of birth control (to both women and taxpayers), opponents have continued to harangue
the Department of Human and Health Services and Obama administration which begs the
question: are opponents really concerned with being “moral” and acting on their “conscience” or
are they more concerned with scoring political points? The moral thing to do would be to realize
that providing free birth control saves lives and improves the health of women, but the health
and well-being of women seem to be far from the concerns of the opponents. They have simply
usurped this mandate as a stealth way to push their own political motives.
So many women in the United States do not have the money to pay for birth control, and
with this new mandate, it would be largely beneficial. It should never be about a woman having
to make a decision between putting food on the table and buying birth control for themselves.
With this new mandate, women do not have that dilemma, and they finally have a force that is
supporting their needs.