Want a Slurpee with Your Birth Control?

The problem of access to birth control in the United States has been single-handedly solved by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Need birth control? Just run over to 7-11 and pick some up.

Appearing on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Dolan praised the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case as inspiring examples of American religious conviction and told guest host Norah O’Donnell that cutting contraception out of insurance policies wasn’t a problem:

Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available—my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them—is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?” 

It’s one of the bishops’ favorite arguments: that birth control is so cheap and so widely available that it isn’t even a question of whether the religious freedom of objecting organizations should be burdened by having to pay for it. The bishops have been claiming since 2012 that birth control is “ubiquitous and inexpensive” and anyone who wants it can get it without insurance coverage for $10 at Target.

And as usual, bishops’ allies on the right jumped right on it. Here’s Sean Hannity back in January on his radio show: 

Why should Americans be paying the $9 a month for birth control pills that you can get at Wal-Mart? Why should—especially Catholics and people of faith, and Christians and people of other faiths that this is against their religious teachings … why should other people be buying others’ birth control? Why are people accused of waging a war on women if they don’t want to pay for their birth control, which is inexpensive? 

Now, first of all, I don’t know which 7-11 the cardinal frequents, but other than condoms they don’t sell birth control (although a “six-pack and emergency contraception special” might cut down on a lot of unplanned pregnancies).

Secondly, the Catholic bishops collapse all types of contraception into two “easily” available forms: birth control pills and condoms. Some oral contraceptives are available in generic forms and cost as little as $10 at big-box retailers. But many newer kinds aren’t and cost upwards of $40 month. Women need to use the form of oral contraceptive, or contraception in general, that best suits their personal and medical needs, not what happens to be on the blue-light special. 

More importantly, the bishops’ argument completely ignores the more expensive, and more effective, longer acting forms of birth control that insurance covers, such as IUDs and implants, that can cost upwards of $1,000 for initial insertion. Recent studies show that these types of birth control may well be the key to preventing unplanned pregnancies and breaking the cycle of poverty in populations that have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy, such as younger women and women of color.

As usual, the Catholic bishops are tying to undercut support for the continuum of women’s health care needs by treating contraception, and the women who use it, with contempt. Happy Easter Cardinal Dolan. 

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church. Her work on the intersection of sex, religion, and politics has appeared in The Nation, Ms., and Huffington Post. She was the editor of Conscience magazine and the editor-in-chief of the National Journal’s health care briefings.

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