Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Case for Making Birth Control Pills Over-the-Counter

I was reading the New York Times today and I came across the following opinion column:


I think it's time for my regularly-scheduled controversial opinion, so here goes...

I think it would be a good idea to make birth-control pills over-the-counter instead of requiring a doctor's prescription. 

In my opinion, drugs should be prescription-only if they're dangerous enough to need a doctor's guidance in their uses or if misuse would cause large-scale problems--think all these diseases we've thought we'd conquered becoming antibiotic-resistant because people don't finish their antibiotic prescriptions or badger doctors into prescribing them unnecessarily.

According to the article, which was written by someone who knows what they're talking about, the first situation is not an issue.  I've googled progestin, the one the author believes should be made over-the-counter first, and I can't really find anything about dangers from it.

Since there aren't any negative effects to the wider society I can think of, I do not think whether or not one can buy birth control pills over-the-counter or not is really any of the government's business.

Now I'll discuss something that will inevitably come up if someone proposes this--religion and its associated morality.  I'll stick with Christianity, since it's my own religion and the most influential religion in the United States.

If birth control were more widely available and people knew how to use it, there would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions.  If abortion is morally equivalent to killing (aka unjustified in most circumstances), it is imperative that abortions be reduced.  This will help accomplish that.  Fewer unplanned pregnancies means a smaller burden on both public and private charitable assistance, making more resources available for people in that unfortunate situation.  This in turn will make abortion--something few women contemplate with relish, based on the reports I've heard about women coming out of these clinics crying--less attractive.

Now, onto sex.  It is true that Christianity teaches sex outside of marriage is immoral and it is true that, if oral contraceptives were more widely available, I would imagine more sex outside of marriage would occur, since it would reduce the danger of unplanned pregnancy.

That being said, I don't think the number of people deterred from having sex outside of marriage by merely having to get a prescription for birth control pills is all that large.  It strikes me as more probable that people simply take the risk, which circles back to my point about abortion.  Basically, they're for the most part going to sin anyway and cause more problems for both themselves and others without oral contraceptives than without.  It's a lesser-evil argument; although an individual may choose to reject both the lesser evil and the greater evil and bear the consequences, this is not practical for governance.

Furthermore, it's not just people having sex outside of marriage who use oral contraceptives, but also married people who, for various reasons, wish to delay having children.  The Bible condemns sex outside of marriage; beyond 1 Corinthians 7:5 (in which spouses are told not to deny one another sex, lest the other partner be tempted to commit adultery), I do not recall any New Testament commandments pertaining to sex within marriage.

(There is the Old Testament case of Onan, who "spilled his seed upon the ground" and got zapped from on high, but he didn't want to father children in his brother's name AT ALL, not just at a more convenient time.  Claiming that story is a commandment against all birth control is reading too much into it.)

On a wider note, it is imprudent to have the government serve as an enforcer for our particular theology or moral code.  After all, someday we might lose our cultural and political dominance (some of the long-term trends don't look good) and we don't want the precedent we set to be used against us. 

The Founding Fathers created a secular government for this reason; they saw the wars of religion in Europe and the mutual persecution depending on which sect was in power (England, in which the Catholic Henry VIII persecuted Protestants until he became one himself and then began persecuting Catholics, comes to mind).  Unless it is a public matter--and for the reasons I've outlined above, oral contraception is not--the law should not be involved.

Let us remember that the secularly-governed United States is the most religious developed country, while the European countries that had state churches of one flavor or another have become extremely secularized.  It was our ancestors' tendency to use government to enforce the predominance of their sect that contributed to the decline of Christianity in Europe--let us remember that Deism emerged in the aftermath of the religious wars.

Furthermore, nowhere does the New Testament suggest that Christians should seek to take control of the government and use it to serve "Christian" ends.  In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:2 in which Paul exhorts his associate Timothy to pray for "kings and all those in authority," it is not so that they may become Paul and Timothy's enforcers, but so that they might leave the early Christians alone.

1 comment:

  1. While I hardly think the case needs to be made, I commend you for taking a stand on the issue that actually takes reality into consideration and does not simply insist on prohibitions.