Why Cover Viagra If Contraceptives Aren’t Covered?

07/10/2017 05:10 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2017

As a “second wave” feminist, I’m amazed that we’re relitigating the rights for which we successfully fought in the 1960s through the 1980s. Especially over an issue as basic as insurance coverage and federal funding for reproductive health. I was never a man-hater or a bra burner. I simply felt, along with all my sisters-in-arms, that women should have the same choices as men. Conversely, I believed that men were entitled to the same freedom from enforced gender roles as feminists demanded.

At age 70 – well past reproductive age – I look back at my life and feel immense gratitude for the control I had over my childbearing years and what that allowed me to accomplish. I earned a Ph.D.; catalyzed reforms in policing and victim rights; lobbied, along with Susan Brownmiller, for the first sex crimes unit in NYPD. I went on to a successful career in broadcasting, banking, and book-writing. Later, when it was time to “give back,” I founded two organizations – one to combat religious prejudice and another to alleviate the suffering of Syrian war victims – most of whom are women and children. Alongside my work-for-pay, I’m deeply engaged in philanthropy.

I believe I’ve made a contribution to the world. I was able to do that because I had reproductive choices. I had a child when I was ready – in my case, that was quite late in life. This allowed me to attain a modicum of financial security and to provide opportunities for my son. And I was married, widowed and married again, to two secure men who felt no need to suppress my strivings.

I realize this smacks of white privilege. But not everything in my life was privileged. My parents and I were refugees. My mother was widowed in a strange country when I was 6 years old, and she seldom earned more than $10,000 a year. My education was funded by scholarships, fellowships, part-time jobs and loans. That said, I’m well aware of the divergences in the feminist movement between white women and women of color, who have different priorities, sufferings, and concerns. But, women of all races are damaged when they are denied control over their reproductive functions. They are more likely to be doomed to poverty, low level work, poor educational attainment, higher risks of illness, and diminished opportunities – for themselves and their children.

Now here we are in 2017. In the health care reform bill currently being contemplated by the Senate, insurance coverage for contraception and abortion are again on the table. The unspoken premise of such restrictions is a punitive attitude toward female sexuality that dates back to Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:16, Eve is told, “I shall greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail. In pain thou shalt bring forth children. Thy desire shall be unto thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” This was Eve’s punishment for having tempted Adam. But, temptation is a two-way transaction; it takes one to tempt and one to succumb.

Yet, here’s the underlying message: if a woman has sex – never mind that she may have been raped or is a victim of incest ― she should be punished. She should be discouraged from obtaining sexual gratification by being denied easy and affordable access to contraception. Even if there is no gratification and the sex is imposed on her, if she finds herself pregnant, she should be forced to have the child and live with the consequences. This attitude is found in the Abrahamic religions. But, even within those religions, beliefs diverge about when life begins and whether abortion is acceptable. That said, I don’t want to focus here on abortion, which provokes deeply felt passions, deserving of respect, on both the pro and anti-choice sides of the debate. My focus here is contraception, which is the best means for avoiding abortion.

If sex is to be punished, why should it be only the women? Don’t men have something to do with sexual intercourse? Should they not also bear the economic and other consequences? And, if so, why is Viagra covered by medical insurance, including federal funding, while women’s contraceptives are in dispute? No one would argue that providing our veterans, who have suffered physical and emotional trauma, should be given the means to recover their ability to function sexually. But, for most others, isn’t Viagra about enabling men to have more and better sex? The vast majority of men who take Viagra are 56 years and older. Given that it’s mostly older men who need it, they’re certainly not taking it for the reproductive purposes that some religions mandate. So, why should women be denied the means to have more and better sex? Why should they disproportionately pay the price of lost economic and educational opportunities as well as suffering greater health risks? In the interest of parity, let’s discontinue coverage of Viagra if we discontinue coverage for female contraception. Are women’s reproductive health and life opportunities less important than men’s?

This has previously been debated in Congress, but that was more than ten years ago. Today, with 13 white men having drafted the current health care reform bill in the Senate, it’s not surprising that they would have neglected to consider this aspect of discrimination.

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