The Wind of Freedom Blows

In the week or two leading up to the Early Application Deadline of November 1, 2009, I found myself writing the following paragraph:

“Though there are several reasons why Stanford is a good place for me, there is one particular characteristic which appeals to me most: the spirit of service.  As the Founding Grant expressed in 1885, Stanford aims to “qualify students for…[the promotion of] the general welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.”

Due to the strict word limit of the application essay, I was not able to include another characteristic, which I found equally profound and appealing—Stanford’s value of freedom, embodied in our motto: “The wind of freedom blows.”  I wrote the above paragraph not merely to sound Stanford-esque to the admissions officer reading my application, but because I truly believed it.  A university which values freedom as an instrument not only to learn and inquire, but to serve and do good for society—I could not imagine myself anywhere else.

Thus, I was disappointed that I found myself agreeing with my fellow writer’s—AJ Sugarman’s—recent editorial entitled “Contraception Mandate Not Divisive.”

Not divisive at Stanford, that is.

Like Mr. Sugarman, I too have not heard of many members of the Stanford community who protest the Department of Health and Human Services Contraceptive Mandate, which is to be implemented as part of President Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act.  Under this mandate, employers will be required to pay for contraceptive services as part of their employees’ insurance plans.

Apart from a forum-style talk show to be filmed within the coming weeks entitled “Abortion, Contraception, Intra-vaginal Probing: Is It About Religious Freedom or Controlling the Bodies of Women,” even simple *dialogue *about an issue which many outside the Stanford bubble regard as highly contentious has been minimal.

Yet I believe that the reason for the minimal on-campus dialogue and contention is not a “tradition of respectful discussion,” as Mr. Sugarman points out, but an interplay of two factors: 1) the *approval *of the mandate by the radical few who often protest in favor of a myriad of more liberal reproductive rights and 2) the general *apathy *of the remainder of students towards a supposedly “no-brainer” issue such as contraception.

To the majority of students who can generally afford to spend about $9 to $20 a month on condoms or birth-control pills at the local CVS or Safeway, the idea of requiring employers to pay insurance premiums which would cover relatively inexpensive birth control does not seem worth all the recent weeks’ hullabaloo.

Yet few people are aware of its severe constitutional implications and even less so of its dire economic implications, a few of which are worth rehashing.

First of all, there are hundreds of thousands of people across the country who wish not to use artificial contraception for personal, moral and/or religious reasons.  Already being criticized and attacked for upholding these personal beliefs by various elements of our contemporary society, many of these individuals are now being forced to pay for their employees’ use of contraception.  President Obama’s “compromise” in response to the uproar this caused in a variety of communities was to transfer the burden of payment for contraceptives from* religious *employers (but not employers who merely hold these religious beliefs) to the insurance companies.  But, of course, the insurance companies acquire the funds to purchase these contraceptives from the premium-paying employers themselves.

Regardless of one’s beliefs about contraception, it should be apparent that these individuals’ convictions should be protected under the First Amendment.  It should suffice in convincing one that this is not an issue about the *morality *of contraception as many people believe it to be, but an issue of freedom, of conscience, of justice.  This argument should be enough to convince freedom-loving Stanford students and faculty to take *action *against this mandate.

Yet, for the sake of being thorough, let us consider this issue from a more practical standpoint: economics (after all, if the government is going to coerce these individuals to violate their consciences, there must be some tangible benefits for these individuals). The lone economist on the committee, Dr. Anthony Lo Sasso, provided a dissenting opinion to the committee’s recommendations on the basis of the report’s lack of cost considerations. In short, the committee did not include cost as a factor in determining which preventive services should be mandatorily covered as part of the Affordable Care Act, yet Mr. Obama cited the report as evidence that the HHS Mandate would save patients, employers, and insurers money.

Without cost considerations, Lo Sasso argues, one cannot ascertain the proper coverage of the preventive service (i.e. contraception) because one is unaware of the elasticity of consumer demand for contraception.  Simply put, one cannot say that insurance coverage of contraception would lead to a reduction in healthcare expenditure, precisely because the committee did not study the current, pre-implementation demand for contraception, nor did it make projections as to how consumer demand for contraception would change once its costs are covered by employers.

And there is evidence to conclude that, even with cost management measures, the price of contraception will increase, since its purchasers are no longer the millions of individuals across the country, but a few hundred insurance companies.  This will lead to higher premiums for you and I—all for the sake of requiring employers to cover what once was $9 birth-control pills for Jane Doe and $10 condoms for John X.

So as members of a university whose motto is “The wind of freedom blows” and where the pursuit of knowledge is meant not just for the benefit of the individual but for society as a whole, we should ask ourselves what we can do to counteract this mandate and all its unfortunate blunders.

My suggestion: dialogue and, if necessary, a bit of contention.

*Judy Romea ’14 is a columnist for the Stanford Review. She can be reached at [email protected].
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