A question recently arose in a political forum I frequent, as to whether making birth control pills over-the-counter (and thus drastically reducing the cost of acquiring them) would appease the reproductive-rights scolds. This is a proposal that has been floating around libertarian circles for years, both in conjunction with the debate over the conflict between religious liberty and health insurance mandates and more generally. The lack of strident advocacy from the Left, and in particular from feminists and women’s rights organizations, for this simple and societally beneficial change is a bit puzzling.

Unless, that is, we look for other motivations.

On the surface, over-the-countering the Pill seems like a win-win. It would eliminate the need to visit a doctor or a clinic for a prescription, which would save women time, eliminate potential conflicts with work, eliminate the need for health insurance to cover such visits, and eliminate copays or out-of-pocket costs. It would also make it very likely that the pills would become quite cheap, given that there are already over 100 different products on the market and that moving the choice of product from gatekeeper to the consumer would foster competition.

Certainly, some argue that there are risks involved, and I don’t want to minimize those risks. But, there are many other OTC products out there that are as or more risky, and most sources conclude that the risks aren’t of much note. Besides, the Left’s mantra is about a woman having control over her body, so why would they not embrace a change that would grant greater control and greater freedom?

Perhaps the fact that this is a wedge issue in the political scrum might give us greater insight.

One of the most controversial elements to emerge in the health insurance debate is the mandate that insurers provide reproductive services coverage and this mandate’s conflict with the beliefs of religious organizations and with business owners who hold certain religious beliefs regarding contraception and/or abortion. This controversy bubbled all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled, in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, that under certain conditions, this coverage mandate could not be forced upon businesses.

A work-around was concocted as a result of the Hobby Lobby ruling, but that work-around merely shifted the cost burden onto the insurers themselves, and, therefore, onto those who did not meet those “certain conditions.” An OTC pill would have been a better solution here.

But, an OTC pill would defuse the debate and remove a source of discord. It would be a “win-win,” in that everyone involved received benefit. Advocates would improve women’s access to contraception, women would save money and time and inconvenience, and those religiously opposed to birth control would not be forced to violate their beliefs.

That last bit is, sad to say, the problem. Improving women’s access to contraception is not enough. The religious opposition must be defeated, subordinated, and/or broken. The victory is insufficient if it does not hand defeat to the enemy. It’s not enough that I win. You must lose.

This theme isn’t remotely unique to this particular issue. We saw it in the gay marriage debate, where the most obvious solution was to get government out of the business of licensing marriage and dispensing special treatment based on marital status. That would have defused the entire issue, since without government involvement, marriage truly would be a “none of anyone else’s business” arrangement between consenting adults. As with the Pill, only the libertarians advocated this solution.

Other examples abound, especially when culture or religion is involved. Why? Because a win-win doesn’t satisfy the way a win-lose does. Because such fights, rooted in ideologies, disparate belief sets and “other-ness” take on a personal flavor, even though, since they’re about broad policy, there’s nothing personal about them.

That personal aspect is what draws us in and motivates us to fight. Consider, for example, how many divorcing couples seek to hurt each other, and succeed only in making lawyers rich, instead of simply figuring out how to best move on. Consider how bitter rivalries can last for generations, with loss and suffering inflicted on the other side providing more satisfaction than victory without commensurate loss does. While emotions can and do get the better of us in emotional situations, there’s really no excuse for it in politics. Nevertheless, it’s there.

It is bare-knuckle, zero-sum, us-vs-them, tribalistic behavior. It is not the province of the enlightened, or the caring, or the goodhearted. It is a bald-faced declaration that hurting the enemy is more important than helping the friends and those on whose behalf they’re advocating. It’s choosing the thrill of victory over a positive result. It makes hurting your opponent more important than achieving your aims. It’s not what good people do, and no one who thinks this way should ever dare claim any moral high ground. It’s sociopathic egotism.

Unfortunately, it is the norm in today’s politics, and it ends up hurting those who are meant to benefit.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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