Contraception and the Case for Free-Market Feminism
By Laurie Rice
For a while, YouTube aired a commercial for Plan B, and it inspired me whenever I saw it. “No one is going to get in my way,” one actress says decisively — “No one,” “No one,” “No one,” comes the chorus of women, each one more emphatic.
At first, it might seem overly righteous for a subtext which basically suggests, “the condom broke.” But the commercial is actually the market’s bold stance against a long history of regulation surrounding contraception. The women in the commercial are voices are ringing out above one of the world’s loudest shouting matches, speaking to issues of sexuality, women’s reproductive freedom, health care, personal responsibility, and capitalism.
Collectivist ideologues of various persuasions are harmful to women’s reproductive freedom, but most harmful is government power, itself. Progressive feminists still haven’t figured out that problem, or its solution: free-market capitalism.
Plan B, or “the morning-after pill,” is a drug that can prevent pregnancy if taken within three days (72 hours) of a high-risk sexual encounter. It’s produced and marketed by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use with a prescription in 1999. But since then, it’s been embroiled in government regulation.
In 2006, Plan B became available over-the-counter, but not to young women under 18. In 2009, the FDA approved a new variety of Plan B called “One Step,” which condensed the drug into one pill rather than the two-pill process used previously. Also in 2009, the FDA approved “Next Choice,” a generic form of Plan B, which became available over-the-counter to women 17 or older, and with a prescription for anyone younger. 2011 was a setback year, with secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sebelius rejecting Plan B’s application for full over-the-counter status, without age restrictions.
In 2013, Plan B became available over-the-counter to women of all ages. But the FDA’s approval in 2013 included a deal with Teva Pharmaceuticals for the FDA to suppress competition from products like Next Choice by continuing to enforce age restrictions on the generic drugs. Just a few weeks ago, March 2, marked a new milestone in accessible contraception when the FDA reconsidered this deal and wrote a letter to Plan B’s generic competitors, finally allowing them to sell their product over-the-counter and without age restrictions, competing fully in the market alongside name-brand Plan B.
As Cathy Reisenwitz points out at Sex and The State, “the war against reason and young women regarding access to reproductive healthcare has been perpetrated, counterintuitively, by both the left and the right.” Traditionalist opposition to Plan B was predictable — that it’s an abortion pill (no), that it promotes promiscuity (no), that it strips away the moral fabric of our country (?), etc. But the Democratic opposition was more unexpected.
Democrat Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius opposed open access to Plan B in 2011, and her decision was backed by Barack Obama. Obama cited parental concern for the safety of his daughters and the unknown risks the drug might have for young women’s bodies. (This is glaringly omitting the known risks pregnancy definitely has for young women’s bodies. Also omitted: that it’s immoral for anyone to use the force of government to control other people’s sexual health decisions.)
Beyond ideological camps, though, the good guys and bad guys in the contraception battle are all mixed up. Progressive feminists with the best intentions for women’s reproductive freedoms still aren’t identifying the actual problem: government power. There isn’t enough criticism of the government’s authority, as such, to control the market and thus control women’s access to the products that can improve their lives. Progressive feminists laud each successive FDA decision as carrying out justice, forgetting that the FDA created the injustice in the first place. For its latest change-of-heart, allowing Next Choice to compete fully on the market, Jessica Arons, president of the advocacy group Reproductive Health Technologies Project, “commend[s] the FDA… everyone deserves a second chance to get it right, including the FDA,” Arons said.
The FDA isn’t to be commended — it did nothing to add value, at any point. Teva Pharmaceuticals created a valuable product; a product that provides women with relief, control over their own reproduction, and a lifestyle with more possibilities and happiness than the experience of an unwanted pregnancy. The FDA obstructed women from this product for 15 years. That’s a window of time big enough to include two generations of unwanted teen pregnancies: scared young women who did not get their Plan B — their second chance — at a brighter, less fearful, less stressful adolescence. At a life unmarked by either the massive commitment of having a child or the difficult decision of abortion. The FDA doesn’t need a second chance; it needs to be undermined, disobeyed, and abolished.
There also isn’t enough advocacy by feminists for a free-market, or enough understanding by feminists of the differences between cronyism and capitalism. The power of the government to regulate business provides opportunities for companies like Teva Pharmaceuticals to exert control over women’s choices, even while they otherwise provide women with valuable products. When the government’s ability to control the market exists, large companies like Teva Pharmaceuticals are incentivized to use the government to suppress their competitors.
This is the structure of cronyism, the context of every “sweetheart deal,” as it was called by Maya Dusenberry, executive editor at Feministing. The competition in this case was the generic drug Next Choice. In a free market, instead of wasting millions of dollars in negotiations and lawsuits with the government, Teva could have spent its money and time honing the Plan B product to beat the competition, with consumers as the ultimate winners of a much lower cost morning-after pill.
Meanwhile, the Center For Reproductive Rights, the legal organization that petitioned the FDA on behalf of Teva Pharmaceuticals’ Plan B, has moved onto new projects. Namely, a twitter campaign called #NotMyBossBusiness to raise awareness about the upcoming Supreme Court hearing on whether ideological businesses can deny women insurance coverage for birth control. Should a business prevent its female employees from using birth control on its insurance plan? Morally speaking, no. But a legal decision just further enmeshes the government with the private sector. In a fully free market, health insurance companies would be able to do business directly with their customers, instead of through employers. The current system is cobbled together through decades of mandates, subsidies, and regulation.
Progressive feminists and groups like the Center For Reproductive Rights are still missing the larger picture: that government involvement in the market is the reason why so many women have to get insurance through their employer in the first place. That government involvement in women’s health means today’s contraception victory is tomorrow’s political bargaining chip, to be traded by people like Kathleen Sebelius. That state power is more inescapable, more inflexible, and more insidious to women’s freedoms than any Hobby Lobby conservative craft store could ever be. Feminists need to embrace free-market capitalism. They should take a cue from the Plan B commercials: that no one should stand between women and their freedom to earn money and spend it on the products they choose. Not the right. Not the left. Not the government itself. No one. No one. No one.
Laurie Rice (@Laurie__Rice) is the research and program assistant for The Atlas Society and the editor of David Kelley’s logic textbook, The Art of Reasoning. This article was first published at The Atlas Society.