Oops, I did it

On March 27, Gov. Gray Davis ordered California health maintenance organizations to submit to abortion rights groups once more when he commanded them to cover the controversial “”morning-after pill”” anti-conception drug.

Pat Leung

With campaigning for the November gubernatorial election in full swing, it’s not surprising that Davis would cater to the interests of pro-abortion rights groups, but the move is actually just the latest in a longer-running series of such events. In 1999, Davis signed a bill that required California HMOs to cover FDA-approved contraceptives, and just last year he signed into law a measure that allowed pharmacists to provide emergency contraception.

The governor played off his action as cutting away the “”red tape”” holding back a woman’s right to choose, but the issue is not that simple. Granted, even a spokesman in the envoy for Davis’ opponent for the governor’s seat, Republican Bill Simon, said that the command is part of an “”issue dealing with contraception, not abortion.”” But forcing HMOs to cover this kind of contraception is a gross overextension of government interference into the realm of the partisan firestorm of abortion.

The two kinds of emergency contraception on the market today are different than RU-486, the controversial French “”abortion pill”” that arrived here six years ago. RU-486 ends a pregnancy in its early stages. Emergency contraceptive pills can block a pregnancy from occurring if taken within 72 hours of intercourse, but will not have an effect if conception has already happened.

Unfortunately, the potential for abuse of emergency contraception is ever-present. Because it can make such a quick fix, there is nothing to say that those who find its accessibility appealing will not abuse it. Some HMOs already do cover emergency contraception. Forcing all California HMOs to cover it just opens the door to more widespread abuse.

An HMO is a “”health maintenance organization.”” What exactly can fall under the realm of protecting and maintaining the health of citizens is up for debate, as Davis’ move shows. The role that HMOs should play in this debate is very blurry.

How does family planning figure in the scheme of protecting “”health””? Granted, preventing an unwanted pregnancy is an important responsibility. But when HMOs must clean up after irresponsible people, the issue is no longer about health, but about personal accountability. And then funds and attention get diverted from matters of real importance: maintaining the health of citizens who are healthy and healing those who are sick.

Nonprocreative sex is a lifestyle choice, not a disease whose side effect can be pregnancy. It’s not a hereditary deficiency that must be corrected by medication. It’s not a virus that requires preventative shots every winter.

HMOs should not be held responsible for people’s actions in this arena any more than they should have to cover anyone’s cravings for illegal drugs. If people are going to choose to have sex, then they need to be responsible about it beforehand and take the proper precautions to ensure that their unaccountability in the matter will be constant before, during and after sexual activity. They can’t expect to get a quick fix for their irresponsibility covered by a health organization.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that all women who would use emergency contraceptives are irresponsible and looking for ways to inconvenience themselves the least of all. Ideally, emergency contraception would be used only in a case where a couple’s normally used contraception unexpectedly failed. But, as demonstrated in so many other ways, California can’t rely on all its citizens to police themselves when it comes to measures of responsibility.

It is one thing to allow a couple, responsible or not, the ability to prevent pregnancy when other methods have failed. It is another thing entirely to try to get someone else — an overburdened bureaucracy — to pay for that.