Female Contraception, Health and Liberty

[Note: This article was first published on the Leadership and Biotechnology Blog.]

Against the backdrop of tax reform, ongoing dialogue around sexual harassment, deepening investigations into the role of Russia in our elections, the crisis in Korea, attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and continued attempts to restrict immigration and remove Dreamers from the USA, President Trump’s assault on women’s reproductive rights may be seen as a minor sideshow.

Steve Holtzman, CEO, Decibel Therapeutics

But it isn’t.

Indeed, it is an assault on women through an attempt to control fundamental matters that affect their health and the exercise of their liberty.

The matter first drew attention during the campaign when he said that, were abortion to be made illegal, women receiving one “should be subject to some form of punishment.” His appointment of Tom Price as the (now departed) Secretary of Health and Human Services was the harbinger of the relentless attack, via executive rule and agency regulation, on women’s health rights that has characterized his first 10 months in office.

We hope with the appointment of Alex Azar as the new Secretary of HHS will be a sign of more thoughtful, human and rational policies. However, the President’s latest salvo against women’s rights is in place and his executive order rescinding the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires health insurance plans to provide coverage of female contraception is unjust, ill conceived, unwise, and uneconomic.

Jeremy Levin, CEO, Ovid Therapeutics

Why should this latest action draw the attention and active opposition of we as biotechnology executives?  After all, aren’t views of sexual activity and, hence, contraception exclusively the purview of one’s personal moral perspective, not mandated by one’s professional position?

We humbly put forth a contrary perspective.

The US biotechnology industry leads the world in the discovery and development of innovative, transformative medicines to address major unmet medical and human needs. We are, therefore, dedicated to creating a country, and world, of healthier people. This is the raison d’etre of our industry and why we do what we do. The people for whom we to seek to provide better, healthier lives are not defined by economic class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender.

While human health is a good in and of itself, it is also a primary precondition of enjoying our broader liberties; and, a healthy populace is key to the prosperity of a nation. National policies that promote health embody our nation’s commitment to a democracy in which liberty is maximized for all while also making plain good economic sense.

Unwanted pregnancies often create significant health risks. They also limit the ability of a woman to exercise her liberty to make choices that are best for her health, her work, and her family. Increases in the number of unwanted pregnancies directly result in an increased number of abortions, which no one—regardless of political or moral beliefs—desires.

The availability of contraception for all women who wish to use it is, therefore, essential to women’s health and the rights and liberty interests of women, as well as to decreasing the number of abortions and providing the basic conditions necessary to enable our country to grow and economically prosper. To achieve these interrelated goals, health insurance must include the provision of contraception as a mandatory component of coverage. This coverage enables women to choose the method that meets their needs and have consistent, uninterrupted access to it.

No matter where they work, regardless of economic status, women need and deserve access to birth control through health insurance. An employer’s beliefs have no place in a woman’s private decision to obtain birth control, just as they have no place in any other conversation about a patient’s healthcare or exercise of her rights and liberty.

Furthermore, the executive order reflects a profound bias against women and an inequality in the rights of men and women to engage in sexual activity without procreative intent, and of living with the potential consequences thereof. While, under the new rule, mandatory coverage of female birth control will cease, coverage of male erectile dysfunction drugs will continue.

Millions of women have gained access to birth control through the Affordable Care Act. The executive order puts all of them at risk of losing this vital aspect of their healthcare and basis of exercising a broad array of their rights. We believe that leaders of the biotechnology industry have an obligation to raise their voices in opposition to social policies that contravene the foundational bases of the existence of our industry as well as those that are inimical to the rights and interests of our employees.

As leaders of an industry committed to better health as critical to the prosperity of our nation and our liberty as a people, and of an industry whose world-leading position is completely attributable to our committed employees—over 60% of whom are women—we urge other biotechnology executives to raise their voices in opposition to the executive order rescinding the categorization of female contraception as a mandatory component of health insurance coverage.

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