SECURING BIRTH CONTROL RIGHTS
By Dick Meister
IT'S CALLED "CONTRACEPTIVE EQUITY," and it's one of the newest and most
important demands being raised by union activists.
They're insisting that employers, whose health insurance plans pay for
many preventive drugs, devices and services, cover the cost of drugs,
devices and services aimed at the unwanted pregnancies that inflict such an
emotional and financial toll on millions of American women and their
More than half the plans do not include such coverage, notes the
Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUE), which is leading the drive for
That's true even of plans in which the impotence drug Viagra is among
the prescription medicines that are covered.
As a CLUW activist advised employers with such plans: "If you can pay to
crank it up, you'd better pay far the consequences."
CLUW cites rulings made over the past two years by the Federal Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission and several courts. They held that
employers who deny contraceptive benefits while providing benefits for other
preventive care are illegally discriminating against women.
Federal agencies and those of 20 state governments provide contraceptive
benefits. The states also have enacted laws requiring employers who provide
preventive care benefits to include contraceptive coverage.
Problem is, says CLUE, the laws and the court and federal rulings are
only laxly enforced.
CLUW is pushing hard for much stronger enforcement, as well as for
enactment of a federal law. But the main effort is to help unions win
contraceptive benefits in their contract negotiations with employers.
Studies show the cost would be less than $1.50 a month per employee,
less than 1 percent of the average cost of health insurance overall. And
even that small cost could be offset -- and then some -- by reducing the
number of employee pregnancies and thus absenteeism and avoiding the medical
costs related to unintended pregnancies.
The ever-rising cost of health insurance could be reduced, too. The
Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that a sexually active woman not
using contraceptives over a five-year period could become pregnant at least
four times at a cost for care of $14,000 to her health insurance provider.
Five years worth of the most common contraceptive pill would cost about
Certainly the health care costs of women workers would be reduced. CLUW
notes that "women pay on average 68 percent more out of pocket for health
care expenses than men -- largely as a result of having to pay for
contraception out of pocket." Overall, their out-of-pocket payments average
nearly $600 a year.
CLUW, with 20,000 members, has set out to marshal broad support for
the ambitious -- and long overdue -- drive for "contraceptive equity,"
organizing forums around the country to address the issue with a wide
variety of union activists.
The drive already has wan the backing of the AFL-CIO and many of its
affiliated unions. That significantly includes the 1.4 million-member
Teamsters and 1.3 million-member American Federation of State, County and
An important side effect of the drive could be to bring more women into
the labor movement by providing them with a vital issue that seriously
affects them. Currently, only about 12 percent of working women belong to
Few would dispute, in any case, the conclusion of CLUW President Gloria
T. Johnson that "there simply is no excuse for excluding women from health
care coverage in an area so important to them and to our society."
Copyright © 2003, Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based freelance columnist who
has covered labor issues for four decades as a reporter, editor and