The purpose of medical care is always restorative . . . or at least it should be. It is meant to treat the sick and restore them to health, at least as much as possible at our current stage of knowledge and development. A severed arm is reattached, if possible. A malfunctioning thyroid is treated with medicine to restore its natural function. We remove cancers, repair lacerations, fuse broken bones. Medicine is about healing the dysfunction, illness, and injury that interrupts our healthy, natural bodily functions. It is never about the inhibition of our healthy bodily functions; that would run counter to what medicine is about.
Yes, occasionally we remove or inhibit something as part of a medical treatment, but only when it is absolutely necessary. A kidney that is badly diseased and cannot be restored to its natural function because it is beyond the limits of modern medicine will be removed, for example. But even in this case, although the function of the kidney itself cannot be restored, the end goal of the treatment is to restore the body’s overall function as much as possible given the circumstances and prevent the spread of the disease to other organs. The fact that the person’s overall kidney function will be halved is a side-effect brought on by necessity; the inhibition of bodily function is not the goal, but the unfortunate consequence.
How curious, then, that contraception (and even abortion) is now being cynically labeled as health care, as if it is no different than pain killers or thyroid drugs. Except in very rare cases, these treatments are not restorative but inhibitory by their very nature. They interrupt and stymie the body’s natural functions as their primary goal. The reproductive cycle and the bearing of children is a perfectly natural and healthy function of the female human body, no different than the function of the kidney or the thyroid. It is part of who we are as human beings. Blocking that natural function, except when there is a restorative need to do so, is not medicine any more than me arbitrarily wanting to turn off my left kidney would be. I think everybody would recognize the absurdity of a demand that my health insurance plan cover my choice to shut down my left kidney, even if I had the right to do it (which I don’t; apparently some choices about inhibiting natural body functions are more equal than others).
If you were to compare it to any other psuedo-medical field that exists today, it is most akin to an elective procedure like botox treatments—unnecessary and potentially damaging (as millions of women, including some dear friends of mine, who have suffered post-contraceptive miscarriages and lingering infertility can attest). Even though you can do it if you want to, and it’s perfectly legal, it is not medicine and should not be covered—except in those very rare cases where it is medically necessary—by anybody’s health insurance. It is not, in the vast majority of cases, medically indicated, restorative, or necessary to maintain one’s health.
As you may have heard, President Barack Obama’s (D) administration will soon require that all employers (except a few covered by a very narrow religious exemption) provide health insurance for their employees that covers contraception and even abortifacients—drugs that induce abortions. Because the religious exemption is crafted so narrowly, this will require religious organizations like my own Catholic Church that consider contraception and abortion to be immoral, as well as the Church’s countless hospitals and charities, to fund these services for their employees. It is a blatant and unprecedented violation of our basic First Amendment religious protections.
But even if you put aside the moral objections of the Catholic Church and others, which is a topic for another day and not the focus of this piece, the contraceptive mandate is still plainly illogical. It is of course terrifying that the Obama administration thinks it can revoke our First Amendment religious protections at will, but even if there were no moral objection to contraception the policy is still badly misguided. The government cannot force employers to pay to cover elective, medically unnecessary drugs and procedures. Employers can pay extra to add this stuff to their coverage if they want to, but they cannot be compelled to do so. Nobody has a right to have elective medicine covered by their health insurance.
Contraception is simply not health care by any reasonable, traditional definition of the term—again excluding certain very rare cases, but in those rare cases it is already covered by virtually all health insurance plans including those offered today by Catholic employers. Women have the legal right to inhibit their reproductive systems all they want—and reap the long-term negative consequences thereof, which their doctors should (but often don’t) make them aware of. It is, as the pro-abortion crowd is always gleefully exclaiming, a matter of choice. This terminology is somewhat refreshing in a certain sense, because it contains an important nugget of truth: it is something you may do or not do at will, based on your own values and convenience. It is not a matter of necessity. It is your decision, and it is your responsibility to pay for it (or obtain it from the various groups that hand it out like candy to anybody who asks).
So let’s restore a proper view of medicine as being restorative, not inhibitory. Let’s respect our bodies and their natural functions—including reproduction—rather than chemically breaking them for short-term convenience. And above all, let’s not mince words so badly that they lose all of their meaning. If it doesn’t restore the body to health and wholeness, or aid in the maintenance thereof, it ain’t medicine . . . and you have no right to demand that somebody else (whether it be your employer or your government) pay for it.