Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Misleading headlines and how they hurt us

The headline reads, "Missouri Legislature Approves Anti-Contraceptive Measure!"

On FaceBook, it's coming up as, "Missouri Legislature Approves Bill Allowing Employers To Deny Access To Birth Control" (same link).

So, based on those two headlines, and just those headlines, I assumed the article would be about a Bill that says that employers are allowed to rifle through employees' purses and wallets, looking for condoms or birth control pills, and that they're now allowed to make unannounced visits to your bedroom to find out whether you're pulling out.

Ceridwen / Wikimedia Commons
No, that's not what it's about. What they actually did was say that if an employer (for instance, the Catholic church) is morally opposed to birth control, sterilization, and abortions, then they can not offer that in their health care package. This is NOT the same thing as banning it, or denying access to it.

At no point has any legislator said (or even tried to say, to my knowledge) that employers (even the vaunted church) has the right to invade people's privacy and ask what they are doing at home. If you happen to be employed by the Catholic church and want an abortion, you're quite welcome to do so. You have to pay for it yourself, under this bill, but that's not so different from not having dental care (and frankly, not having dental coverage will put you in the poor house a lot faster than not having access to free or low cost birth control bills).

Some companies offer dental care, and others don't. Should every company be forced to provide dental care, whether they can afford to do so or not? Should they be forced to reduce salaries and lay off employees to fulfill the desires of a few government officials to see healthy teeth across the country?

It does sound rather silly when you think of it like that. But the argument is the same. Take out "dental care" and drop in "birth control pills" and you'll see it follows through.

Tom Hannen / Wikimedia Commons
All that aside, though, it doesn't really matter. If you want to work for a company, find out what their health care plan is. If you don't like it, look for another job. Or take the job and then set aside your own money for the things your company doesn't cover. Or fight for universal health care if that's your desire. But don't make the kind of claims that those headlines do.

The main problem with sensational headlines like the two above, is that it distracts from the real issue at hand. The issue isn't that Acme Ball Bearing is locking up their employees to make certain they don't have abortions or use birth control. No company really cares! They're looking at the cost/benefit analysis and deciding they can't afford to carry certain types of coverage.

When headlines cross the line into lies, as these do, they actually worsen the problem for both sides of the debate. Those who feel that companies should be forced to provide certain types of care regardless of their own desires lose out because people like me and you, who can read and understand that the headline is a lie, are pushed to the opposite side. And the side that I'm on loses out because we can no longer talk to anyone about the issue.

I had this conversation (roughly) earlier today. "You know, I find the title to be highly contentious. No employer is allowed to ask you if you have birth control then ban you from using it. They don't troll your purse in the lunch room looking for the little round dispenser. They simply don't want to provide coverage for it on their insurance. Now, whether you agree with that or not is a whole other thing, but in no way, shape or form is that 'denying access to birth control.' Hell, I don't have insurance at all and I can get perfectly adequate birth control for $8 a month. It's hardly a huge expense."

13th C manuscript / Wikimedia Commons
The response was less than promising. I was accused of generalizing the health care needs of "women everywhere" (um, pardon?), and told that it's wrong for me to think that it is okay for any employer to offer only some health care options and not others (come again?). It delved into personal attack and went back to the (erroneous) issue mentioned in the headline: that employers are denying health care to women.

I say again, no woman has been denied health care. They aren't checking you at the Emergency Room to see if you work for a religious organization or a "moral objector" employer. They just ask to see your health care card, and bill you accordingly.

So in the end, everyone is hurt by this bull cookie headline. Conversations are veered skillfully away from the real topics (health care coverage options) and into the realm of religious debate. Instead of talking about what we CAN do, people spend all their time bitching about what legislators say they can't do... except the legislators didn't actually say what they couldn't do.

Yes, I am annoyed. Why do you ask?
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