Free contraception programs are a great idea. Free contraception programs that offer access to IUDs and hormonal implants—which are long-acting and highly effective, but carry up-front costs—are an especially great idea. A program offering free IUDs in Colorado helped lead to a 40 percent drop in the teen pregnancy rate in a mere four years. The St. Louis Contraceptive Choice Project showed that IUDs and implants can be wildly popular with young women.
There are IUD programs that respect women’s intelligence. And then there are IUD programs like the one proposed by Arkansas state Rep. Kim Hammer, who has introduced a bill that would offer free IUDs—but only to single mothers on Medicaid. Why the largesse? “We need to give them a little bit of a breather to think about their life decisions that are affecting us as taxpayers,” Hammer explained.
Hammer is generally a stalwart anti-choicer, as Teddy Wilson at RH Reality Check reports:
Hammer, since being elected to the state house in 2010, has compiled a staunchly anti-choice voting record. Hammer voted for the state’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, and voted to override the veto of former Gov. Mike Beebe (D) after the GOP-controlled legislature passed a ban on abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Hammer also voted for the state’s ban on health plans offered through the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act from including coverage for “elective abortion” except through purchase of an optional rider, which the policyholder must pay for with an additional premium.
To be clear, any free contraception program is better than none, even if the program limits itself to an oddly specific subsection of women. (Why should you need a child in order to get an IUD?) But Hammer’s little stunt, with its troubling whiff of eugenics, could cast a pall over more legitimate efforts to make contraception more accessible and affordable for all women. Pro-choice contraception programs generally don’t view the children of low-income parents as offenses against “taxpayers.” Nor do they count reducing the birth rate as a goal in and of itself.
Women will make choices about using free IUDs for their own reasons, regardless of politicians’ motives. But they shouldn’t have to be insulted in the process. Reproductive choice isn’t just about material well-being, though that is a huge part of it; it’s also about honoring women’s agency and dignity. Free contraception is a good thing, but it’s better when it’s offered with respect, not condescension.