Acton Institute Powerblog

The Economics of Contraception

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Pieter de Hooch - A Woman with a Baby in her Lap, and a Small ChildOne of the justifications for the HHS mandates (amended now to require insurance companies to provide contraceptives free of charge) has been purely economic. The idea is that the use of contraceptives saves insurance companies (and by extension the rest of us) money, as it is less expensive to pay for condoms or birth control pills than to pay for a pregnancy and birth.

Of course the calculus to come up with such a conclusion is flawed in myriad ways. But even if we were to assume the veracity of the contention, many questions immediately arise. For instance, why wouldn’t insurance companies voluntarily offer birth control coverage gratis if it would lower their costs? Aren’t these the same profit-maximizing institutions that politicians have been demonizing for years? Aren’t the insurers the professionals, whose business it is to know what ways are available for minimizing exposure? The very fact that up to this point insurance companies have not added free birth control as a preventive care measure is powerful evidence against the economic argument in favor of contraception.

Perhaps one reason the economic argument hasn’t gained more traction is that people instinctively realize that the rationale behind such is out of step with the complexity of moral reasoning. As Lord Acton put it in another context: “Political economy cannot be supreme arbiter in politics. Else you might defend slavery where it is economically sound and reject it where the economic argument applies against it.” In the same way, even if we were to assume the soundness of the economic argument for contraception, such a conclusion shouldn’t be viewed as politically (or morally) definitive.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Ben Johnson

    The nation’s pharmacy directors certainly don’t believe this will save money.

  • It’d be fun if the folks who believe in such hidden profits would put their theories to the test by starting their own insurance companies rather than pushing for mandates. What a great opportunity to make a profit while (supposedly?) helping others!

    I know, I know, I know–they’re trying to do the “selfless” thing by letting all those greedy insurers have an equal piece of the consumer. Or they just have absolutely no capacity for risk-taking. One of those.

  • the one thing people dont realise is once u receive something its value decreases in the persons eye.just for example some institutes that teach accounts some times give booklets free of cost for their advertiesment.these books are really good but they are discarded because they are free of cost.what is the probability that u are going to use contraceptives anyway during intercourse.the companies should invest in spreading awareness,because a condom does not cost much ,if the person can get insurance he can get a condom too ,if person feels it is necesary to wear one he would go a nd buy it condoms or anything for that matter free of cost is unproductive .

  • Didn’t Aldous Huxley promote some similar ideas is “Brave New World?” I wish I thought that Ms. Sebelius was being satirical, but she promotes this idea with complete sinceerity.

  • Women that are sexually active that are not currently using chemical contraception, but would do so if it were free.

    That’s the group of women that insurers could potentially save money on by incentivising them to take contraception.  In order to reach that demographic, however, insurers would have to pick up the cost of contraception for women that are already paying for it out of pocket.

    I can’t imagine the cost would be worth it.

    In an effort to keep on point: the real issue is mandates, not contraception.  These mandates amount to cost socialization, which makes it more expensive for people to buy insurance for things like heart disease and cancer.  The victim here is not the employer or the insurance company, the victims are the demographics that have no need for the coverage they are forced to purchase.  What makes contraception coverage particularly onerous is that it not only violates the economic interests of millions of people, it also violates the moral principles of millions of others.