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Copyright 2000 Times Publishing Company  
St. Petersburg Times

December 25, 2000, Monday, 0 South Pinellas Edition


LENGTH: 416 words

HEADLINE: Not sex discrimination

 There are plenty of good reasons why employers should want to cover the costs of birth control for their female employees. Doing so can be as good for worker concentration and morale as for a boss' financial bottom-line. But employers should not be accused of sex discriminations simply because their group health policies do not cover prescription contraceptives. Failing to pay for birth-control pills is not, by itself, sex discrimination. Unfortunately, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn't see it that way. The Commission recently ruled that two employers - who pay for surgical contraception equally for male and female workers but do not cover nonsurgical methods, such as pills or diaphragms - violated sex-discrimination laws by not offering female employees the form of contraception they preferred. The EEOC said that since the employers cover other types of preventative services unrelated to pregnancy (vaccinations, for instance), they had to cover pregnancy prevention, too. Their failure to do so, according to the EEOC, amounted to sex discrimination under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

EEOC's ruling, which binds only the immediate parties but may have broader persuasive effect, stretches the PDA to unreasonable extremes. With the pregnancy discrimination law, Congress barred employers from holding pregnancy or the capacity to become pregnant against female workers when assigning or evaluating job positions or conditions. But the law was never intended to force unwilling employers (as well as all other employees on a health plan) to bear the financial cost of preventing pregnancy itself.

With their decision, the EEOC bought into a circular trap: the argument that since birth-control pills are only available to women, non-coverage is discriminatory by its very nature. But that argument would force employers to pay for any service or treatment used exclusively by women, however expensive or unnecessary to their health.

Of course, that might suit some women's groups just fine, especially those who view the ruling as overdue payback for the arguably one-sided decision of many employers to cover Viagra. Yet, even on the Viagra comparison, intellectual honesty demands acknowledgment that the two pills are distinguishable, the purpose of one being to restore human functioning, and the other, to prevent its consequences. But advocates' arguments, like this EEOC decision, are driven more by emotion than reason.

LOAD-DATE: December 26, 2000

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