Copyright 2000 Times Publishing Company
December 25, 2000, Monday, 0 South Pinellas
SECTION: EDITORIAL; EDITORIALS; Pg. 16A
LENGTH: 416 words
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.
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