Copyright 2000 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
DECEMBER 18, 2000, MONDAY, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL; Pg. A22; EDITORIALS
LENGTH: 364 words
Gender Discrimination -- When Will It Ever End?
IT SEEMS INCREDIBLE, but it's true. Thirty-five years after the women's
movement began, large numbers of American women still have to pay for their own
contraception -- as well as abortions and pregnancies.
Insurance companies, which have long regarded the male
biological experience as what's "normal," have viewed women's reproductive
health needs as "additional," or "extra" -- in other words, not necessary for
men. When Viagra was first introduced in 1998, for example,
insurance companies raced to provide what they instantly
understood to be vital -- medical help for impotent men. Although they rationed
the number of pills, they couldn't imagine ignoring men's sexual concerns.
In response, women's rights groups loudly and justly protested that
contraception was no less important than Viagra.
Now, in a belated but
much welcome decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which hears
complaints about race and gender employment discrimination, has ruled that
insurance companies must cover female
contraceptives if they also pay for other preventive medicines
or services. (Don't even ask what kind of medical condition Viagra prevents.)
Currently, only 15 percent of health plans cover all prescribed methods
of contraception, according to the nonpartisan Alan Guttmacher Institute, the
New York-based reproduction health research group.
Although the EEOC
ruling covers only the employer of the two women who filed the complaint, the
finding of gender discrimination now exposes insurance
companies to a flood of class-action litigation.
It's about time. For
far too long, our nation's health policies have neglected women's health needs.
People rant about the rate of teenage pregnancy, but insurance
companies don't pay for contraception. Abortion is legal in the United States,
but ever since 1977, the federal government stopped covering abortions for poor
Gender equality requires many changes in our lives, at home and
at the workplace. But the precondition for female emancipation, as women have
repeatedly said for over three decades, is the right to control their own
bodies. Anything less is unacceptable -- and illegal.
LOAD-DATE: December 18, 2000