There’s No Such Thing as Free Birth Control

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

This phrase, nicely gentrified from its original “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” is fairly often repeated in libertarian circles. Milton Friedman even took the phrase to title one of his books, an essay collection on public policy. It’s meaning is simple and elegant: everything has a cost. Just because you don’t pay that cost doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have one.

For example, say a friend takes me out to lunch and offers to pay for it. That lunch wasn’t free; my friend just covered the cost for me. If the restaurant foots the bill, it still has to pay for all the ingredients, pay the waiter/waitress for bringing us the food, and the chefs to prepare it.

Not all costs are monetary, however. To make a product, you need resources. You often use time and effort. Energy goes into the product. All of these are part of an object’s cost. Even if you take that product from someone and don’t compensate them, that object is still not free. You have only made the creator pay that cost rather than recouping it from you in a mutual exchange.

There is no such thing as “free” anything. We need to keep in mind as we debate government supporting birth control purchases.

Spinning subsidized birth control as “free” is an excellent way to keep people from examining what is really happening when the government pays for birth control. Saying something is free has a really nice ring to it. It has a sense of, well, freedom. A lack of responsibility. A lack of worry. We tend to think of it as a gift, something we receive either because someone loves us or because we did something to deserve it. Perhaps we are lucky to stumble upon something open for our taking.

When you find a $20 on the street and say “woo! Free money!” it’s much easier to pick that bill up and pocket it than if you recognize it for what it really is: money that rightfully belongs to someone else.

This is why it really unnerves me when people throw around the term “free birth control.” In fact, it’s not free. When you say you support free birth control, what you’re actually saying is “I want someone else to pay for my birth control.” Whether that someone else is your insurance company or society, that is what you’re actually saying because that is what is actually happening.

That changes things a bit, doesn’t it?

As it stands in our society, you don’t get to just say “I want someone to pay for that for me!” and then everyone bends to your whim. You can’t force someone to do it either. We usually call this theft.  Because of this, when you say “I want to make someone else to pay for my birth control,” you have to defend your position. Just like you’d have to defend picking up a $20 bill off the ground and just like you’d have to defend making someone else pay for your lunch. When you demand free birth control, you are demanding someone else pay for a product that you intend to use, and that requires a robust defense.

If you really believe our society should pay for women’s contraception, stop hiding behind the word “free.” Own up to it and defend that choice, because spinning the issue is not helping anyone make an informed choice.