How Contraception And Sexual Reassignment Surgery Benefits Create Equity In Health Care

Seeking further opportunities to demonize Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, conservatives are now attacking her as “radical” because she has advocated for transgender people to have sexual reassignment procedures covered by their insurance:

However, as I discovered today, birth control is not all that Ms. Fluke believes private health insurance must cover. She also, apparently, believes that it is discrimination deserving of legal action if “gender reassignment” surgeries are not covered by employer provided health insurance.

What seems to be lost in these conversations about health benefits is the notion of equity. Criticism that men are trying to make decisions about women’s health is warranted, because a man’s standard for quality of life is different than a woman’s. Consider that men can have as much sex as they want without getting pregnant. It’s a reality of biology, but it also represents a specific advantage men have over women in society. Ensuring women have access to birth control — setting aside the legitimate point that they may take it for health reasons other than avoiding pregnancy — levels the playing field for how they can function in society. It’s no coincidence that women can be condemned as “sluts,” but there’s no comparable word that disparages men for having sex if they want to.

Similarly, sexual reassignment surgery is a procedure that can benefit the quality of life for transgender people. All of us who are not trans (the term for us is “cisgender”) have the privilege of occupying bodies that match the gender with which we identify. Fluke was speaking out against insurers and employers who would label the surgery “cosmetic” or “medically unnecessary,” because such perspectives ignore the hardships transgender people often face when circumstances prevent them from transitioning. Just because we personally don’t need certain medical benefits doesn’t mean others don’t.

This is why there is some legitimacy to the claim that conservatives are fighting a “war on women.” Dictating that “what’s good enough for a man should be good enough for a woman” is selfish and naive, and such a philosophy treats women as second-class citizens by design. That many conservatives are now trying to smear Fluke for being an ally to the transgender community just shows how uninterested they are in respecting difference.

The social justice educator Vernon Wall is often quoted as saying, “Equality is when everyone has a pair of shoes. Equity is when everyone has a pair of shoes that fits.” There’s nothing “radical” about ensuring that all people have equitable access to the same quality of living in our society.