Is male potency more important than preventing pregnancy?
"If men could get pregnant," said pioneering feminist Flo Kennedy, "abortion
would be a sacrament." The same sentiment is revealed in the way the nation's
health insurers are treating the advent of Viagra, Pfizer's new wonder drug. As
soon as it hit the market, many insurers rushed to include it in their programs
as a cure for the medical problem of male impotence. By May 1, almost half of all
Viagra prescriptions were covered by insurers.
Women seeking to avoid becoming pregnant by their
Viagra-popping partners may not be so fortunate. Almost 40 years after the
introduction of the Pill, only 15 percent of traditional indemnity insurance
plans cover all five of the most common reversible contraceptives-the Pill,
diaphragm, IUD, Norplant, and Depo-Provera. (On the other hand, nine out of ten
insurance plans pay for sterilization.) Health maintenance organizations are
somewhat better: 84 percent cover the Pill, but less than 40 percent cover all
five contraceptive methods. The majority of U.S. workers with health insurance,
however, are covered by the more restrictive conventional plans.
"It doesn't seem fair to us," says Dr. Luella Klein, director of Women's Health
Issues for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Impotence is
a medical condition, but so is unintended pregnancy."
A simple cost/benefit analysis would seem to argue strongly for comprehensive
contraception coverage. Women who do not use contraception, notes Klein, can
expect 15 to 24 pregnancies during their fertile years. Two out of three insurers
pay for abortion, and virtually all pay for prenatal care and childbirth. Those costs would be offset, the
Congressional Budget Office has found, if insurers provided contraceptive
The health-care industry, however, has already figured out the angle on this one.
Since few women want to undergo 15 to 24 abortions or births, they will pay for
contraceptives out of their own pockets. All the insurer has to do is cover the
cost of mistakes and planned births. Despite making 75 cents on the dollar of a
man's wages, the average woman pays 68 percent more for health care-much of it
for contraceptives. Given that nine out of ten women in the United States
practice contraception, that's a bundle saved for insurers.
This system helps fuel the astounding rate of unintended pregnancy in the United
States. One out of two pregnancies-about 3.6 million every year-is unplanned, a
rate double that of other developed countries. Nearly half of these pregnancies
end in abortion.
"Insurance companies are subsidizing population growth by paying for Viagra, yet
many refuse to cover the contraception that women need to help them plan their
families," says Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "It would be laughable
if it weren't such a gross example of gender inequity."
Seeking to address that inequity, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Harry Reid
(D-Nev.) introduced legislation requiring health-care providers who cover
prescription drugs to pay for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices. In
July, the House passed a bill requiring any health plan for federal employees
that pays for prescriptions to also pay for prescription contraceptives; author
Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called it "the biggest victory for reproductive rights since
the Republicans took over the House."
Neither of these ideas is new, but the enormous publicity over Viagra has given
them new life. While Pfizer is now trying to determine
what benefits its product might have for women, shaming lawmakers into
legislating gender-equity in reproductive health care could be Viagra's greatest
gift. Paul Rauber
Drill Rigs in Paradise
The oil-and-gas industry encircles Yellowstone
Running through the Rocky Mountain West and far into Canada are complex geologic
folds and faults known as the Overthrust Belt, coveted by the oil-and-gas
industry for its profit potential. Industry is focusing on the geologic overview
here, with a landscape of drill rigs, pipelines, compressors, and roads as the
goal. Since 1985, Alberta alone has gained 78,000 wells and 786,000 miles of new
road, sufficient to circle the earth 31 times.
It's a grand vision, but it runs up hard against an even grander one: established
in 1872, Yellowstone National Park has been called "America's best idea," one
that led to a worldwide parks movement. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem
stretches out from this renowned core, taking in Grand Teton National Park and
surrounding wildlands. Its 18 million acres is home to nesting bald eagles, herds
of elk and bison, endangered grizzlies, and abundant deer, moose, and bighorn.
The last refuge for native strains of cutthroat trout, its streams feed all of
the nation's three major river systems, the Mississippi, the Colorado, and the
Roads are absent from almost two-thirds, or 11 million acres, of Greater
Yellowstone. But on the 4.4 million acres of this area still unprotected by law,
roads and pipelines are threatening the ecosystem's heart. In Wyoming, where
industry pressure is greatest, most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is
already leased for oil-and-gas development, so the focus has shifted to national
forests where leases have not yet been sold.
Will they be? Industry hopes hinge on decisions now being made by the seven
supervisors of the national forests that surround the parks. When it comes to oil
and gas, though, these seven decision-makers don't agree.
Environmentalists hoped that most of the supervisors would follow the lead of
Lewis and Clark Forest to the north, which in 1997 decided not to allow leasing
in Montana's Rocky Mountain Front. Only Gallatin National Forest has not done so,
however, choosing not to lease any critical, or "situation one," grizzly habitat
near Yellowstone. Most other supervisors are bowing to the oil-and-gas lobby. In
Montana, Beaverhead National Forest has proposed opening over 1.6 million acres,
or 99 percent of its non-wilderness lands, including wilderness study areas. In
Idaho, Targhee National Forest, known for clearcutting the western boundary of
Yellowstone Park, has a plan that would open between 94 and 100 percent of
available lands. In Wyoming, Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Rebecca Aus has
opened 960,000 out of 1 million acres available.
"We believe that we can do this program and protect the environmental quality,"
Aus claims. Yet much of the Shoshone is roadless, and harbors grizzlies, wolves,
lynx, and northern goshawk. Six groups, including the Sierra Club, have teamed up
to file a protest of Aus' action with the Wyoming BLM, which handles all federal
Still undecided is the fate of Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest. About
700,000 of its 3.4 million acres are under lease in the Wyoming Range, a narrow
southwestern extension of the Yellowstone ecosystem, where sour-gas wells, roads,
pipelines, and a large dehydration plant have been built. Industry proposals
target points near Jackson Hole that would cut between Grand Teton National Park
and the Wind River Range, the ecosystem's southeastern leg.
Additional leases are
proposed for remote Moccasin Basin, just 30 miles south of Yellowstone Park on
the Continental Divide. On the ground, this would mean all-weather roads,
pipelines, and industrial traffic severing the ecosystem's southern extensions.
It would also subject wilderness skies to acid-forming emissions: a recent EIS
for the Jonah II gas field south of Pinedale predicts 61 days each year of
Bridger-Teton National Forest has received over 2,000 letters opposing leasing.
Remarkably for drill-happy Wyoming, one of them came from Teton County, which
realizes that a gas boom could spell eventual bust for an economy based on
unspoiled landscapes. At current U.S. consumption rates, no more than three days'
supply of natural gas would be produced from all the forest's proposed wells,
according to Scott Fitzwilliams, an information officer for the Bridger-Teton.
"Is it worth it?" he asks.
That question traverses agency, state, and even national boundaries. Beyond looms
the spectacle of the drive for cheap oil and gas turning Yellowstone and Grand
Teton national parks into biological cages. As Louisa Willcox of the Sierra Club
Grizzly Project says, "Unless there is a long-term plan to reconnect wildland
habitat in the United States and Canada, grizzlies are history, wolves are
history." And so, perhaps, is the idea of Greater Yellowstone as an ecosystem.
-C. L. Rawlins
If you'd like to help, please write to Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor
Tom Puchlerz at 304 N. Cache, Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001, and tell him that you
oppose all new oil-and-gas leasing in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
The Human Footprint
Take a step back and consider humanity's impact on the planet:
Between one-third and one-half of the
land surface of Earth has been transformed or degraded by human action.
The carbon dioxide concentration in
the atmosphere has increased by nearly
30 percent since the beginning of the
Earth's forested areas have shrunk
by about one-third since the rise of
Roughly one percent of the world's
water is fresh and available for human
use; more than half of that is already
in use by humanity.
About one-quarter of the bird
species on Earth have been driven
The world's population is expected to
grow from 5.9 billion today to between
8 and 10 billion by the year 2050.
Source: "Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems," by Peter M. Vitousek, et
al., Science, July 25, 1997, and the United Nations Population
Next They'll Want Gretzky Back
The Sierra Club correctly predicted that the
North American Free Trade Agreement would be used to challenge member-nations' environmental laws. Now it may be used
to challenge something some people take much more seriously: professional hockey.
Prominent Toronto attorney Barry Appleton (who also represents a U.S. company
suing Canada for a quarter of a billion dollars for banning its possibly
neurotoxic gasoline additive MMT) is urging Canada to use NAFTA to challenge
local subsidies for U.S. hockey teams.
Appleton argues that the "national treatment" section of NAFTA makes it illegal
for U.S. counties or municipalities to provide financing to their National Hockey
League teams "unless the same benefits are made available to all teams playing in
that locality." Otherwise, visiting Canadian hockey teams and their Canadian
investors would be at a disadvantage-an outcome NAFTA is supposed to prevent.
Under this interpretation, Canada couldn't ban industrial poisons legal in the
United States -- but it would have a better shot at the Stanley Cup.