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(Legal & Free) Birth Control Matters

June 7, 2011

“Millions of parents in our country — hundreds of millions abroad — are still denied the clear human right of choosing the number of children they will have. Government must act, and private citizens must cooperate urgently through voluntary means to secure this right for all peoples. Failure would limit the expectations of future generations to abject poverty and suffering, and bring down upon us history’s condemnation.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a message to Planned Parenthood in 1968.

Just three years prior to President Eisenhower’s insistence that family planning is a human right, on June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law that made it illegal for married couples to use birth control, in the case Griswold v. Connecticut.  It took until 1972 for the Supreme Court to recognize the right of single women to use contraception, and until 1977 for the Supreme Court to recognize the right of minors to use contraception. 

What started as a case against one law in one small state would ensure that women can make personal decisions about if and when to have children — monumentally improving our health and the health of families across the U.S.

Access to birth control has allowed women to go to college, pursue careers, and to plan and space healthy pregnancies.  In 2005, pregnancy-related deaths were down 52 percent from 1965.  Spacing pregnancies at intervals we determine gives us the ability to parent the children we have.  Over the same time period, the number of women in the U.S. labor force more than doubled. 

Today, the average American woman spends about three decades actively avoiding pregnancy.  For the majority of us, that means using some form of hormonal birth control – the pill, the patch, the ring, an iud, the implant, etc. 

In the years after the Griswold case, it seems like there was a positive consensus about family planning.  The ability to decide how many children to have was seen as a fundamental human right, and one that should not be limited to families with money.  Within two years of President Eisenhower’s message to Planned Parenthood quoted above, President Richard Nixon signed the Title X program into law – and then-Congressman George H. W. Bush championed the program in the face of zealotry, saying,

“We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program, but rather are using it as a political steppingstone.  If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.” 

Considering the words of President Eisenhower about history’s condemnation and the words of President Bush I about sensationalism… I can’t help but be flabbergasted at today’s Congressional leadership.  I think the more we as a society accept the fact that people have sex – healthy, ordinary people of all ages have sex – the less sensationalism there is, and the healthier we all will be. 

Take action today to make sure that cost is not a barrier to contraception: sign our birth control matters petition, and share the link to help us get to 1 million signatures.    

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