Today is the 42nd anniversary of the legalization of birth control in the United States.
Wait. I'm 48. Birth control was illegal (as opposed to merely unavailable) in my lifetime?? Yup, Griswold v. Connecticut challenged a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception." Passed in 1879, the statute was almost never enforced. Attempts had been made before 1965 to test the constitutionality of the law; however, the challenges failed on technical grounds. But finally, the Supreme Court decided that there is an implied ("penumbral" they actually said... isn't that lovely?) right to privacy in the Constitution and that enforcing the Connecticut statute would violate that right.
And here we are, 42 years later and we've made so much progress. (Did you catch the sarcasm there?) We use taxpayer money ($1 billion of it during the Bush administration, to date) to teach abstinence-only sex education that, shall we say, lacks a certain intellectual rigor. The 130-page National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations fails to mention the option of emergency contraception for rape survivors. Women in the armed services don't have access to abortion services at military medical facilities and using those facilities is, for all practical purposes, a requirement of their medical insurance. In some cases, they have been denied emergency contraception as well. Some pharmacists here and around the country want to stop filling prescriptions for some kinds of birth control.
Wait.... I'm not finished.
On his first day in office, George Bush reinstated the global gag rule, prohibiting the recipients of U.s. international aid from providing family planning assistance. House passed the so-called "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act", a sweeping refusal clause that allows any health care entity to discriminate against any provider who provides or even gives information about abortion. There's so much more. Lest anyone doubt that the Bush administration is waging a way against women's sexual self-determination, try this link: Planned Parenthood.
True enough. No one is bothering me or people like me -much. Middle-class women safely married (to men), who have medical insurance and the time and education to advocate for their own care, are comparatively safe in any decision to control the size of their families. Yet even there... there's no guarantee at all that our children will have access to accurate information, that our daughters in the military will have access to services...
I have long resisted the notion common among feminists of a certain age (MY age, that is) that a pro-choice position is a litmus test for authentic feminism. But, the conservatives are very close to changing my position on that. I can not sit idly by and watch my daughter's -and everyone's daughters'- life choices defined by their reproductive organs. To that end, there's a small something we can do, and honestly, even the pro-life feminists (who are, in fact, out there) can support this one, I think.
There's the Prevention First Act, designed to reduce the need for abortion. It would provide money for family planning assistance and compassionate care for rape victims, mandate accurate and timely sex education, and end discrimination against women's health care by insurance companies. Read it over. See what you think. Discuss it with your elected officials. It's important.
Next year at this time, I don't want to be writing some sort of historical missive about the good old days when birth control was legal.