Birth control is not a recent invention; it’s been around for thousands of years, dating back to the first condoms made from animal bladders and half lemons inserted in the vagina prior to intercourse. Breast feeding has typically been cited as a method of natural birth control, as has periodic abstinence based on a woman’s menstrual and ovulation cycles. In the 1800’s the advent of Vulcanized rubber brought about such innovations as the rubber condom and “womb veils” which were predecessors of cervical caps and diaphragms.
Then, in 1873, congress enacted the Comstock Act, which banned not only the dissemination of contraceptives through the mail (in the days before FedEx and UPS), but even information about contraceptives, abortifacients, and in some cases medical textbooks with realistic depictions of female genital structures. It was in times such as these that a woman of the lower socioeconomic classes was likely to resort to an illegal abortion either at her own hands or those of a practitioner, or try to induce a miscarriage. The interference of government in the right of a woman not to have children or to plan the sequence of births followed a steady drop in the US birth rate from more than seven children at the start of the 19th century to just under four at the end of it, and the birth rate dropped even more sharply during the Civil War.
The arguments against contraception were phrased startlingly and brutally by men whose families routinely broke the very laws they were supposed to abide by. One senator from Missouri said that woman should have many children and that in doing this poverty was not a handicap, but an asset. The womb of the woman at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder was apparently expected to make up for shortage of those at the top. As Mary Ware Dennett of the Voluntary Parenthood League noted, the families of the New York State Legislature had an average of 2.7 children each as she lobbied to change the law in 1924.
For this reason, Planned Parenthood has always been first and foremost for the woman who does not have the privilege of access to a private physician’s office and the money to afford the services needed. It is astonishing that 99 years after Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic that the disparity of women’s health services continues to be an issue, with clinicians more likely to recommend one type of birth control over another based on disparities of race and class.
The interference of government in women’s reproductive rights should have been left curbside following Roe v. Wade, Griswold v. Connecticut, and Eisenstadt v. Baird, however since the 1970s the issue has grown along with the movement to abolish factual and scientific sex education, the addition of legal encumbrances to obtaining abortion services in particular and reproductive health services in general by attacking Planned Parenthood with semi-factual information and outright lies.
Here are the facts about contraception, which prevents pregnancies, and thus prevents abortions:
- Family planning has well-defined, studied, and documented benefits as to the health and wellbeing of mothers, babies, families, and communities.
- The ability of women to plan their pregnancies plays a key part in socioeconomic advancement by making it easier to access education, participate in the workforce, provide for their children and take care of their well-being, and in women’s mental health.
- Disadvantaged and marginalized populations do not share in these benefits which is why contraceptive education needs to be a part of antipoverty and social justice efforts to provide not just a level playing field, but to allow these women to fully benefit from such programs.
Bluntly, the war on Planned Parenthood disproportionately affects poor women, young women, especially women of color, and threatens to return to that time where women had no autonomy over their bodies or their lives under the guise of “protecting” them. This argument is disingenuous, specious, and plays to a toxic brand of masculinity where men can only be more when others are made less. The argument holds that women are less capable, less intelligent and less than worthy of participation in the world through being able to work, vote, or have control and custody of their physical self. The arguments are emotional, appealing to a definition of religious freedom and women’s place in it that gives one not the freedom to freely practice one’s religion, but to practice it upon someone else who does not share it.
In the near future, I will be addressing issues like this and many more in my humanitarian efforts.