Last week marked the 47th Anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court case that gave married couples the right to use birth control. Single people would not gain that right until 1972, just one year before the more controversial and more well-known Roe v. Wade ruling. This means that as a 32-year-old woman I have never known a world where birth control or abortion was illegal. While I grew up listening to the controversy surrounding Roe v. Wade and the fight to ensure that women keep the right to access abortion care, most people around my age or younger never heard of Griswold v. Connecticut, and never considered it possible that we could lose access to birth control.
We always thought of birth control as commonly used and non-controversial and there are data to backup that belief. A recent Gallup poll found that 89 percent of all Americans and 82 percent of U.S. Catholics agree that birth control is morally acceptable. Because of this I know that if I had talked to my friends two years ago and told them that the conservative right wanted to ban not only abortions, but birth control as well, they would have thought that I was crazy. But fast forward to 2011 and the beginning of the war on women through the present day, and it doesn’t seem so farfetched.
During the run for the GOP nomination we saw candidates trying to outdo each other in their stand against birth control and women’s health. From Mitt Romney saying that he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood to Newt Gingrich saying “that, as president, I would defund Planned Parenthood and shift the money to pay for adoptions to give young women the choice of life rather than death.”
The most extreme comments came from Rick Santorum. He didn’t go with the more subtle route of attacking Planned Parenthood he went straight after birth control saying “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country….many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s OK, contraception is OK.’ It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Santorum went even further when asked early this year if he thought states should be able to outlaw birth control when he said, “The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a constitutional right; the state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have.”
However, the effort to ban birth control goes beyond Rick Santorum; it has been gaining popularity in states under the guise of “personhood” bills or amendments declaring that life begins at conception, and giving full legal rights to a fertilized egg. This type of law would outlaw all abortions and possibly would make certain forms of birth control, stem cell research and infertility treatments illegal. “Personhood” laws could make some forms of hormonal birth control illegal by arguing that life begins at fertilization. While hormonal forms of birth control block fertilization, they may also block the implantation of a fertilized egg, and thus be construed as killing a “person” under the “personhood” laws. This would mean that birth control pills, IUDs, and emergency contraception would all be illegal. So far no “personhood” bills have become law, but it is not for lack of trying.
So happy 47th Anniversary Griswold v. Connecticut! With the war on contraceptives showing no sign of slowing down I hope you are around to see a 50th anniversary.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy