A 50th Anniversary Celebration and Quite Possibly a New One
On June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that the marital right to privacy was guaranteed in the Constitution, and therefore it was no longer legal to criminalize the acts of informing about and providing contraception to couples. The SCOTUS decision was made in the context of a law suit brought by Estelle Griswold, medical director for Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, who had been found guilty, along with a colleague, as accessory in providing what were then illegal birth control devices.
Happy 50th anniversary. This ruling came to be applied to not only married people but also individual women (and men) who wanted to control their own fertility, with mixed but mostly good consequences. For decades now, females have been able to delay childbearing in order to finish schooling and launch careers; space their babies; and choose to be mothers or not, according to their own plans and desires. There have been health risks and health controversies as different methods have been more or less benign, more or less successful.
For those of us who wish abortion to be safe, available, and rare, access to birth control has been a key component. For others, many of them anti-choice activists, contraception has been almost as odious as pregnancy termination. So the legislative battles around reproductive choice have been on at least two fronts: fighting back efforts to water down or overturn legal abortion, and assuring legal contraceptive methods.
There has been so little good news lately—or, for that matter, going back several decades now—about moving forward in these arenas. This week’s vote in the Oregon legislature feels like a cleansing rain storm in the midst of a long drought.
According to Reuters news service, a law requiring private insurers to allow women to collect a 12-month supply of birth control pills in a single visit, rather than a one month dose as often supplied, won unanimous approval by the state Senate this past Wednesday.
Another bill, allowing pharmacists to dispense these contraceptives directly without physician oversight, was passed in the House this week by a large majority and now heads to the Senate. Minors under 18 will still need a doctor’s prescription to obtain chemical contraception.
“What we see in Oregon is unusual,” declared Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a policy center for family planning and abortion access. She observed that most U.S. states are moving toward restricting access to birth control rather than this kind of expansion, and no other state, she noted, requires insurance companies to pay for a 12-month supply—leading to fewer missed pills and less chance of unintended pregnancy.
Should these bills pass, Governor Kate Brown is expected to support them and sign them into law.
Those of us attending the UUA General Assembly in Portland, Oregon later this month might consider signing a thank you card to Gov. Brown—and the legislators—who will have given us such rare and welcome cause for celebration. Especially as we finalize and vote on our own statement of conscience on reproductive justice.