On this day in 1965, the Supreme Court first protected the right to contraception. A 7-2 decision, Griswold v. Connecticut was joined by justices appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike. It opened the door to a world in which people are free to form intimate relationships, lead healthy sexual lives, pursue educational and employment opportunities, and decide whether and when to become parents.
And yet now, 47 years later, contraception has become a hot button issue. Much of the recent discussion has consisted of rhetoric such as then-Presidential contender Rick Santorum’s statement that birth control is “not OK, because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”, or the Alliance Defense Fund’s assertion that providing insurance coverage for contraception “propel[s] [us] down an anti-pregnancy path”. On this anniversary, let’s celebrate with the facts:
• Virtually all sexually active women use contraception over the course of their lives. The figure is consistent across religious background. It’s a basic part of modern American life. Politicians may not always know it, but women do.
• Contraception is good for women’s health, and it’s good for the health of their families. Since Griswold, both maternal and infant mortality rights have declined. Controlling pregnancy spacing has positive effects on birth outcomes such as low birth-weight and premature birth. Pregnancy planning also helps women control a number of conditions that negatively impact their own health, such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control hails family planning as one of the 10 most significant public health achievements of the last century.
• Contraception is good for women’s economic welfare. It allows women to make educational and employment choices that benefit themselves and their families; it has let more women enter the workforce and do better once they’re there. One study shows that access to birth control accounts for as much as 30 percent of “the convergence of men’s and women’s earnings from 1990 to 2000.” (A fact we might take extra note of, the week that the Paycheck Fairness Act once again got stymied in the Senate.)
Contraception has done so much already, and thanks to the Obama administration’s new rules on insurance coverage, it’s about to become way more accessible and affordable for millions of women across the country. Join me in celebrating this Griswold anniversary by thanking Secretary Sebelius for standing by women and families in support of our health.