Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Anniversary of Right to Birth Control: 40 Years Ago Supreme Court Kicked State Out of Marital Bedroom

“. . . [T]he right of privacy is a fundamental personal right, emanating "from the totality of the constitutional scheme under which we live." GRISWOLD v. CONNECTICUT

All this week, I am celebrating the 40th anniversary of the day married couples got the right to privacy in the bedroom, the day they got the right to use birth control. Before June 7, 1965, states were free to outlaw a married couple’s right to limit family size with the use contraceptives.

My grandmother had 12 children; she spent the last several decades of her life in a permanent stooped position. She had to lift her head to see something other than the floor. She was also viewed by her kids as a very impatient and a very bad mother. No, she didn’t have a career. By the time her kids grew up, her body was too wracked to even consider it. Margaret Sanger's lengendary fight for the right to birth control was motivated by a similar story. Her mother's health was devastated by repeated unwanted pregnancies. Then, as now, it was/is very hard for many women to say no to a man's demand for sex.

In the pre Griswold days some 28 states supervised the bedrooms of married couples by forbidding the use of contraceptives. Hard to believe that just forty years ago, we were living in the Real Dark Ages, but it’s true. In case you are too young to remember, those days were dark in more ways than I can count. Here in Nashville, the buses displayed signs instructing Blacks to go to the back of the bus. Today, it’s hard not to recall the horror of the days when white men with money had all the rights, since the frothing-at-the-mouth scary control freaks in charge are working with a vengeance to bring them back.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut found that married couples could too purchase contraceptives. While the Court based the ruling on the right to privacy, it could have told the State to butt out of the bedroom with a ruling based on the right to equality, as Ruth Bader Ginsberg has argued.

But it was privacy and like it or not, we are stuck with it. Griswold set the precedent for Eisenstadt v. Baird, which found that contraceptives could also be used by single people. Of course it also set the precedent for Roe v. Wade, and more recently, the Court told the State to butt out of the bedroom of gays in Lawrence v. Texas.

I fear that the right to privacy in the bedroom is under attack in more ways and places than any of us can keep up with. In Wisconsin lawmakers are debating a Republican proposal “that would ban University of Wisconsin pharmacies from dispensing contraception, allow pharmacists who object on religious grounds to refuse to fill doctors' prescriptions for birth control and eliminate money for family planning clinics that provide contraception to poor women.”

Lawmakers here in Tennessee plan to renew their efforts to remove the state constitutional guarantee of abortion rights come election year 2006. The bill they keep trying to shove down our wombs would deny abortion rights to rape victims, incest victims, and women who might die if they remain pregnant. Lawmakers from patriarchal hell, I like to call them.

Unlike Democrats in Tennessee, who are often indistinguishable from Republicans, Wisconsin Dems seem to be serious about fighting back. They’ve introduced a bill “that would allow the state to sanction any pharmacist who refuses to dispense legal forms of contraception.”

But it’s hard for most of us to pay attention to the dangers in the 50 states when the control freaks in Washington present such a danger.

Signs of the re-emerging Real Dark Ages:

"Republican Senator Rick Santorum, the Senate Majority Whip, has said that a constitutional right to privacy “undermine[s] the family” and that “…
this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold….

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – cited by President Bush as his models for future nominees – have been extremely hostile to the Roe and Lawrence decisions, and argue that there is no constitutional right to privacy. "

From the Right-to-Lifers:

"In 1965, the Supreme Court, in its Griswald (sic) vs. Connecticut decision, said the Constitution, under a nonexistent privacy protection, allows Americans the right to use birth control and contraception." (emphasis added)

Ms. has a depressingly credible explanation of the right-wing control freaks’ strategy for supervising our bedrooms:

"If Roe v. Wade — last affirmed by a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court ruling — is reversed, legal dominion over abortion reverts to the states. Many of today’s state legislatures would ban abortion or even make it a criminal act. Next, the radical right would probably push for limiting availability of contraceptives — first for teenagers, then for single women. Finally, they might try to withhold certain types of contraception from married women."

Finally, there’s an excellent piece here on the story of Griswold. The history of the long struggle for reproductive rights – from Margaret Sanger to Jane Doe – is a compelling chapter in women’s history. Maybe if more people were familiar with that chapter, it wouldn’t be coming back at us with such a vengeance. But if women's history was of interest to those who do not self-identify as feminist, it just wouldn't be the same world.

Update - More happy birthdays Griswold, but . . .

Pseudo-Adrienne at Alas a Blog says happy birthday Griswold, but: Forty years later and women are still putting up with b.s. about their birth control.

Amanda at Pandagon says happy birthday, but: Let's hope in 40 more years we aren't looking back on this as the golden era when people actually had the chance to enjoy our basic right to determine our family size.

Mushtaq Ali at Traceless Warrior says happy birthday, but: On the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut we should remember what we stand to lose if the Republicans are allowed to stay in power.

Ann at Feministing links to Pro-Choice America's new report, Forty Years After Griswold . . .

The Birth Control News Blog links to a poll that finds the American public, even Republicans, are pro birth control (gasp).

Brittney at Nashville is Talking notes: In a time when pharmacists are refusing to fill birth control and emergency contraception prescriptions for women who are unwed, raped or under age, it is important to revisit these cases that have made limiting the number of unwanted children possible for women.