Cultural Revolution Lynchpin

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Cultural Revolution Lynchpin

Forty years ago today the landmark Griswold v. Connecticut decision was handed down by the Supreme Court. While most people know Roe v. Wade, few people know Griswold, which established the right to privacy. I'd wager that most people think the right to privacy was established by Roe, but it was established by Griswold which was the basis for Roe.

Griswold is one of my very favorite cases, just look at these details.
In 1961 Estelle Griswold, the wife of an Episcopal minister, and Dr. Lee Buxton, a licensed physician and a professor at Yale Medical School, were arrested, tried and convicted as accessories in crime. Their offense? Providing information, instruction and medical advice on contraception to married couples.
In 1975 I was born in a country where contraception was legal for everyone, where abortion was legal, and the state no longer had the right to interfere in people's most private relations and decisions. (Well, except for the right to sodomy, that only came two years ago, which was also based on the right to privacy.) But before Griswold over half of the states in the country had laws banning the use of contraception by married couples. Today well over 90% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives. I'd wager a guess that few people under 45 or 50 know much about this, frankly because it's almost unimaginable. But it's important that they do, because there are still plenty of people hell-bent on reversing the precedent that Griswold set, people who don't believe in the fundamental right to privacy and who are fighting for the government to be in everyone's bedroom. Look no further thanCapital Hill.
Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Tom DeLay have both recently suggested that Americans have no real right to privacy. Indeed, Santorum said that he thought states should have the power to outlaw birth control. And he's the third highest-ranking member of the U.S. Senate.
• The Food and Drug Administration is stalling on the second application for over-the-counter access for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, despite the fact that the FDA's own advisory panel has advocated for such availability.

• The cost of contraception prevents many women from fulfilling their family planning needs. Even if a woman has health insurance, her plan may not cover birth control. Title X, the national family planning program that offers publicly supported contraceptive care to low-income and uninsured women, needs more funding to serve an increasing uninsured population.

• At the urging of right-wing political leadership, a growing number of pharmacists around the country are now refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control. Four states have laws or regulations that give legal cover to pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions, and legislatures in 13 states have introduced measures to do the same.

• Fewer young people are now learning about contraception at school. Federally funded abstinence-only curricula mention contraception only in terms of failure rates -- which are often grossly exaggerated and factually inaccurate.
The Bush Administration and the fundamentalist-morality-control-police are doing all they can to chip away at the right to family planning by limiting education and access to birth control, as they desire to return us to a time before Griswold. They believe the state should have control over women's reproduction, not the women themselves.

The right to birth control, and by extension the right to privacy, was and is simply revolutionary. It is through family planning that women's lives have fundamentally changed, which in turn has changed our society in ways that I believe most people take for granted.
This historic decision paved the way for the nearly unanimous acceptance of contraception that now exists in this country. The Griswold decision has resulted in profound and beneficial social and health changes, in large part because of women's relatively new freedom to control their fertility. Maternal and infant health has improved dramatically, the infant death rate has plummeted, the unintended pregnancy rate has also declined and women have been able to fulfill increasingly diverse educational, social, political and professional aspirations.
I hope a lot of people take this opportunity to talk about the value of privacy and freedom from government intrusion as well as the Bush Administration's anti-sex, anti-birth control, anti-privacy agenda.

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