The Contraception Debate 46 Years Later



BC pills.jpgToday marks the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraception. Although this decision is not as much of a household name as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, the 1965 Griswold decision made the latter possible by finding that married couples have a constitutional right to privacy. Seven years later, that right was extended to unmarried couples, and one year after that, it formed the bedrock of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.


The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court, the final arbiter of often the most complex and difficult judicial questions, had to step in to state the obvious–that married couples should be able to make their own decisions about their own private lives–seems, quite simply, ridiculous. But even today the contraception debate can sometimes defy common sense. For example, consider the House proposal in February to completely eliminate the Title X Family Planning program, which has helped prevent thousands of unintended pregnancies, improve public health and save the federal government money by providing critical preventive health services to low-income women and men. Fortunately, the Senate rejected this proposal, but reproductive rights advocates continue to remain on guard for future attacks on the Title X program.

Another related attack that passed the House but was rejected by the Senate and the Obama administration is the misguided attempt to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds. Supporters of this proposal refuse to acknowledge that Planned Parenthood, the largest recipient of Title X funding, is already prohibited from using any federal funds for abortion services, which means that eliminating the organization’s federal funding would instead have a devastating impact on its ability to provide essential services such as Pap smears, cancer screenings and STD testing. Having failed to sustain this attack on Planned Parenthood at the federal level, some state legislatures have tried to bar Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in their states from receiving federal funds. Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed such a law last month and was told on June 1 that the law violates federal Medicaid statutes and could jeopardize Indiana’s entire allotment of $4 billion in federal Medicaid funding. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have also challenged the law in the courts, and the first hearing was held Monday. A decision is expected by July 1.

These attacks are particularly frustrating because research has shown strong public support for family planning programs across demographic and political lines. A May 2011 Lake Research poll found that 84 percent of Americans view family planning services as basic preventive health care services, and respondents’ support for maintaining access to family planning outweighed an argument on curtailing access because of the current budget crisis by two to one.

The Reform Movement has long supported access to contraception, dating back to several decades before the Griswold decision. Our support continues as we fight these new battles in the contraception debate. Today, as we did on the Roe v. Wade anniversary in January, we celebrate how far we’ve come and recommit ourselves to continuing to push for affordable and accessible contraception for all.

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Deborah Swerdlow

About Deborah Swerdlow

Deborah is the Religious Action Center's Program Associate. She was a 2010-2011 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant

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