5 Ways Birth Control Has Changed America
Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control for married couples. (The decision was expanded to non-married Americans in 1972.)
The case involved Estelle Griswold, then head of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, who was arrested and fined $100 for providing contraception, in violation of a state law still on the books from 1879. The high court found that law unconstitutional on the grounds that “marital privacy” covered the right to contraception.
Griswold helped kick off a dramatic shift in American attitudes about sexual freedom, not to mention related Supreme Court cases – most notably the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which found privacy rights covered abortion as well.
Most people instinctively understand the sheer awesomeness that is being able to have sex without fear of pregnancy, which is why more than 99 percent of sexually active women have used contraception. So the value of birth control should be a settled question, right? But in recent years we’ve seen a surge in political and legal activity aimed at reducing access. The Supreme Court ruled last summer, in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, that your boss should be able to deprive you of contraception coverage if whatever god he believes in thinks sex is naughty. In Colorado, Republicans just shut down a popular program involving long-acting birth control, even though it had reduced the state’s teen birth rate by 40 percent. The anti-choice group the American Life League has taken to marking Griswold‘s anniversary each year with “The Pill Kills” events, to push for government restrictions on contraception. And defunding Planned Parenthood, a source of affordable contraception for countless Americans, has become practically a sport among Republican state legislators.
In light of this, it’s worth remembering some of the ways Griswold, and the American embrace of birth control, has shaped our country for the better.
There are economic benefits. A 2012 University of Michigan study that examined women’s gains over a period of decades determined that a whopping one-third of women’s wage gains from the Sixties through the Nineties were attributable to greater access to contraception. Moreover, they found that the earlier women started taking the pill – at age 18 instead of 21, for instance – the more money the made over a lifetime.
Conversely, research on the effects of unintended childbirth shows that it is deeply detrimental to your pocketbook. Unintended child-bearing is linked to lower participation in the job market and higher dependency on government services. That so many Republicans would rather see more women on welfare than condone non-procreative sex tells you a lot about where their priorities lie.