Birth control was legalized in 1965 just in time for my first experience at marriage. The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the Connecticut law that criminalized dispensing birth control to married couples was unconstitutional. They opined the law violated the Due Process Clause and the constitutional right to privacy that guaranteed married couples the right to make their own decisions about contraception. Until then it was legal for police to go through the bedroom of married couples to search for contraceptives.
What now seems a “Big Brother-like,” if not barbaric law was based on an 1873 act termed “The Comstock Act” that outlawed the dissemination of birth control information or devices. Both were seen as obscene by certain groups.
Since women did not have the right to vote, men passed the law just as laws related to prohibiting funding of birth control or abortion are passed by men today. I note that fact because it is important to understand that women have a small voice in passing laws that affect them.
I am not saying there are no women who support laws that prevent access to birth control or abortion, but polls tell us they are not most women; in fact, polls tell us that neither are they most men.
A newfound freedom
The timing of my entry into a career brought me on the cusp of change.
Then President Johnson endorsed government funding of contraception for low-income families in 1966. I supervised the start of the first family planning clinic operated by the Seattle King County Health Department. Women were thrilled; I was thrilled professionally and personally that years of women fighting for rights to control the timing of bringing children into their lives paid off.
Imagine women at last being able to enjoy intimacy with their partners without fear of pregnancy, something we do not hear much about in the debates. Imagine couples being able to plan the timing of children in their lives. Or, those of you still in your reproductive years, imagine not being able to plan for children in your lives.
As we know a women’s right to choose to end a pregnancy was deemed legal by the Supreme Court in the case of Roe versus Wade in 1973, a ruling now under threat of reversal by the current Supreme Court.
We are being told access to contraceptive will be the next target for elimination.
I never wanted to write a column on birth control or abortion access. I believe abortion as an option is complex and deeply personal. It was not a decision I faced as a woman, but I know women who have.
Neither birth control nor abortion access free women of responsibility. For the time we are in reproductive years, we have and should have control of our bodies. It does not mean men do not or should not have a role, but failure does not have bodily consequences for men.
Women must assume the primary role for their health and happiness and when to have children. Women currently have the option of a variety of methods of birth control. She or they should not depend on abortion as a means of birth control.
Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies occur under the best efforts to use contraception, in other words it fails on occasion. I have a wonderful nephew who is an IUD device baby. Some pregnancies occur out of ignorance and/or magical thinking that” it can’t happen to me.” Some occur because women are raped which is especially tragic if the rape victim is a child who could be as young as 11 or 12 years or as old as 17.
Here we are again
A strong strategic effort is having success in threatening a woman’s right to choose abortion of an unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason. The essential argument is around religious doctrine, Catholic and some Fundamentalists, which hold the belief or view that human life begins at conception and should be protected regardless of its consequences to the pregnant child or woman.
The argument is hardening to the point of criminalizing abortion and punishing not only the provider who performs it but the child and woman as well.
Today, most states offer the option of abortion up to a certain time of gestation which varies by states. States like Texas and Louisiana are examples of effort to narrow the time of legal access to abortion.
Washington state defines fetal viability outside the womb as the measure of time in which a pregnant woman has choice.
RCW 9.02 on abortion:
“Right to have and provide. The state may not deny or interfere with a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability of the fetus, or to protect her life or health.” (WA State RCW 9.02.110)
(1) “Viability” means the point in the pregnancy when, in the judgment of the physician on the particular facts of the case before such physician, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.” (WA State RCW 9.02.170)
I — and I suspect many others — have no objection to people practicing within the tenets of their religious teaching but do object to forcing their religious view on others who do not practice the same religion. It is unconstitutional.
And it does not feel good. Would it feel better if any of the words of those decrying the destruction of an embryo or early fetus as a sentient human being would have mentioned a small bit of concern for the sentient woman who experiences feelings and sensations? I do not know but think not.
We should hear more than a small bit of concern such as an acceptance of women as something other than incubators or “sluts” when they want to use birth control. We must halt any effort by those who strive to control women and lay bare their bodies. It is not their prerogative or right to do so.
Sadly, I do not expect the humiliation, degradation and soon surveillance of pregnant women will be replaced by renewed respect and regard for the privacy of women any time soon.
Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and it the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.