Contraception Can Change the World – And It Has

Posted on June 7, 2012, June 6, 2012 by

On this anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, protecting married couples’ rights to use contraception, I give thanks to those Justices who decided the case, to Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), to scientists and doctors and pharmacists and everyone else who has ever played a role in making birth control available to me. Without them, I would undoubtedly be a mother.

Most people who use contraception eventually choose to become or already are parents. For me it’s different: I don’t want children, and I can’t imagine being forced to bear and raise children I didn’t want. I know, I know, once they were here I would love them — but loving them is different from wanting them, and wouldn’t prevent them from turning my life upside down in unwelcome ways. Millions of parents regret having children; thanks to contraception I am not one of them. It is the magic pill that has allowed me to live the life I imagined rather than the one expected of or destined for me.

More broadly, Griswold is an important landmark in a line of cases establishing that the Constitution creates a right to privacy. It is hard to imagine the Supreme Court coming to a different conclusion in that case, really: the thought that the government would have the right to snoop in married couples’ bedrooms (a later case extended this privacy right to non-married couples) is anathema to the American ethos of liberty and individual rights.

For hundreds of millions of women around the world, however, the barrier to birth control is not privacy or government interference, but gender inequality and the simple unavailability of contraceptives. For these women, avoiding pregnancy reduces maternal mortality in childbirth. It allows girls and women to put off childbearing until they have completed their educations and earned income outside the home. It can help them break the cycle of poverty by controlling the size of their families so they can increase their incomes and reduce their expenses.

For me, avoiding pregnancy is less necessity than preference, but for millions of other women it can make the difference between eating dinner and going hungry. The Griswold decision allowed me to realize my preferences, but for so many others contraceptives are even less available than they were in the U.S. before the Supreme Court’s decision. This is a day to celebrate our freedom, but also to resolve to make the same advantages available to others across the globe.

Posted in: United States