How the “Mad Men” Method of Birth Control Ended

Posted on June 7, 2012

Blog for Choice, June 7, 2012 by Lissy Moskowitz

Lissy Moskowitz is the deputy director of policy at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Today, we commemorate the 47th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the monumental 1965 Supreme Court case that recognized Americans’ right to use birth control. The Griswold decision recognized a key aspect of the right to privacy: that individuals should be free from political interference regarding decisions as fundamental as whether to start a family.

Imagine life before Griswold, when married couples could be arrested for using birth control. Women relied on unsafe and ineffective methods like “Lysol douche” because it was illegal for companies to sell women contraceptives. Doctors faced criminal charges for receiving shipments of diaphragms from overseas countries. Clinical trials for the birth-control pill had to be conducted outside the country because laws in many states made it illegal to conduct studies for FDA approval on the medication. States like Massachusetts and Connecticut even banned the dissemination of information about contraception.

Now, despite the fact that it’s 2012, some anti-contraception forces are intent on taking us back to the early 1960s. Since the 2010 elections, which put many right-wing extremists into office nationwide, politicians have launched an all-out war against birth control. At the federal level, they tried to defund Planned Parenthood and cancel the Title X program, the only federal program exclusively dedicated to family planning. In addition to repeated efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, anti-contraception senators backed an amendment that would have allowed any employer to deny contraceptive coverage to his employees for virtually any reason. And at the state level, last year states considered more than 20 bills trying to defund local family-planning providers.

Looking forward, threats to contraception continue to loom. No less than 24 lawsuits filed in opposition to the new contraceptive-coverage policy are pending in the courts. New groups – like Conscience Cause – have been formed to counter advances in access to birth control. And just this month, opponents of contraception have planned large-scale visibility events around the country dedicated to turning back the clock on women’s reproductive health.

If these advocates had their way, they would take us back to a time that looks remarkably like the early 1960s, before Griswold. Health plans would no longer cover birth control because they could opt out for any reason. Employers could deny contraceptive coverage to their employees. And pharmacists could refuse to dispense prescription birth control.

Who would have thought that in the 21st century birth-control pills would be more controversial than they were in the time of “Mad Men?” To turn back the clock on women’s access to birth control – one of the greatest public-health advancements in the past century – would be a huge setback for women.


Posted in: Uncategorized