Celebrate “Griswold” By Asking Candidates Their Stand on Contraception

On June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision for which millions of women (including me) are eternally grateful.

Griswold v. Connecticut [PDF] struck down an 1879 law that prohibited the use of contraceptives and made it illegal to assist, abet or counsel someone about contraceptives. Griswold established a constitutional right to marital privacy that, in the words of Justice William O. Douglas, would no longer allow “the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives.”

While barring the door to the police, the decision opened the door for family planning. It only applied to married couples at the time, but the constitutional right to privacy it established has been used in subsequent decisions about reproductive rights, including Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Today, it would be difficult to find an American who doesn’t believe that people have a right to use contraception and family planning–unless you happen to stumble into a den of misogynistic, anti-choice zealots, some of whom are currently serving in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

In case you missed it, earlier this year, for the first time, the House of Representatives voted  to completely eliminate funding for Title X, the national family planning program. You read that right: totally eliminate funding for a program that provides health care to 6 out of 10 American women. The 235 to 189 vote was strictly along party lines, with only three Republicans joining House Democrats in voting to keep the funding.

Fortunately, the House Republicans didn’t succeed, but don’t think for a minute that they’ll stop trying. And don’t think you’re safe because you don’t rely on publicly funded clinics for your health care. These same anti-choice legislators are trying desperately to make sure your private health insurer won’t be able to cover the cost of your birth control pills once health care reform takes effect.

The same people who oppose abortion want to make it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for people to avoid pregnancy. It’s no secret that the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of birth control, and it’s no secret that many on the religious right don’t believe anyone should have sex if they aren’t willing to have a baby.

What doesn’t seem to penetrate the consciousness of those in Congress who want to wipe out Title X is that a large majority of Americans believe that they have a right to prevent pregnancies. That’s shown clearly in a new survey [PDF] conducted by Lake Research Partners for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).

The poll showed that 84 percent strongly believe in the importance of family planning as basic preventive care. While the strongest supporters are Democrats (93 percent), 88 percent of Independents and 73 percent of Republicans also felt it was important. This is good news for family planning supporters and advocates, and should serve as a warning to anti-choice politicians that they risk defeat at the polls if they continue their ill-advised war on contraception.

This isn’t the first recent poll to show support for contraception and birth control. The Thomson Reuters PULSE Healthcare Survey, developed in conjunction with NPR and conducted between April 1-13, 2011, and showed similar results. While the questions weren’t specifically about family planning as a basic preventive measure, it was about attitudes towards oral contraceptives. Roughly three-quarters of respondents believe that both private and government-assisted medical insurance should cover all or some of the cost of birth control pills.

What’s new and exciting about the NFPRHA poll is learning how significant family planning is to voters. Forty percent of those polled said they would be less likely to support their member of Congress should he or she vote to defund family planning programs. That could mean the margin of victory or defeat in many races.

While I’d love that percentage to be a lot closer to 100 percent, I am encouraged that a majority believe that family planning is a basic reproductive health care.

The real work ahead will be to make sure voters know how all the candidates stand on this issue, and let’s not limit ourselves to the U.S. Congress. How about a litmus test for other elected offices, from school board member to county commissioner to state representative. After all, these could be stepping stones on the path to higher office. We need to get good people on track and derail the anti-family planning ideologues before they get too far.

Because once they get too far, they’ll go too far. You may find one of them snooping in your medicine cabinet.

Photo by Flickr user krossbow, under license from Creative Commons 2.0


Not the singer/songwriter Carole King. Been a feminist for as long as I can remember and committed to reproductive rights even longer.