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Vulnerable Women and Contraception: Obama Turns Clock Back Nearly 100 Years

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Written by Carole Joffe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

See all our coverage of the Administration's 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.

"For a woman to 'ask her physician' for a safe and effective contraceptive  presupposed that she had a physician, that she could afford a contraceptive, and that the physician would be willing to give it to her, regardless of her marital status."

These are the words of the historian Sheila Rothman, writing about the setbacks Margaret Sanger faced in the 1920s and 1930s in trying to realize her vision of making birth control widely available to all women, including the poorest—and about the ultimate “ownership” of contraceptive services during that era by physicians. Sanger’s original vision was a fleet of clinics, to be run by public health nurses. But as Rothman and others have documented, when she attempted to open such clinics, she experienced repeated arrests and the closures of her facilities, as contraception was then illegal. In the years leading up to the 1965 Supreme Court Griswold decision, which legalized birth control for married persons, only physicians were legally permitted to provide such services, and as the quote from Rothman implies, this situation put poor women at a tremendous disadvantage.

Rothman’s critique, written in the 1970s about events in the ‘20s and ‘30s,  is remarkably relevant to today’s leading reproductive controversy: the Obama administration’s overruling of the FDA decision to allow over-the-counter status of Plan B, an Emergency Contraceptive product, for young women under the age of seventeen. If one substitutes “teenager” for “woman” and “Plan B” for “a safe and effective contraceptive” in Rothman’s quote, one can readily appreciate how, once again in America’s longstanding reproductive wars, the needs of the most vulnerable are willfully neglected.

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“For a woman to ‘ask her physician’ for a safe and effective contraceptive  presupposed that she had a physician, that she could afford a contraceptive, and that the physician would be willing to give it to her, regardless of her marital status.” “For a woman to ‘ask her physician’ for a safe and effective contraceptive  presupposed that she had a physician, that she could afford a contraceptive, and that the physician would be willing to give it to her, regardless of her marital status.”