On June 7, 1965, the Supreme Court
ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that married women have a constitutional
right of privacy to use birth control. Incredibly, forty-three years
later, we are still fighting for access to birth control, and in many
cases we are losing this battle. The Bush administration put the
nation’s largest federal family planning program in the hands of the
anti-family planning activist, Dr. Susan Orr. Her appointment symbolizes
the Bush Administration’s ideological warfare against providing accurate
contraceptive education and publicly funded family planning programs.
Dr. Orr once equated a mandate for contraception insurance coverage
to forcing private employers "to make a choice between serving
God and serving…government." While she resigned in May, her policies
It defies logic, science, and
public opinion that more than four decades after Griswold, access
to contraception for married and unmarried women is still elusive. Only
41 percent of women who depend on publicly funded family planning clinics
get the assistance they need from these clinics. And the need for publicly
funded family planning services among the nation’s poorest women continues
to grow. To address this enormous need, the National Council of Jewish Women launched Plan A: NCJW’s
Campaign for Contraceptive Access on the 2007 anniversary of the
Griswold decision. Our Plan A seeks to educate and empower individuals
to advocate for women’s universal access to contraceptive information
and health services. Now, one year later, is a good time to take stock
of just how far we all have yet to go in making birth control accessible
to all American women.
Fifty percent of all pregnancies
are still unintended, as are a staggering 82 percent of teenage pregnancies.
Title X, Dr. Orr’s program, is the only hope for 17 million women
in need of publicly funded family planning services – a figure that
rises with the number of uninsured women. Yet in real dollars, Title
X funding is 63 percent lower than in 1980. Now at $300 million, it
would need $759 million annually to keep pace with need and inflation.
Middle class women are more likely
to have access one way or another to contraception, but it’s not as
easy or affordable as it should be. Even those with health insurance
find their health plans still often fail to pay for birth control. Only
27 states require inclusion of the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive
drugs and devices if an insurer otherwise covers prescription drugs.
Of these, 19 states allow some employers to opt out of such coverage,
mostly for religious reasons. Religion won’t get you off the hook
for paying for workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance, but
it can exempt you from treating contraception equally with, say, sports
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For young women, women outside
major metropolitan areas, and lower income women, it’s even more difficult.
More than one-third of teenaged girls become pregnant at least once
before they turn 20. Poor women are four times more likely to have an
unwanted pregnancy, five times as likely to bear a child they didn’t
intend to have, and more than four times as likely to have an abortion
compared to other women. And the situation is not improving. Since 1994,
unwanted pregnancies among low-income women have increased by nearly
one-third, while rates among higher-income women have decreased by 20
Access to the full range of contraceptive
options is essential to women achieving social, political, and economic
equality, to say nothing of its importance to the well-being of children
and families. And Americans get it. In fact, 89 percent of voters support
government funding for birth control programs. The critical role contraception
plays in public health has been widely accepted for the 43 years since
Griswold proclaimed that birth control is a constitutionally protected
right, yet the federal government has been acting as if they
are no more than debatable tenets.
It’s time once again to base
our nation’s family planning policy on the broad consensus Americans
have developed and stop imposing an ideological agenda unsupported by
facts. Plan A seeks increased funding of Title X for fiscal year 2009
as an important first step, along with federal, state, and local policies
that expand access to birth control, not restrict it. Our government’s
hostility to birth control must end before another Griswold
anniversary comes and goes.