In honor of women's history month, I'd like to bring up a rarely mentioned figure in reproductive rights history, Margaret Sanger.
While she is a controversial figure, I myself and many other women owe a great debt to her.
I cannot imagine a world where I wasn't able to choose and plan when my children would be born. I come from a line of very strong women who bore lots of children. But I knew, even as a young person, that I didn't have to be that way. I could choose when I had children. I could have a career. I didn't have to have children if I didn't want them, but could still be a whole person.
I can't imagine where we would be as a society without safe and effective methods of birth control that are widely distributed.
Yet we have a long way to go.
The available birth control methods are not always subsidized by insurance. Many insurance companies do cover some birth control methods and it has come a long way. Yet most methods involve women taking the responsibility to either take the pill or remember the appointment for the iud or depo shot. The male pill is still out in the realm of theory - it has side effects that prevent it from being widely adapted. So there is a lack of funding for innovative birth control methods and a lack of support for the ones that exist.
However, not all American women have insurance or have access to insurance. Planned Parenthood (the organization that grew out of the American Birth Control League that Margaret Sanger founded) is not fully funded. Until their offices are open within a reasonable distance for couples, on public transportation and open on nights and weekends, there is more that can be done.
And as I brought up on a bulletin board earlier this week, why isn't birth control free or low cost for all Americans?
We all benefit from parents deciding when they are ready to be parents. Not that planning is the only thing that makes a good parent - but there are plenty of parents who abuse and neglect their children - who shouldn't have been parents in the first place. Maybe access to free birth control would help. Maybe it wouldn't.
Many people might argue that it would only increase the federal debt and the federal government. To some extent, I understand this point. Yet we already pay for the medical care for mothers without insurance (in most states), we pay for the child's education and for foster care if the parents are not fit parents. Not that all unplanned pregnancies end up with children in the juvenile detention system or prison - but I wouldn't be surprised to find that many of them had been abused or neglected growing up.
It seems to me that if any person knows that they are not ready to be a parent, and wants to use birth control, that as a society we should support them.
The flip side of this is some of the controversy of Margaret Sanger, who also promoted eugenics and social engineering. I am not suggesting that we force anyone to use birth control or force sterilization. In reading some of the theory of eugenics, I'm a little disgusted.
Unfortunately, universal birth control proposals seem intertwined with this idea. That by distributing free or low cost birth control, we are somehow encouraging people to not have children, to not grow their communities. That we are reverting to the bad old days of forced sterilization or welfare benefits tied to fertility.
I don't know how we would do it, but we would have to separate these ideas in the social consciousness. If this proposal were to work, we would need to build safe guards into the program to prevent these abuses.
There is a strong religious lobby that prevents any proposals to beef up planned parenthood or subsidize birth control in the U.S. I feel that those of us who oppose that lobby should speak up.
And if you disagree with my theories, please feel free to say so. Obviously, it's not a popular idea or it would have happened already.
Bravo to Margaret Sanger - but we have a long way to go.