Women’s reproductive freedom – how did we get here?

Before 1960 sex was a complicated thing. Women who had multiple sexual relationships were vilified, by men and by other women. Men who were highly sexually active were congratulated. Being a Casanova gave a guy credibility and a pat on the back.

Women used to face the consequences

On the occasions where sex resulted in pregnancy, unless the father was compelled to step up it was women who dealt with the consequences. Some decided on abortions which were back street and had a high chance of being botched, rendering her sterile. If she chose to have the baby both she and the child carried the consequences. It is not surprising there is more than one plotline where someone finds out her parents are her grandparents.

Welcome 1960

In the 1960s things changed. The introduction of the contraceptive pill meant that pregnancy was not the unwanted consequence of sex. As a society, we took the first step toward a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.

But the fight was by no means over. The pushback against readily available contraception was widespread and intense. Some states banned the sale of contraceptives with the happy blessing for the religious right.

It took until 1965 for the Supreme Court to rule a ban on selling contraception was unconstitutional. Unmarried couples had to wait until the next decade. Such prohibitions seem amazing to us know, but at the time it was a major battle.

Abortion remained illegal

In the 1800s (and never before) abortion became illegal. That is not to say before 1800 it was condoned, but rather it became recognized as a practice and outlawed. The legal world differentiated between something that caused an abortion (an abortifacient) and something that prevented it (a contraceptive). Effectively by 1970s contra was legal, but abortion was not.

The dam started to break in 1967 when Colorado became the first state to legalize abortion in some circumstances. Other states began to follow Colorado’s lead but usually with caveats. Hawai’i was the first state to make abortion at the request of the woman legal in 1970.

Roe vs. Wade

It was the landmark case Roe vs. Wade that changed history. Prior to the decision 30 states still banned abortion without exception. The decision protected a woman’s right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment. But place qualifications around it, notably during the third trimester.

Roe vs. Wade under threat

The election of the current president places the decision in Roe vs. Wade under threat. The president stated he would only appoint justices who would overturn to the high court. As a result, there are states where the decision could be rolled back.

The Center for Reproductive Rights explains the worry – 22 states could ban abortion outright. In 8 states (including the District of Columbia), the right to abortion is at risk of loss. In 21 states, the right to abortion appears secure. It’s like going back to the Wild West.