There is a long history of struggling for reproductive freedom en masse.
It’s easy to forget what life was like in Massachusetts before birth control and abortion care were legal and readily available. But this life is becoming reality in some states of the country. This week, the Supreme Court allowed a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks to come into force, a law that sets a dangerous precedent and could pave the way for other states to override people’s constitutional rights. . The Supreme Court will hear a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade this fall of the state of Mississippi, and whatever the court ruling, the state-by-state struggle to expand access and push back these horrific restrictions is more important than ever.
States across the country have introduced hundreds of regulations this year to put abortion care out of reach and limit people’s ability to make their own health care decisions, but Massachusetts continues to push for reproductive freedom to become a reality for all. This advocacy is a crucial part of our history.
Despite the federal Comstock laws In the late 1800s, banning the dissemination of information about contraceptives because they were believed to be obscene, Massachusetts was home to one of the nation’s very first family planning organizations: the Massachusetts Birth Control League. The League began as an advocacy fund for a local activist who distributed family planning brochures to young women working at the North End Candy Factory in 1916.
[E]essential health care should not depend on which party owns the White House.
Blanche Ames and other advocates led the League, organizing rallies, town halls and debates. The group lobbied lawmakers for reforms that would classify contraceptive information as protected freedom of expression, but to no avail. Their efforts were met with derision by the Catholic Church, lawmakers, journalists and other local leaders who alleged feminists were a threat to society, spreading immorality and funded by “Soviet gold.” . We know this because it is recorded in the History of the Birth Control Movement, a typed text included in the Ames family papers at Smith College.
Frustrated Ames carved a wooden penis and took her to Commonwealth Avenue where she demonstrated how to apply a condom. She was quickly arrested. Several years later, the Massachusetts legislature rejected a bill that would have allowed physicians to discuss contraception with their patients, despite its broad support among physicians, ministers and churches. The opposition said that “passing the bill would lead to widespread immorality. “Obviously, these male lawmakers did not have the same personal investment in birth control and education as women.
In 1932, the League opened the Brookline Mothers’ Health Office, a clinic providing contraceptive and other health services to married women. Ultimately, in 1937, the American Medical Association has approved birth control as accepted medical care. Nonetheless, police shut down all five Birth Control League clinics later that year. In an attempt to meet the needs of poor women who are no longer served by clinics, Ames made illegal diaphragms in her home using darning rings and liquid latex. She even concocted recipes for spermicides to use with them.
When the Birth Control League changed its name to the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts in 1945, a woman wrote to the League:
Is there a way for me to never get pregnant again? I mean until I die. We have been married for five years. I had five children and a miscarriage… I have a moral obligation to the five I have. I think I should rather end my life than have another pregnancy and give birth to another child where it cannot be properly cared for.
Parents seeking a better life for their current children rely on birth control and abortion care today. According to Guttmacher Institute, 59% of people who have an abortion already have at least one child.
In the early 1970s, the United States Supreme Court ruled in several landmark cases that making decisions about one’s own body is a fundamental right. The court ruled that states cannot deny contraception to married couples, struck down Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to singles, then ruled in Roe vs. Wade that the Constitution protect the freedom of a pregnant person to have an abortion.
Finally, everyone was allowed to get birth control from their doctor, but not everyone had access to a doctor.
Today, access to reproductive health care remains politicized and inequitable. In 2019, the Trump administration instituted a gag rule prevent health care providers from receiving federal funds for family planning if they refer patients for abortion care. President Biden is overturn this rule but essential health care should not depend on which party owns the White House.
Politically motivated and medically unnecessary barriers like the Trump-era gag rule make healthcare beyond the reach of millions of people across the country, disproportionately harm young people, people of color, low-income people and people living in rural areas.
Massachusetts established the right to abortion in the state constitution, but a right does not guarantee access.
When the Supreme Court officially hears the direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade – a Mississippi Prohibition of abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy – he will do so with an anti-abortion majority of 6-3, which has already allowed the Texas ban to go ahead after just six weeks of pregnancy. Should the Court annul Roe deer, even more discriminatory barriers will be re-established across the country.
Barriers to care will not stop the need for a safe and legal abortion – they will simply make it dangerous and more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Massachusetts established the right to abortion in the state constitution, but a right does not guarantee access. Disparities in sexual and reproductive health persist, so we must continue to build on our history of expanding reproductive access and freedom for all.
Massachusetts lawmakers have the opportunity to support pregnancy decisions of all people by the way legislation this would eliminate co-payments for the full spectrum of pregnancy-related care, including abortion, antenatal care, childbirth and postpartum care. Removing financial barriers promotes equitable access and ensures that no one is denied the care they deserve.
People deserve the freedom to decide how many children they will have, when and if to have them, and to be able to get the care they need. We cannot allow any part of our country to return to a time when abortion care and birth control were banned by lawmakers seeking to impose their own beliefs on the rest of us.
We must ensure that everyone has access to reproductive health care, no matter what.