Four of the hottest topics in the history of America have all involved individual rights, slavery, rights of blacks, right of women to vote, and birth control. Three of those are no longer hot topics but all can find their roots in the early to mid-19th Century. Why then have we been unable to make the basic tenants of birth control something that is widely accepted so that any discussion of it has a baseline of accepted principles? The only reason is because there are those who want it to be a part of morality.
Our country realized when it repealed the 21st Amendment, alcohol prohibition, that it could not legislate morality as was done with this amendment. We clearly recognized that at least where drinking was concerned, whatever morals were attached to it were an entirely personal thing that governments have no business legislating.
In the early 20th Century a woman named Margaret Sanger, of poor Irish Catholic parents from Corning New York, moved to the lower east side of New York City where she set up a woman’s clinic. As a trained nurse, and one who had aspired to be a physician, she found that the health of poor women was poorly attended to, and worse, there was no forum for the woman to be educated relative to her own body. Such discussions were considered taboo at the time. She had found the urban poor to suffer from an extremely high infant mortality rate. But it was at that time she also found that many of these women desired to find a way to forestall unwanted pregnancies. And it was on this point in particular that Sanger lead the charge. He efforts were both criticized and condemned by early 20th century society. When she tried to inform a larger number of women by sending sex education materials through the mail, she was prosecuted and found guilty of distributing pornography. That was in 1917 and at the time she received a large amount of her support from the suffragettes. But when, in 1920, women got the vote, the suffrage movement ceased and with it Sanger’s best support. And worse for her, she had earlier allied herself with the Socialist movement in the U.S. and alienated even more people because of that.
Sanger died in 1966 failing to see what would certainly have been her greatest victory, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade. The SJC decided that it was an issue of privacy and that abortion was the moral decision of a woman in conjunction with her doctor. That should have made the issue resolved and given the American public a starting place to move on from. Unfortunately that has not been the case.
Sanger’s inspiration was the idea of giving women the information necessary about her body to make educated decisions with regard to it. Key to the discussion was always the word “education.” And it is on this point which America is failing. Our high teen birth rate, high abortion rate, and high undesired birth rate.
I find abortion to be absolutely abhorrent. But my solution is not to ban abortion, but to better educate those who have abortions and unwanted pregnancies, teens in particular. My challenge to the anti-abortion crowd, who euphemistically call themselves “Pro-life,” is to come up with a solution that reduces a woman’s need and/or desire to get an abortion. It is troubling that these anti-abortion people also seem to be anti-sex education where adolescents and teens are concerned. Their magical thinking allows that all the sex education they need they can find at home. Ideally that would be true, but the real world tells an entirely different story. It is not coincidental that the highest teen birth rates happens to the poorest educated. It is also not coincidental that unwanted pregnancies happen most frequently not just to teens, but to the poor who do not have access to good medical support.
I was astonished that within the US Congress there is a movement to cease public funding of Planned Parenthood. While the organization certainly advises women with regard to abortion, its services do not stop there. They also deal with all aspects of women’s health and education, such as cervical cancer screening, breast cancer screening, STDs and so forth. How can anyone in their right mind think that public funding for such a group is a bad thing?
America first has to come to terms with the fact that it needs to educate their children with what is happening to their bodies as they enter puberty. And that education needs to continue, in the public forum, for as long as they are in school. It is far less expensive, in all respects, to educate our children with regard to sex than it is to have them pregnant when they have not yet stopped being children. To do this Americans must stop thinking of sex, where education is concerned, as being private, taboo, or too embarrassing. And also because sexually transmitted diseases, to include AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, etc. put us all at risk.
To anti-abortionists I say, support those things that help women from getting pregnant in the first place. Make it a given that all young girls and women will have equal and unobstructed access to birth control methods. Make a part of that education the actual costs, both financial and psychological, of bringing a child into the world. Make a world where abortion is only a last resort, not a convenience, or measure of desperation. There is no substitute for a well-educated and well-informed public.