A Pivotal Moment in Birth Control History

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has demonstrated an admirable commitment to protecting reproductive rights. Even in the face of intense pressure from anti-choice groups, our government followed through with its intention to move one step closer to universal birth control access. Federal law will now require all employers to provide full coverage for the birth control pill in their health insurance plans, with exemptions applying only to a narrow range of religious institutions.[1]

This legislative achievement is monumental for the pro-choice movement in the context of current debates. The issue of birth control coverage has stirred controversy on state and national levels since the beginning of President Obama’s healthcare reform. It is important, in addition, not to overlook just how monumental this decision is within the broader American historical context.

Multiple social historians have argued that the advent of the birth control pill was one of the most influential cultural developments in modern American history. The pill, invented in the 1950s and approved by the FDA in 1960,[2] acquired a complex social symbolism from its earliest market appearances. In a societal backdrop characterized by intense, explicit divisions along lines of race, class, and gender, the pill was viewed by certain Black groups as an instrument of “racial genocide,” perceived by numerous activists as poverty reduction method targeted toward poor women, and advertised by various parties as an option that was morally acceptable only for women who were married.[3] Furthermore, the pill became an overt symbol of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, in which women demanded a new kind of ownership of their bodies and their sexualities.

The pill, in its earliest history, was thus threatening on many levels; in a time of myriad social changes, it served to further shake the roots of long-standing cultural norms. In the time since then, movements toward a more egalitarian America have shed the pill of some of these broad associations, but the recent achievement of federally mandated coverage must be recognized as a pivotal moment in this ongoing history. In contrast to past perceptions of the pill as an instrument of social power, this decision places birth control within the realm of every woman’s equal right to choose. By this decision, our government—for the first time in our history— has legally defined birth control access as a universal and inalienable right.

At NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, we are celebrating this moment by encouraging our supporters to send emails to the White House. Please join us and the larger NARAL Pro-Choice America movement in thanking our government for taking this important step in securing the right to choose by visiting the following link: https://secure.prochoiceamerica.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=5079.

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