Forty-six years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law that made it illegal for married couples to use birth control in Griswold v. Connecticut. What started as a case against one law in one small state would ensure that women can make personal decisions about if and when to have children — monumentally improving their health and the health of their families.
Our country has made great strides in reproductive rights and women’s health since 1965. Virtually all American women now use contraception during their reproductive years, without shame or stigma. The anniversary of the Griswold case is a good moment to celebrate how far we’ve come.
The Griswold case set women, and our country, on a new, healthier path. And today, family planning is widely recognized by the medical community as integral to improving women’s health and the health of their children. For many women, access to birth control has made the difference between going to college or not, pursuing the career they wanted or not, or even having a healthy pregnancy or not. In fact, some 38 million women — more than 60 percent of those between 15 and 44 years old — are using some contraceptive method at any given time. Not surprisingly, communities are healthier than they were in 1965.
When women plan their pregnancies, they are more likely to seek prenatal care, improving their own health and the health of their children. In fact, access to family planning is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality rates. In 2005, pregnancy-related deaths were down 52 percent from 1965. And at the same time, the number of women in the U.S. labor force more than doubled.
Unfortunately, there’s still a very long way to go. For too many American women, millions in fact, birth control is beyond their reach. For uninsured women, the out-of-pocket costs are prohibitive, and even for women who have health insurance, the related co-payments are simply too much to afford. In fact, more than a third of women voters say they have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control at some point in their lives, and have failed to use it consistently as a result. A woman with insurance typically faces co-pays of $15 to $50 a month ($180 to $600 annually) for birth control pills and hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for longer-acting methods. Studies show that when cost barriers are removed, women switch quickly to more effective methods, and experience fewer unintended pregnancies as a result — a critical outcome in a nation where nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. Ultimately, removing cost barriers to birth control could mean as much today as removing legal barriers did a half-century ago.
The Affordable Care Act holds enormous promise for expanding access to birth control. Under the new law, millions of women will become insured for the first time, and the health care — including birth control — they have gone without for so long will finally be attainable. In addition, the law offers an unprecedented opportunity to make birth control more affordable. The fact that some states are trying to stop the law in its tracks is a shortsighted political goal that would only hurt women and their families.
The Griswold anniversary is not only a time to celebrate but also an occasion to recommit ourselves to improving our nation’s health. As we mark the anniversary of the Griswold decision, let’s resolve to keep building on its legacy.