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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice – Part 3 - Law



Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice

In 1873 the Comstock Act was passed, making it a federal offence to distribute or send obscene or illicit materials. This law not only banned distribution of pornographic material but also any material with descriptions of contraceptive methods or other medically related materials. This law remained unchallenged until it got in the way of Margaret Sanger’s mission to make birth control legal.

Margaret Sanger’s publication in 1914 of “The Women Rebel,” and her acts of civil disobedience in 1916, proved instrumental in Judge Frederick Crane’s decision to allow New York state physicians for the first time to legally prescribe contraception for general health reasons placing the first crack in the Comstock laws.

In 1936, in another act of civil disobedience, Margaret Sanger was arrested after leaking information to postal authorities that she illegally ordered birth control products through the mail. This led to a victory for Margaret Sanger and the birth control movement in United States v. One Package, and another crack in the Comstock law.

After Margaret Sanger establishes Planned Parenthood in 1942 she used the power of her organization to continue to go after the law with the favorable decisions of Poe v. Ullman in 1961 and Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965.

In Griswold v. Connecticut, Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut Executive Director Estelle Griswold and their Medical Director C. Lee Buxton were arrested and fined $100 for giving information, instruction and medical advice to married persons regarding birth control. In 1963 this case was brought before the Supreme Court. The decision in Griswold v. Connecticut found that though the right to privacy is not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights “specific guarantees in the Bills of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations,” that protect a right to privacy in this case.

Dictionary please. A penumbra is an opaque shadow and emanations emit a product. So the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Griswold and Planned Parenthood not because the right to privacy is in the Bill of Rights, but because guarantees in the Bill of Rights emit opaque shadows that protect the right to privacy in this case. Or something like that.

But more changes were needed to get to Margaret Sanger’s ultimate goal: the facilitation of weeding out the unfit by rectifying the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit,” and ridding the world of the undesired babies that are a “terrible infringement on the personal rights of the mother”. Margaret Sanger’s life mission would come to fruition when every woman was free to privately make her own decision on birth control, on when or if to bear or beget a child. Margaret Sanger died in 1966, seven years before her goal would be achieved in companion cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

The two sections of part three, Planned Parenthood Challenges the Law and Challenges Change the Law, outline the laws and Supreme Court cases that Margaret Sanger used in order to achieve her life mission, how her organization Planned Parenthood continues this work today, and how these challenges in the law led to the changes that made abortion on demand legal throughout the entire length of pregnancy for almost any reason.

Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the challenges and changes in the laws surrounding birth control it is fascinating to dissect the minutiae of the changes.


Planned Parenthood Part 3
Challenges the Law Section One:
Privacy and Penumbras
Challenges Change the Law Section Two:
Abortion on Demand

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Front Page of Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Review January 1929
Birth Control Tied Up in Puritanical Laws - Nate Collier 3rd Place Birth Control Review Cartoon Contest
Supreme Court Building Washington DC
Contemplation of Justice Statue - Photograph by James Earle Fraser, US Supreme Court Building Washington DC
Authority of the Law Statue - Supreme Court Building Washington DC

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