Birth Control

Roe v. Wade: A Quick History

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As I write this, Roe v. Wade is celebrating its 44th anniversary just a day after the Women’s March on Washington. I wanted to share a quick history of this Supreme Court decision since not even I knew all the details other than the date and the resulting outcome. This post is not going to go into all the details, though. Roe v. Wade has a complicated and controversial history that is fraught with emotion, especial in these times. So this will be a “just the fact, ma’am” kind of post*.

Lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee would meet Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) in December of 1969 through adoption lawyer Henry McClaskey. Norma was pregnant with her third child and could not legally get an abortion in the state of Texas. She went to McClaskey to see if he knew how she could get an abortion locally. He couldn’t help her with the abortion, but he contacted Coffee knowing she was working to file suit to change the abortion laws. Current laws only allowed a legal abortion if the mother’s life was in danger. Women wanted an abortion had to travel to another state or out of the country to get one.

Even though the case wouldn’t be settled in time to change her condition, Norma became the plaintiff in Weddington and Coffee’s lawsuit. It was filed as a class action lawsuit so that it included not only Norma but also any woman in the present or future. The suit argued that women were had a right to an abortion under the 14th amendment, as it was a right to privacy issue. It also challenged that this was an unenumerated right protected by the 9th amendment, unenumerated rights were implied but not explicitly referenced in the constitution.

Weddington and Coffee also put together another case involving a married couple, John and Mary Doe v. Wade. Since Mary Doe had medical issues and her doctor recommended she not get pregnant. Coffee thought having a couple instead of a single mother seemed like a better plaintiff for a case. Dr. James Hallford was also added to the case since he was facing criminal prosecution for performing abortions in the state.

They filed the lawsuit on March 3, 1970.

“Wade” was Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. He was district attorney from 1951 to 1987. Wade was known for being the prosecuting attorney in both the Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby cases. Wade appointed John Tolle, one of his staff attorneys, to defend the suit instead of doing it himself. The state also appointed their attorney, Jay Floyd, to work on the case alongside Tolle.

The first district trial hearing was on May 22, 1970 before a panel of three judges of the Fifth Circuit Court; Judge Sarah Hughes, Judge William Taylor, and Judge Irving Goldberg. It got off to a rocky start when Judge Goldberg asked some hard-hitting questions and both Coffee and Tolle having trouble during their arguments. On June 17, 1970, the court dismissed Dr. Hallford’s intervention and the Doe’s lawsuit. They ruled in favor of Roe, finding the law unconstitutional as a right of privacy issue under the ninth amendment, through the 14th amendment.

Unfortunately, while the ruling stated it was unconstitutional to prohibit abortion, it did nothing to stop the courts from prosecuting. The ruling lacked the essential injunction against Texas that would prevent the state from prosecuting anyone who violated the law, even if it was deemed unconstitutional. The omission turned out to be in their favor as it gave Weddington and Coffee a chance to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On December 13, 1972, Weddington and Coffee argued before the Supreme Court. Jay Floyd returned to defend. The justices presiding over this case were Justices Harry Blackmun, Byron White, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Warren Burger, and William Douglas. They are down two justices due to Justices Hugo Black and John Harlan having just retired due to illness. After much debate and several arguments, the justices decided to reargue the case.

They returned to court on October 11, 1972, this time with Judges William Rehnquist and Lewis Powel. Rehnquist and Powel replaced Hugo Black and John Harlan but had not been sworn in until after the first hearing. Texas Assistant Attorney General Robert Flowers replaced Jay Floyd after a poor performance, and a terrible opening joke, at the trial but to no avail.

On January 22, 1973, the justices delivered a 7-2 decision in favor of Roe by right to privacy accorded by the 14th amendment. In the words of Justice Blackmun, “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy”

*I’m quoting Dan Ackroyd as Joe Friday, not Jack Webb. Historically, Jack Webb never used that exact phrase even though it’s attributed to him

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Lysol’s Surprising Sexual History

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I did lots of driving over winter break, often 5-10 hours at a time. In that time, I had the radio on so I listened to lots of ads.

Lots and lots of ads.

In between the car dealership and fast food ads I kept hearing a weight loss ad that guaranteed a flat belly and would empty your gut of tons of toxic sludge. After hearing it a few hundred times, my brain started analyzing what I was hearing; you can’t physically have “tons” of undigested food in your belly, especially not toxic sludge, and someone couldn’t be so bloated it looks like belly fat. Is this legit? If not, why are they allowed to advertise? My brain started thinking about truth in advertising. Then I decided to write a post about one piece of historical non-truth in advertising that rolled around in my head on the drive back, Lysol’s use as a douche.

Let that roll around in your brain for a bit. Lysol. Douche.

A while ago I had stumbled upon old ads for Lysol as an effective douche, its cleansing power capable of saving marriages. I went back into the history of Lysol to figure out how this came about and found another horrifying bit of Lysol trivia. It was also used as birth control.

Now let that thought sink in. Lysol. Birth. Control.

I hadn’t realized that Lysol to was linked to birth control during some of the other research I had done earlier this year concerning the Comstock Act and Margaret Sanger. The Lysol ads preyed on the public’s self-esteem by making them self-conscious enough to purchase their product, as most advertising is wont to do. But these ads have an even scarier undertone, the fears of women living at a time with no reliable or affordable birth control nor the means to educate themselves about what was available to them.

When I went to Lysol’s “Our History” page, I first noticed the tagline “Over a Century of Healthing.” Health? Is this a word? Apparently, it’s not a word but sort of a thing. Thanks to Google for providing me the first search hit that included a woman who referenced Lysol and Healthing. She was part of Lysol’s Healthing initiative and stated that it was, indeed, a word. A word invented for a health initiative is not really a word, especially since it’s not even in the dictionary. It was Lysol’s way of describing that you’re not just cleaning when you disinfect with Lysol, you’re healthing since you are decreasing germs and the spread of infection. But enough of the grammar rant, back to the history.

The Lysol’s history page only mentioned how it has helped families do more for health since 1889 such as ending a cholera epidemic, in 1918 was the first effective means of fighting the flu, and in 1930 was introduced to drug stores and hospitals. No mention of douching but I don’t blame them. Lysol is an effective germ-killing cleaner, one that I use in my own household, and would I imagine they would love to distance themselves from that dubious era in their advertising. Indeed, Lysol was introduced by Dr. Gustav Raupenstrauch to help end a cholera epidemic in Germany and used in 1918 to combat the Spanish Flu pandemic.

The product originated in Germany, migrated to Great Britain then landed in America. A combination of cresol and soap (most likely castor oil soap) made Lysol a powerful cleaner but also a toxic skin irritant that can cause blistering and burns. Despite this, starting in the 1920’s an extensive ad campaign was introduced suggesting diluted Lysol as an essential part of feminine hygiene.

Ads showed women with concerned expressions on their faces and copy that talked about the marital distress caused by lack of proper hygiene. Lysol cured everything from fatigue to foul odor, along with being the answer to your husband’s lack of interest and avoidance of intimacy. Why even the elegant women of Berlin used it! Lysol was the perfect antiseptic for marriage hygiene.

Yep, the ad actually says marriage hygiene.

There was even a booklet available to teach you all about how to use Lysol since “There is so much misinformation about feminine hygiene.” The photo in the ad shows a proper Margaret Dumont-like mother offering the booklet to her attitudinal teen flapper daughter. Over the years the ads were geared towards women struggling with inattentive spouses. They beat on locked doors, were caught in spider webs, and drowning in doubt and misgivings. You could even take a love quiz, but it’s for married folk only. Apparently, women were, and other ad said, ignoring one small intimate physical neglect that could rob them of their husband’s love. Sadly, all these ads put the blame solely on the wife.

Couples therapy was pretty much out of the question during this period, so there was no way to find out if other issues such as depression, being trapped in a loveless marriage, or any other valid reasons for marital troubles were actually at fault. There could be another reason why there wasn’t enough intimacy in a relationship, the fear of getting pregnant. We were still in the midst of the Comstock Act that prevented any information or delivery of contraception to the public. According to historians such as Kristin Hall and Andrea Tone, these ads were also selling contraception. Douching post-coitus was a popular method of birth control. Since it was cheaper and easier to get than condoms or diaphragms, Lysol was the best-selling contraception method for 30 years.

Douching, in general, is bad for vaginal health, using a caustic disinfectant made it an even worse option. In 1952, the makers of Lysol exchanged the cresol for another chemical that made it less toxic, but it was still dangerous to use. Lawsuits were dismissed as allergies. It wasn’t even an effective method of birth control as a 1933 study showed that half the women who used it got pregnant. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and the advent of the pill that Lysol began to fade in popularity. It’s been so long most people had no idea the cleaner we use now (that recommends avoiding contact with eyes, skin, and clothing) was used this way.

And if you weren’t into Lysol, there was also Listerine. But that is another douche story for another time.

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Margaret Sanger: 100 Years of Planned Parenthood

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“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” – Margaret Sanger

Planned Parenthood celebrates it’s 100 birthday on October 16, 2016. Even though birth control is now more readily available, the battle for reproductive rights and sexual freedom still continues. Let’s look back at the origin of Planned Parenthood, and its founder Margaret Sanger.

Margaret Louise Higgins was born on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York to Michael Hennessy Higgins and Anne Purcell Higgins, the sixth out of eleven children. Margaret’s father made a meager living carving gravestones. He was an agnostic, an abolitionist, and supported suffrage. From an early age, Margaret and her siblings were encouraged to share their opinions. This was unheard of in a time where children were to be seen and not heard.

Despite Michael being open minded, the family still held to very traditional gender roles. Anne was a devout Catholic. She cooked, cleaned and cared for everyone in the household. On top of that, she went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, with several miscarriages. Two didn’t survive to adulthood. By the time she died at the young age of 49, she had looked much older than her years. Margaret was desperate to get away from the overcrowded house, crushing poverty, and taunting by the other children. Her older sisters pooled their money together to send Margaret to Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896, despite their father’s disapproval. He felt nursing was an inappropriate career for his daughter to pursue She spent three years there then rushed home to take care of her ailing mother. She cared for her family after her mother died.

In 1900, Margaret went to New York City and became a nurse probationer at White Planes Hospital. There she met architect and aspiring artist, William Sanger. Margaret was smitten with Bill, and they married in 1902. Bill shared Margaret’s penchant for socialism and radical thinking. At first, they tried to settle down in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York but the builders of their new house had neglected to put an asbestos covering on the heating pipes causing a fire that destroyed their home. The Sangers moved to New York City in 1911 and became heavily involved in the artist community as well as workers rights and the labor movement.

Margaret worked as a visiting nurse in the slums of the east side during this time. There she saw the same issues she grew up with, large families living in poverty. Many mothers became so desperate they performed self-induced abortions. The curse of the working class, mostly immigrant women, was the lack of information about contraception. There wasn’t any way these women could learn how to stop getting pregnant; it’s was illegal and was considered an obscenity thanks to our old friend Anthony Comstock. Not only was it hard for the families to have so many mouths to feed with so little money coming in but also it took its toll on the women. Frequent pregnancies also meant more miscarriages and the steps they often took to end a pregnancy could be fatal. Margaret decided something had to be done and took on the crusade to give women more control and choice when it came to procreation.

This crusade came at a price. Margaret sought out all the information to could find about contraception. In 1912 she wrote What Every Mother Should Know then What Every Girl Should Know for the socialist magazine New York Call. Some welcomed the open discussion of sex while others were shocked by it. In 1913, she traveled to Scotland and France to do research on birth control. She would not return to the U.S. with Bill. Bill stayed in Paris to continue his work as an artist while Margaret returned to NY to pursue her work. Margaret and Bill’s separation sounds amicable in her autobiography. She did not want to keep him from pursuing his art, and he did not want her to have to stay and give up her mission. They finally divorced in 1921 and Margaret would marry again in 1922 to Noah Slee.

In 1914, Margaret and a group of friends came up with the new term “birth control” when they formed the National Birth Control League. She started a magazine called The Woman Rebel, which was considered obscene and thus illegal to distribute. Margaret found herself looking at jail time. When the judge and lawyers tried to pressure her into pleading guilty then promising not to break the law again in return for dismissal of the charges, Margaret decided to flee the country. This was a difficult decision since she now had two sons and a daughter and had been struggling with tuberculosis for some time.

Margaret spent her time in Europe learning everything she could about family limitation and sex education. She spent a great deal of time with Havelock Ellis, who’s Psychology of Sex was blowing everyone’s mind and the Neo-Malthusians. She traveled to England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands where she learned that other countries had a much more liberal attitude towards birth control, especially the Netherlands. Margaret mailed copies of The Woman Rebel while in Europe and prepared to publish her pamphlet, Family Limitation, upon her return.

Margaret eventually returned to the US. Being apart from her children for so long was difficult, and she was worried about her daughter’s health. Margaret managed to get the charges against her dropped despite Comstock tricking her husband into giving an undercover cop a copy of Family Limitation, which resulted in his arrest and jail time. She needed to offer more than the printed word, so she embarked on a cross-country speaking tour. Upon her return to New York, she set up a clinic to help women one on one. On October 16th, 1916, Margaret, her sister Ethel Byrne, and volunteer Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic, The Brownsville Clinic, in the US in Brooklyn. Nine days later they were arrested and put in jail. Their crime was distributing information about contraception, selling obscene books, and being a public nuisance.

In 1917, Margaret started The Birth Control Review, a scientific journal. 1921 saw the first American Birth Control Conference held in New York City. Margaret opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1923. She then started the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control to eliminate the Comstock laws. In 1939 the American Birth Control League merged with the Clinical Research Bureau to become the Birth Control Federation of America. Members of the BCFA decided to change the name to something more conservative so, in 1942, Planned Parenthood Federation of America was born.

Margaret lived to see the debut of The Pill in 1960 and birth control legalized for married couples in 1965 before she passed away on September 6th, 1966.

Want to read more about Margaret Sanger? Buy The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger.
(affiliate link)

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