Tomorrow is the 46th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court decision which ruled that the Constitution protected a right to privacy.
Griswold legalized contraceptive use by married couples, and paved the way for a series of Supreme Court decisions — including Eisenstadt v. Baird (which extended Griswold to unmarried couples) and Roe v. Wade — that helped undergird reproductive freedom and the right to family planning in the United States.
Nearly half a century after Griswold, you would think that our public officials would accept the core truths and policy implications of the decision as a settled matter. As a done deal. However, today millions of American women and their families are facing an unprecedented number of attacks on their basic reproductive health.
In Alabama, for instance, the State Senate last week passed a "personhood" bill that would outlaw the use of birth control and abortion by defining human personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Lest we understate the extremeness of this measure, we only need to take a closer look at the main organizational proponent of the legislation, a group called PersonhoodUSA, which on its website effectively likens contraceptive use and abortion to slavery and genocide:
"African slaves were denied their personhood and were therefore treated as property, bought, sold, and bred as animals. Jews were not considered full persons, so their property could be confiscated and their people eliminated. When Spanish conquistadors colonized America, many wealthy landowners fought to convince the Spanish crown that non-Christian "indians" were not legal persons and could therefore be enslaved."
Fortunately, this kind of extremism is no way representative of Americans’ actual attitudes on family planning. In a survey released last week, the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) and the Communications Consortium Media Center (CCMC) (in polling conducted by Lake Research Partners) found further evidence — adding to an already overwhelming consensus in public opinion research — of Americans’ "support of and commitment to ensuring access to family planning services that includes birth control and contraception."
Among other findings, the survey found that "84 percent of Americans view family planning, including contraception, as important to basic preventive health care services." And while the intensity varies among Democratic and Republican women and men, it’s clear that there is strong bipartisan support for family planning: 83 percent of Republican women respondents and 65 percent of Republican men survey respondents indicated that family planning services are "important" to basic preventive health care services.
Also, Americans simply don’t buy the baseless argument that the current federal budget allocation for family planning is somehow worth sacrificing in today’s economic climate. (Here, we need to mention former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder’s wonderful, spot-on quote in the NFPRHA press release announcing the survey results: "This is a man-made political storm. If you think the $300 million that goes to family planning is going to balance the budget, I have a bridge I want to sell you.") When asked to choose between two statements…
Now let me read you two statements and tell me which one comes CLOSER to your own point of view.
Statement A: (Some people/Other people) say that everyone has a right to safe, affordable, and available family planning services, including birth control and contraception.
Statement B: (Some people/Other people) say that we are in a budget crisis and now is not the time to be spending taxpayer money on family planning services. This is a personal decision.
…60 precent of respondents indicated that they agreed more with Statement A, compared to 31 percent who agreed with Statement B. Needless to say, Americans simply aren’t in favor of putting family planning on the chopping block — and that includes the national family planning program Title X, which funds care for low-income individuals and helped a record 5.2 million people in the recession year of 2009.
Ultimately, the costs of gutting or else not fully funding family planning would be catastrophic. Even with the current status quo, too many of our fellow citizens aren’t receiving the care they want and need: NFPRHA points out that, with its $300 million family planning budget in 2009, health centers nationwide were still only able to meet one third of the real demand.
Our legislators — every Member of Congress, every state legislator, and anyone who has some legislative say in the funding of preventive care — would do well to heed these survey findings; their votes and policy-making should be fully aligned with the views and practical sense of a true American majority. If they choose instead to align themselves with extremist groups like PersonhoodUSA, they do so at their own risk. Such a move, by itself, is enough reason and enough of a signal to boot these political hacks from office.