In the United States, the 1900s through the present have experienced significant change and growth in many areas, including women’s reproductive rights. Although women’s reproductive rights have expanded, there is a continuous battle between those who want to maintain and grow reproductive rights and those who want to repeal some rights.
Throughout history there has been abuse of women’s reproductive rights, even in the early 1900s. In the 1900s, there was no governmental legal position on birth control or abortion. Most of the early 1900s women’s rights movements focused on women earning the right to vote and on breaking the glass ceiling into the work force for women (“Women’s Suffrage” 2003). There was abuse taking place in different states regarding sterilization, that did not receive much attention at the time. Due to this focus and lack of attention, many reproductive rights movements were put on the back burner, and seen as the next fight. While the reproductive rights movement was not a focus during this time, there still was abuse occurring behind the scenes. There were many state statues that permitted sterilizations on those “feeble minded” or “genetically defective” (Davis 1988, 27).
1910 through the 1920s brought with it a fight for women’s reproductive rights. While many of the organizations and movements that supported women’s rights actually were conflicted about fertility and abortion rights, this era saw a push in women’s reproductive rights. Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman were two important social activists for the reproductive rights movement. These women fought to impose fertility control, held huge street meetings in New York City, and Margaret sanger even wrote a column for women in the Socialist Party daily newspaper (Davis 1988, 9). Unfortunately, in the 1920s the movement was set back for two obvious reasons. First, there was aggressive prosecution of activists, including Margret Sanger, due to the Comstock Law which banned “obscene material” from being distributed through the mail (Davis 1988, 9). Birth control information was considered “obscene material” by the government at that point, resulting in some women receiving long jail sentences (Davis 1988,9).
Women’s reproductive rights advocates saw a major gain in the 1940s through the 1960s. In the 1960s the birth control pill was approved by the Federal Drug Administration, the FDA (Haussman 2013, 44). This was a huge win for women’s reproductive rights advocates because they now could supply the pill to women in the United States. 1965 also brought down the Comstock Law. The 1965 case of Griswold V Connecticut led to a decision where it was found unconstitutional to restrict access to birth control due to the fact it interfered with a person’s right to privacy (Seward 2009). During the 1960s, abortion became published and women began protesting the cruel reality of abortions (Davis 1988, 12). Unfortunately, while there was a gain in women’s reproductive rights, there was also some abuse happening that was discovered later in the 1970s. It was discovered that in the 1940s there was a race driven population control effort in Puerto Rico. It was discovered that over a third of childbearing age women were sterilized against their consent (Davis 1988, 14).
The 1970s saw major changes revolving around women and the women’s reproductive rights movement. Overall, living conditions improved and white women were able to join the workforce (Davis 1988, 11). Women were also able to become more sexually active due to the approval of the birth control pill (Davis 1988, 11). While women had access to the pill, abortion remained illegal, causing abortions to remain expensive and dangerous. In 1973 the famous landmark case of Roe v. Wade occurred. The U.S. supreme court ruled that doctors and women had the right to choose an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy (Davis 1988, 13). Sterilization abuse also received publicity when the public discovered that federal funds were used to sterilize two African-American teenagers without their consent or even their knowledge (Davis 1988,13).
The 1980s led to a growth in organizations that advocated and fought for reproductive rights. The Reproductive Rights National Network was created in 1981, and included 80 member-groups (Davis 1988, 14). Although there was the creation of the Reproductive Rights National Network, there was also a push from the Catholic and conservative population in America. 1980 was an election year, and the catholic conservative population voted for anti-choice, Ronald Reagan (Davis 1988, 55). Reagans win in the election emboldened this population and together they pushed anti-abortion bills (Davis 1988, 55).
The 1990s were a time when supreme court cases were significant in over-turning the anti- abortion bills Reagans administration created. Two significant cases were Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania V. Casey and Schneck V. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York. Both cases ruled in favor of the pro-choice side. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania V. Casey helped preserve the women’s right to choose, while Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York created a 15-foot zone around people and vehicles entering or leaving a clinic (“Timeline of important”). These rulings created a barrier for Pro-choice activist and helped uphold the Roe v. Wade ruling.
Presently, we are seeing a push from anti-choice advocates. The election of President Donald Trump caused many anti-choice advocates to come out from the shadows and continue their fight. The nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has caused the Supreme Court to become right-winged, causing speculation that soon the court will overturn the Roe v. Wade decision and creating a harder governmental system to receive an abortion.