Birth Control or Family Planning: the Politicization of Abortion by the GOP
Jill Lepore’s must read New Yorker piece about the past and future of Planned Parenthood is locked up tight behind a paywall, so too few of us actually will read it. For those of you who don’t subscribe, I point to Amanda Marcotte:
[W]hat I really enjoyed was Lepore’s depiction of the midcentury struggle between the feminist radicals and the moderate social conservatives that populated the movement to make contraception access more wildly available. The struggle was over explaining “why contraception?” and the debate, as is custom, took the form of quibbling over semantics. Sanger, holding down the fort for the feminists, argued for the term “birth control,” whereas those who had a more conservative view of the natural relations between men and women preferred the term “family planning.” My preference falls with Sanger’s. “Birth control” conjures up the image of an individual woman taking control of her fertility, and having the final say on what is done with her uterus. “Family planning” evokes the image of a couple coming together to make decisions about how many children they have, which is good and well for people in stable and traditional relationships that likely involve marriage and children but erases the huge percentage of women who require contraception but don’t have that living arrangement. (After all, a slight majority of adult American women live without a husband at home.) The reasoning of the more conservative faction is obvious enough in retrospect; they clearly thought that by framing contraception as a male prerogative, it would seem less of a threat to the traditional order.
History proved both sides right. Early victories for contraception were, in fact, won by framing contraception as a matter for married men making choices about how to arrange their home lives. The first Supreme Court decision regarding reproductive rights, Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, extended the right to use contraception only to married couples. It wasn’t until 1972 that the right to use contraception was extended directly to women, with Eisenstadt v. Baird. However, Sanger’s preferred terminology of “birth control” has become the colloquial preference. The conservatives of the contraception movement may have seen it in terms of population control, but ordinary people engaging with contraception on the ground see it primarily as a way to take control over their own sex and family lives.
Myself, I really liked the explanation of how it was the Republican party that established the programs it now pledges to dismantle. In the late 1960s, Richard Nixon was pushing Congress to increase federal funding for family planning. In 1970, he signed Title X into law.
In 1971 The Southern Baptist Convention called for the legalization of abortion in certain cases, including those where there was “carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental and physical health of the mother.”
A 1972 Gallup poll found 68% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats (!) agreed that “the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician.” 56% of Catholics thought so, too.
According to one of the architects of the religious right, who told me this directly, after they had organized on the issue of Bob Jones University and more broadly the issue of government interference in these schools, as they understood it, there was a conference call among these various evangelical leaders and the political consultants who were trying to organize them into a political movement, and several people mentioned several issues. Finally the voice on the end of one of the lines said, `How about abortion?’ And that’s how abortion was cobbled into the agenda of the religious right, late in the 1970s in preparation for the 1980 presidential election. [...] Ronald Reagan, of course, was a divorced and remarried man who, by the way, as governor of California in 1967, signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the country. So he was an odd choice for evangelical activists, especially as we look back on their agenda these days.
Conventional wisdom has it that the shift happened in response to Roe v. Wade.
Not so fast!
Political scientist Greg Adams finds in a study of congressional voting, “Republicans were more pro-choice than Democrats up until the late 1980s.”
So what was it? More from Balmer:
[W]hat I try to expose in the book and I think I document copiously is that the religious right did not–did not–coalesce as a political movement in direct response to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is hardly a bastion of liberalism, had passed a resolution calling for the legalization of abortion, and this was a resolution that was reaffirmed in 1974, again in 1976. It was not the abortion issue. What galvanized evangelicals as a political block, as a political movement, was instead the actions of the Internal Revenue Service to go after the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, because of its racially discriminatory policies, and that Carter was unfairly blamed for this by the architects of the religious right, and they used that against him and mobilized to defeat him four years later in 1980. [...]
Bob Jones University did not allow African-Americans to be enrolled at the school until 1991 and did not allow unmarried African-Americans as students until 1995. The lower court ruling that really became the catalyst for the rise of the religious right was a ruling called Green v. Connelly, issued in 1971, by the district court of the District of Columbia; and it upheld the Internal Revenue Service in its ruling that any organization that engages in racial segregation or discrimination is not, by definition, a charitable organization and as such has no claim to tax-exempt status. And as the IRS began applying that ruling and enforcing it in various places, including Bob Jones University, that is what galvanized evangelical leaders into a political movement that we know today as the religious right.