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Contraception Since 1873 – You’ve Come a Long Way Baby?

“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,”… or Have You? “Male sheaths (condoms) and “rubber cap over the uterus (diaphragm) were the contraceptives of choice for Victorian women in 1892. Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, a John Hopkins graduate who later became an assistant professor at Stanford, conducted the extant survey that included over 2000 participants.

Twenty years earlier, with the enactment of the Comstock Act of 1873, it became a federal offense to send such articles through the mail. It was illegal to mail “any article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring an abortion.” In addition, many states passed the Comstock Laws outlawing the use of contraceptives, or distributing contraceptive information.

Contraception didn’t disappear despite the Social Purity Movement and its leader, Anthony Comstock, a postal inspector, who believed contraception was an immoral practice that promoted prostitution. It went underground. Drug stores euphemistically sold condoms as “rubber goods” and cervical caps as “womb supporters.”

Dr. Molly Atwater, a Montana physician in the early 1900’s, carefully selected a reliable person at the Dillon pharmacy who would agree to sell “rubber goods.” As a doctor, she tended to women at risk for another pregnancy, and other women who tried to, or did commit suicide rather than face one more childbirth.

The Birth Control Movement, initiated in 1914, fought to increase access and legality to contraception in the United States. By the 1930’s their persistence resulted in legal victories that weakened the anti-contraception movement. Several years later, in 1942, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America was formed to provide nationwide clinics to promote women’s health and contraception.

But, today, our current US Congress continues to debate the viability of Planned Parenthood with the intent to defund it. Have we, as the Virginia Slims, slogan launched on July 22, 1968 by Phillip Morris says, “Come (such) a Long Way, Baby?” What do you think?

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