Today, I am thankful for the heroes of the birth control movement. The road to getting people their birth control has been a rough one, and we couldn’t have done it without these folks:
First of all, there is Margaret Sanger. She is very dear to my heart because of my association with Planned Parenthood. She coined the term “birth control” and felt that every woman should be “the absolute mistress of her own body”. Isn’t that divine? Margaret was civilly disobedient in a wonderful way—she smuggled cervical caps, opened illegal family planning clinics, and published pamphlets that were considered obscene and often taken off the market. She also founded the organization that would later become Planned Parenthood. Despite being jailed sometimes and facing a lot of opposition, Margaret was always working towards her goal of ladies being their own bosses, and that is really admirable.
A big turning point in Margaret’s life was when a friend of hers, Sadie Sachs, died because of an unsafe abortion. I think that’s really important—I try to remind people that Planned Parenthood prevents a lot of abortions. While some of us may be pro-life and some of us may be pro-choice, I think above all we should be pro-nobody-should-have-to-make-that-choice, right? Margaret understood that well. (Note: None of this is to say that I agree with absolutely everything she said, but a lot of the work that she did was really impressive and important.)
I am also thankful for John Rock, who worked with Gregory Pincus to develop the first hormonal birth control. Rock is impressive to me because he was a devout Catholic but he also supported birth control. As a Mormon sex educator, I am always glad to hear about religious folks who also like contraception. He coauthored a book called Voluntary Parenthood (which I definitely want to read, even though it might be a tiny bit outdated by now) and he taught at Harvard medical school, where he included birth control in his curriculum, even though he could have gotten into some serious trouble for that. I am so impressed by that.
The whole thing about teaching sex ed illegally is interesting to me, though—that is, when I first read that, my initial reaction was “Oh, they were so ignorant back in the olden days!” but then I realized how close that is to the reality of a lot of American teens—I got my first comprehensive sex ed lesson in college because, as you may recall, teaching comprehensive sex ed is not okay in Utah. The fight is ongoing, people! Yes pecan!
Katherine McCormick was another pretty awesome lady. Her husband died and left her a great fortune, and she used a huge portion of it to fund birth control research. Katherine was cool because, though she had a large fortune, she did some of the dirty work (including smuggling diaphragms). She also did some other really amazing stuff for the ladies, including paying for a women’s dormitory on campus at MIT (which was important because then the ladies could learn about science and math) and working very hard to get votes for women (thanks guys! For the nineteenth amendment!) McCormick’s contribution to Planned Parenthood and to Rock and Pincus’s research was vital, we would certainly not be where we are today without her.I chose these three because I feel like they represent three major roles in movements like this one, in particular the birth control movement that continues today. We have Margaret, who was mostly a spokeswoman/political activist, we have John, who was a scientist, and we have Katherine, who put her money where her mouth was. Of course, each of them did a little of everything, but I guess I hoped presenting these awesome folks would remind us that there are a lot of different roles needed in important movements like these, and that they all need a lot of different kinds of people to work.