REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS:WHO DECIDES? Book Launch!
Reproductive Rights: Who Decides? officially launched into the hands of over 90 people in the elegant library at the Yale Club of New York City on April 7th. What a special evening hosted by my husband, Andy Wittenstein! Given the current campaign for president and the media attention showered on women’s reproductive freedom, the room buzzed about the latest restrictions on reproductive rights.
My talk focused on how history is a lens for analyzing the contemporary political, economic and social struggles for reproductive rights today. These rights have swung back and forth throughout the centuries: with every two steps forward, we witness a step back. So, for example, a new openness and curiosity about reproductive control in the mid-1800s was squashed by the Comstock Act (1873), which banned the sale and advertising of materials used for contraception and abortion. In some states, possession of these items and even talking about them was illegal. Birth control advocates like Margaret Sanger and Mary Ware Dennett fought to overturn these laws in the 1900s. But it was not until 1965 that the US Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut ruled that married couples could use contraceptives in the privacy of their relationship without government interference. Seven years passed before these rights were extended to unmarried couples in Eisenstadt v. Baird.
After the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), where the US Supreme Court ruled that women had a constitutional right to an abortion, the pendulum began to swing back again. By the late 1970s, violence erupted at reproductive health clinics across the nation and clinic entrances were blocked. Several US Supreme Court cases restricted the abortion rights guaranteed under Roe. And in the last several years, states have passed hundreds of abortion laws restricting access and forcing clinic closures.
Throughout history men and women have always found ways to control reproduction. Reproductive control is a human need, or as the United Nations has declared, a Human Right. As I stressed in my talk, let’s not let the pendulum swing back yet again.
Stephanie Toti, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City, and an expert I consulted for my book, also spoke at the launch party. Toti talked about the Texas abortion case that she argued before the US Supreme Court in March, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, and how the flurry of abortion restrictions have impacted women’s ability to exercise their legal rights. But as Toti pointed out, abortion is not the only reproductive right challenged. In the US Supreme Court case Zubik v. Burwell, a religious group is seeking to restrict women’s rights to contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The evening ended with more buzz, lots of good food and drink, and promises by many to spread the word about reproductive rights, particularly to young people, the next generation of parents and leaders.
* Stephanie Toti, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights in NYC (left) and I at the book launch party.