Birth control is much more accessible now than about a half-century ago. Then, women used contraceptives but did not publicly discuss them, but it remains a hot-button issue in the United States. Birth control is still difficult to access in some states.
This section discusses:
- Laws that enable and restrict women's access to birth control
- A historical overview of birth control laws in the U.S., particularly the landmark 1965 U.S. Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut
- A primer on relevant laws since the court established legal access to contraceptives
- Other topics related to birth control laws
Reproductive health care is fundamental to a person's well-being. Continue reading to learn more about the laws and legal issues related to birth control.
Background and History
Birth control is an ancient practice. Evidence exists that even primitive peoples took medicines to prevent conception or reduce fertility. Birth control became a political and legal issue in the United States in the 1800s.
At that time, the average birth rates for white women dropped significantly. The reason was in part because of more available scientific information about conception. This led to more effective birth control and broader access to contraception.
Concerns about decreased reproduction among white women and moral and religious beliefs led to legislation limiting and sometimes banning birth control and abortion. Many found the discussion of birth control to be obscene.
This culminated in the Comstock laws, which made sending obscene materials through the mail illegal. The Act's definition of obscenity included birth control devices.
In the early 1900s, a public health nurse named Margaret Sanger started the modern birth control movement. She wrote articles and established the country's first birth control clinic.
In the latter half of the century, birth control pills and IUD devices were developed. Then the Supreme Court's decision in Griswold v. Connecticut struck down state laws banning birth control use by married couples.
Griswold v. Connecticut
The Supreme Court's 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut was an important victory for those seeking reproductive rights. Police arrested and fined a doctor and the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut executive director for giving contraception advice to married couples. This was against Connecticut state law.
The pair sued the state of Connecticut in response. The Supreme Court found that the state law against contraceptives violated the "zone of privacy" implied in the Constitution. They employed a "penumbra" theory to show that although no right or amendment directly protects contraception, their interpretation establishes the right to privacy, including "marital privacy."
Dissenting judges disagreed with a far-reaching interpretation of a Constitutional right to privacy. But they agreed that the law at issue was outdated and unenforceable. Although the decision was only about contraception and married couples, its established principles formed the foundation of most later litigation on reproductive rights.
In 1972, in the case of Eisenstadt v. Baird, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded this ruling and guaranteed unmarried couples the right to access contraception.
In later decades federal funding for family planning services, availability of birth control for those on Medicaid, and inclusion of birth control in insurance programs were legislated.
But, one opponent was successful in a 2014 case before the Supreme Court. The Court found that a corporation may object to providing birth control where it violates the corporation's religious beliefs.
The Hobby Lobby Case
In 2014, the issue of whether employers could deny covering birth control in their health insurance plans went before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Below you'll find the basics of the case, or you can read a more in-depth analysis.
In 2012, craft supply company Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit in an Oklahoma-based federal court. It filed the lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head. In the lawsuit, Hobby Lobby challenged the federal law under the Affordable Care Act that forced employers to cover birth control.
In their arguments before the Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby claimed that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protected their right to deny covering birth control, despite the Affordable Care Act.
Ultimately, the case went before the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby. It said “closely held corporations" can deny covering birth control in their employee insurance plans.
In the wake of this decision, getting birth control through employee insurance plans has become more difficult. As a result of this Supreme Court decision, employers can now deny coverage for birth control.
Can't Afford Reproductive Health Care?
You still have options. Organizations like Planned Parenthood offer qualified individuals reproductive health care at reduced costs. This is paying for healthcare on a sliding scale.
Low-income people can still get reproductive health care through organizations like Planned Parenthood. Skilled health care providers at these organizations can help you navigate any reproductive health-related issue. They can also help you get:
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- Emergency contraception
- Abortion pills
- Prescription birth control
The Title X Family Planning Program (Title X) gives money to publicly funded and nonprofit groups that work within the family planning services industry. It also supports related sectors to family planning research. Funds also go to organizations that deal in training related to family planning.
You can learn more about initiatives to increase access to birth control from the Guttmacher Institute. This organization works on enhancing access to reproductive health care for all people across the globe.
You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to protect your rights best. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 poses many threats to women's right to access abortion and exercise bodily autonomy. Although the Supreme Court's decision did not directly address contraception, it could impact reproductive health care on a broad scale.
If you're facing any legal issue related to contraception, you must contact an attorney. It's also important to note that you can still get abortion services and abortions in many states. Even in the wake of Dobbs, there has been no outright ban on abortions across the U.S. You can still access contraceptive methods and receive abortion care.
For as long as collective memory can recall, lawmakers have tried to regulate the bodies of people who are biologically capable of pregnancies. But threats to accessing reproductive health services affect everyone. These threats affect a person's freedom to choose for themselves when it comes to very important medical decisions that can have broad consequences for a person in their life. Access to birth control is a fundamental right, and an attorney can help you if you are facing any legal issues related to accessing birth control.