Film explores birth control’s history

April West

Mon., April 30, the Downer Feminist Council showed “The Defenders: The History of the Birth Control Movement in Wisconsin,” a movie made for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. The film briefly explains the history of birth control and the Planned Parenthood movement both nationwide and within Wisconsin.
The film discussed birth control methods of the past, such as women in the Middle Ages who tied weasel testicles to their thighs to keep from getting pregnant. In the Stone Age women applied certain spices to the genitals before sex, and in ancient India women applied a combination of elephant dung and water before sex.
The film explained that the prohibition – rather than the existence – of birth control is relatively new to society; birth control has been here as long as humans have.
Around 1800 most women had about seven kids, the film stated. “Voluntary motherhood,” the idea that women can choose abstinence, became widely accepted around 1860, thus dropping the average number of children to about 3.5 by 1900.
In 1873 the Comstock Laws declared that no “obscene matter” could be in the mail. This included issues of birth control, and it was this law that hindered talk of birth control and drove the issue underground. It took over 100 years to overturn the Comstock Laws, Wisconsin being the last to do so in 1976.
Margaret Sanger, the “mother of Planned Parenthood,” was introduced to the plight of women by Sadie Sachs, whom she aided back to health from a botched illegal abortion after already having three children.
Soon after recovering, Sachs begged Sanger for information on birth control, giving Sanger the idea of a center to dispense such information. By 1930, there were 55 clinics nationwide. In the 1940s these clinics officially changed their name to Planned Parenthood.
“The pill” was created and widely dispersed in 1960, the film explained. At this time many single women had a problem obtaining the pill because it was illegal for Planned Parenthood to help single women in any way.
Women found loopholes, however, and provided false wedding rings and marriage licenses in order to obtain prescriptions.
These efforts soon proved unnecessary when Planned Parenthood decided to disregard the policy on the basis grounds they were not receiving federal funding.
The organization soon realized that the concept of family planning was a good way to combat poverty, so they applied for federal funds on this basis. Once the funds were received, Wisconsin became the first state to educate nurses with these funds.
Abortion was legal up until 1860, because prior to the 19th century abortion was accepted as a fact of life. In the late 19th century, however, the American Medical Association began regulating abortions because there were so many women filling up hospital wards from botched abortions.
The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortions legal in all states and more available to women with low financial stability. Planned Parenthood began helping women find ways to have safe abortions and, starting in 1989, the organization started offering abortions to its patients.
With this decision also came the need for Planned Parenthood to defend their rights to give abortions, the film elaborated. The main claim to this right was that all the other services provided by the organization limited the need for abortions.
“Abortion is our service that is talked about the most because that is what the media talks about,” stated Deborah Hobbins, the director of Planned Parenthood’s Milwaukee branch.
“Birth control and reproductive freedom is what keeps women on an equal playing field in the world of men. It is especially important for women to be able to control the number of children they are having when they are still the primary care givers for their children,” said DFC co-president Celeste Levitz-Jones.
The junior also commented, “I think it was important for the film to show that birth control has been around since people have been copulating. It’s the prevention of women’s access to birth control and abortion that is recent. It was only about 125 years ago that these options became illegal, and even when they were illegal they were still going on.