susan swartz

Still Mad About the Pill

I think I get it. It’s a 50 year old grudge. They’re still mad about the Pill. The birth control pill turned the power game upside down more than 50 years ago and some people are still honked off about it.  Reliable woman-controlled contraception changed many things.  The Pill became forever linked to the sexual revolution, women’s liberation, cultural change, even consumer activism. All the things some people wish they could reverse.

As the Republican presidential campaign continues its jaw-dropping mission to control women’s bodies it’s clear that one way the hard right would take this country back is to drag women back a half century.

If you weren’t around to remember, ask your mother or grandmother what it was like after the Pill put women in charge of their bodies. They didn’t have to leave birth control up to the man who promised, “Trust me, I’ll take care of it.”

Not anymore. Women took control. Discreetly.  Your man didn’t need to know, or your mother, or the church.

A woman in charge of her future could plan her life, develop a career, start up a rock band, finish med school.  She could decide when or whether to have children. She could enjoy sex. For another pre-Pill reminder,  watch Mad Men.

In her book When Everything Changed, The History of American women from 1960 to the present, Gail Collins quotes the Economist magazine as crediting the Pill for being one invention that historians a thousand years from now will say defined the Twentieth Century.

In 2010 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Pill, confident that reliable birth control was taken care of. Today’s young women could feel assured that reproductive choices were “like the air and water, simply there when you need them,” writes  Gloria Feldt in her book No Excuses, about women and power.

But apparently some weren’t celebrating, but brooding, waiting for their chance to pounce and show women who’s boss.

Our current attackers are not all crusty old guys, the fools who think sexist jokes are funny. Some are young enough to be Phyllis Schlafly’s grandsons.  But their message is the same – that women, the poor dears, are simply incapable of knowing what’s best for their bodies.

The feverish Rick Santorum would get rid of abortion, birth control, prenatal testing and amniocentesis. Who knows what he’ll go after next. Virginia legislators pushed by the governor tried to force women to have an intrusive vaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion. Against her will. Whether she wants it or not. Non-consensual penetration of the vagina or, at worst -  in the case of Virginia – state rape. At best, politicians wanting to play doctor.

Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder said “If you had told me when I was in law school birth control would be a debate in 2012 I would have thought you were nuts.”

Fortunately women started talking back. In Virginia they organized a silent protest, staring down state legislators going to vote against women. And Gov. Vaginal Ultrasound backed off.  Activists in Ohio labeled their anti-women Republicans “masters of the Uterus.” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney demanded “Where are the women?” and led a walkout to protest a male-only panel dealing with contraception.

What’s seldom mentioned is that the Pill not only prevents an unwanted pregnancy but helps protect against uterine and ovarian cancer. It’s used to control endometriosis. It lessens migraines. And in its early years it turned women into their own health advocates. Concerned about the side affects from the heavy estrogen dose women pressured manufacturers to adjust the dosage. And they did. And women realized they had power as consumers.

Well, all of this has just been too much for too long for some people, mostly men, I’m sorry to say. Powerful women are obviously a menace to society and must be stopped.

That is our challenge then, for modern women and men to resist these 19th century throwbacks. If we don’t, we will leave a legacy for our grandchildren that will cause more pain and suffering than any whopping national debt.


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