10 Things to Know About the History of Reproductive Rights in America

In honor of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision this week, it seemed like a fitting time to remind women of their reproductive rights. With the threat of Planned Parenthood being defunded, which would lead to many being without affordable women’s health care, it is important to remember the history and sacrifice behind all the current reproductive rights women have. You must know your rights in order to defend them.


1. Illegal abortions used to be incredibly common.

Although the debate of whether abortions should be legal is a very controversial topic in America currently, even back in the 1950s and 1960s when abortions were illegal they were still incredibly common. It is estimated that there were anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions per year during this time (Gold).


2. In 1930, abortion accounted for (officially) about 18% of maternal deaths (Gold).

Illegal abortions were incredibly common throughout the early and mid-20th century, but they were also dangerous. Without proper medical equipment and medicine, many women were susceptible to infection and possible death; both of which decreased over time as advances in medicine developed.


3. Lower-income and minority women had it significantly harder.

Due to the steep price of abortions, many lower-income and minority women did not have the money nor accessibility to affordable, safe abortions. Therefore, many women tried to induce their own abortions or resorted to unsafe procedures, which lead to higher death rates between minority and low-income women as compared to white women; a 1:2 versus 1:4 ratio (Gold).


4. Margaret Sanger is the mother of the women’s reproductive rights movement.

From birth control to Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger started it all, which is why it is important to know who she is. Sanger worked mostly with lower-income, immigrant women as a maternity nurse and saw that they suffered from abortions, frequent childbirth, and miscarriages; all due to a lack of birth control and affordable health care.


5. Margaret Sanger was arrested for opening an illegal birth control clinic (The History…).

On October 16, 1916 Margaret Sanger opened a birth control clinic at which she taught birth control techniques to women AND men. She even provided pessaries for birth control despite them being illegal for this specific purpose. She was released, and permitted to open a legal clinic.


6. In 1939 the Birth Control Federation of America was made (The History…).

The Birth Control Federation of America was later renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which is still open today with clinics all across the nation. Faye Wattleton became the first African American president of the organization and the youngest in the late 70s. She made it her goal to provide affordable health care for both men and women without discrimination.


7. In 1960 the FDA approved the pill as a form of contraception (Planned Parenthood).

The birth control pill was a medical miracle, because before its invention women suffered from frequent childbirth. Often times families even struggled to feed all their children because of the number of mouths to feed. The pill allowed women the option to not have children, but to continue having sex with their husbands.


8. January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America (Planned Parenthood).

Roe v. Wade was a case that was taken all the way to the Supreme Court and it concerned the topic of the right to privacy. The final decision made was that a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions fell under the constitutional right to privacy, which therefore prevented politicians from stopping women from getting abortions.


9. The Affordable Care Act provided more than 55 million women with birth control without a copay (Planned Parenthood).

Before the ACA, many women were not able to afford the out of pocket cost of birth control. The ACA made birth control more accessible, which contributed to equality in terms of health care. Health care should not be more expensive because of gender, and the ACA has helped combat this issue of income and gender inequality.


10. Accessible and affordable healthcare for all women in America is at risk.

With the election of Donald Trump and the power the Republican party currently holds in Congress, women’s health care is at risk. The Republican party has been vocal about their desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and on January 5, 2017 Paul Ryan announced that the the Republican party will begin this process by trying to defund Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood and the repeal of the ACA would leave millions of women without proper reproductive and women’s health care.

The history of reproductive rights in America is important to know, because we now must defend these rights. Together, men and women alike, we must protect these rights not just for ourselves, but for every other woman in America. All women deserve access to affordable women’s health care, and all women deserve the right to control their own body.


Gold, Rachel Benson. (2003, March 1). Lessons from Before Roe: Will Past be Prologue?. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue

Planned Parenthood. (2017). The Issues We’re Fighting For. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues

(2005, January 1). The History of Women’s Reproductive Rights. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~mbpatton/reproductive_rights/sanger.html