Birth Control

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A measure or measures undertaken to prevent conception.

In the 1800s, temperance unions and anti-vice societies headed efforts to prohibit birth control in the United States. Anthony Comstock, the secretary of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, advocated a highly influential law passed by Congress in 1873. It was titled the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, but known popularly as the COMSTOCK LAW or Comstock Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 1416-62 [1964]; 19 U.S.C.A. § 1305 [1964]). The Comstock Act prohibited the use of the mail system to transmit

The birth control pill is one of the most widely used forms of birth control. In the 1950s, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger raised 150,000 dollars to pay for research into the development of the birth control pill by Dr. Gregory Pincus.

AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS

obscene materials or articles addressing or for use in the prevention of conception, including information on birth control methods or birth control devices themselves.

Soon after the federal government passed the Comstock Act, over half of the states passed similar laws. All but two of the rest of the states already had laws banning the sale, distribution, or advertising of contraceptives. Connecticut had a law that prohibited even the use of contraceptives; it was passed with little or no consideration for its enforceability.

Despite popular opposition, birth control had its advocates, including MARGARET SANGER. In 1916, Sanger opened in New York City the first birth control clinic in the United States. For

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doing so, she and her sister Ethel Byrne, who worked with her, were prosecuted under the state's version of the Comstock law (People v. Byrne, 99 Misc. 1, 163 N.Y.S. 682 [1917]; People v. Sanger, 179 A.D. 939, 166 N.Y.S. 1107 [1917]). Both were convicted and sentenced to thirty days in a workhouse.

After serving her sentence, Sanger continued to attack the Comstock Act. She established the National Committee for Federal Legislation for Birth Control, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and proposed the "doctor's bill." This bill advocated change in the government's policy toward birth control, citing the numerous instances in which women had died owing to illegal ABORTIONS and unwanted pregnancies. The bill was defeated, due, in part, to opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious groups.

But when the issue of Sanger's sending birth control devices through the mail to a doctor was...

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