Saturday, February 18, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Lakshmeeramya Malladi, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Although women in the US used contraception for many centuries, social norms dictated the extent to which physicians and individuals could disseminate family planning knowledge. During the 1800s, the moral standards of Victorian Era society contributed to the belief that distributing contraceptives and teaching women about birth control would lead to sexual promiscuity and the collapse of family values. That belief influenced the support for the passage of the US federal Comstock Act of 1873. This act hindered access to and distribution of material related to contraception and abortion by labeling those items as obscene. Subsequent state laws reinforced regulation of contraception and abortion at the state level. That led to a large number of unplanned and often unwanted pregnancies, harmful attempts at self-abortions, and more women left with unanswered questions about family planning and reproductive health. My research examines the factors that contributed to the change in perception regarding reproductive health access and education during the 1900s, using Arizona as a case study. In addition, I examined whether those factors influenced health indicators such as maternal and infant mortality rates. Through literature reviews and collected oral histories, my project shows that the work of several influential individuals promoted access to reproductive health resources and contributed to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates. In this research, I found that individuals such as Margaret Sanger, Pearl Tang, and Jane Canby advocated for the establishment of clinics, created education for low-income women, and participated in various organizations promoting access to reproductive health. Amidst controversy surrounding the social and political perceptions of contraception and family planning, those women strengthened the birth control and reproductive rights movement in Arizona until the Supreme Court cases Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, and Roe v. Wade legalized birth control and abortion. Although the Supreme Court decisions publically dismantled legal barriers to basic reproductive services by 1973, social and economic factors in Arizona continue to impact women’s reproductive rights into the 21st century. Women from low-income backgrounds do not possess the same resources as those women with the means to purchase contraception, see health care providers for health-screens, or become educated about information such as sexually transmitted diseases. This gap in the availability and usage of resources has lead to similar trends as seen from the period before the legalization of contraception and abortion.