Thursday, April 5, 2012

Contraception as a repugnant transaction (the return of...)

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has done a lot to put contraception back in the public spotlight.  It isn't so long ago that contraception was a prototypical repugnant transaction: something that lots of people wanted to do, but others didn't want them to. The Connecticut law was struck down in the famous Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).Here's an article remembering how contraception became legal in Connecticut and Massachusetts: Catholics and Contraception: Boston, 1965

"Two states had very strong anti-contraception laws on the books in 1965. The Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of Connecticut’s all-out ban on the use of contraception. In Massachusetts, a state legislative panel was holding an open hearing on a proposal submitted by State Representative Dukakis, a politically ambitious lawyer who had been in office for three years, to remove an 86-year-old bar to the distribution of birth control devices and information.

"It was not the first time in Massachusetts a repeal of the ban had been considered. In 1948, Cushing, then an archbishop, led a public charge against Referendum No. 4, a statewide ballot measure designed to relax the ban on contraception. From the pulpit and on the radio, the Catholic campaign argued that birth control was “still against God’s law.” Cushing defined contraception at the time as “anti-social and anti-patriotic, as well as absolutely immoral.” The campaign was a bitter one. In the end, 57 percent of voters rejected the referendum.

"Cushing had won, but victory came at a cost. “Deployment of the Church’s political muscle,” the historian Leslie Tentler argues, offended non-Catholics in and out of the commonwealth. Four years later, the toll hit home as Cushing confided to a friend, “I hate to think of going through another battle.”

"Even then, Dukakis recalls, “the memory of the ’48 battle was fresh in our minds.” That seems to have been also true for Cushing (now a cardinal). He clearly had a change of heart on the appropriateness of laws like the state’s birth control restrictions, which sought to impose moral behavior at odds with individual conscience. More generally, he had adopted a conciliatory tone. Two days before a fellow Massachusetts Catholic won the first primary of the 1960 presidential campaign, Cushing argued that a Christian must engage in “friendly discussion with those whose views of life and its meaning are different than his own.” The times had changed, and so had he.
"When a bill that would allow physicians to prescribe birth control to “any married person” was introduced in the next legislative session — a bill otherwise similar to the one House members had rejected 119–97 the year before — Cushing endorsed it publicly by praising its “safeguards” while reaffirming his position that Catholics did “not seek to impose by law their moral view on other members of society.” This time the bill passed, 136–80. The Senate followed suit, and Volpe signed the amendment to the state’s General Laws on “Crimes against Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Good Order
"The solution was not perfect (the Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that limiting contraception to married couples was unconstitutional)..."

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