Birth Control Controversies - 1960s

Dr. C. Lee Buxton and Estelle Griswold under arrest. Their crime: Birth Control Pills

When Birth Control Was Illegal – 1961 – Past Daily Reference Room

Birth Control Controversies - 1960s
Dr. C. Lee Buxton and Estelle Griswold under arrest. Their crime: Birth Control Pills

The Open Mind – Birth Control – November 15, 1961 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

For those of you wondering the significance of the latest SCOTUS proposal/ruling on overturning Roe v. Wade and the issue of legal abortion in the U.S., looking at the history of what got us here and what we were like before that landmark decision changed women’s lives and why overturning it is such a complete disaster and a giant step back in the area of Women’s Rights.

In 1961 it was illegal in most states to have access to Birth Control Pills. In some states it was even illegal to offer alternatives to pregnancy because contraception itself was considered illegal and the only form of contraception that was accepted was one that the Catholic Church approved: The Rhythm Method.

Nothing which prevented pregnancy or protected a woman from becoming pregnant were available, save Condoms for men and the aforementioned Rhythm Method.

Not a lot of choices. Abortions, of course, were illegal and were not even brought up as something to be considered a legal alternative in the early 1960s. Which was why many women either gave birth and offered for adoption or took a chance on a “backroom” abortion which was risky and came with a high percentage of fatalities to the mother.

The laws, some dating as far back as the 1800’s were primitive and draconian at best. Many of the laws making contraception illegal were, for the most part, church sponsored and carried with them heavy moral baggage to go along with severe restrictions.

This program, a discussion on the topic of Birth Control was in connection with the issue of the then-recent arrest of Dr. C. Lee Buxton and Estelle Griswold, a doctor and an activist who were placed under arrest for opening a Planned Parenthood clinic and offering Birth Control pills to young women for free in New Haven Connecticut, a state which cited a state law in 1879 banning any kind of contraception and placing under arrest anyone who tried.

The irony of course, is that everyone on the panel is male and they couldn’t find anyone to actually support the law – on the one hand, it’s the same old problem while at the same time, illustrating that laws against contraception were wildly unpopular even in 1961.

But in case you were wondering what the big deal Roe V. Wade is, just realize this was a hard-fought piece of legislation that was passed fifty years ago and the notion of going back to the days of outlawed contraception and birth control, punitive laws, back-room abortions, sky-rocketing abandoned and abused children is something no rational human being wants to visit again.

Here is that episode of The Open Mind featuring Fowler B. Harper, professor of Law at Yale – James O’Gara, managing editor of Commonweal Magazine and Dr. Allen Guttmacher of Mt. Sinai Hospital and President-Elect of Planned Parenthood as broadcast on November 15, 1961.




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