Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Constitutional Right to Birth Control

Americans have a constitutional right to use birth control.  Under settled law the government does not have the power to interfere with this basic right.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has chosen to make the use of birth control an issue in the campaign:
"One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.... Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that's okay, contraception is okay. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
Certainly any person is entitled to believe that the use of birth control is immoral.  For some religious organizations this idea is an article of faith.  But this is not a universal or even close to a majority view.  Most sexually active Americans use birth control and consider its use to be highly moral.  Family planning is responsible behavior - far more responsible than to risk bringing an unwanted child into this world, or risking the spread of cervical cancer or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Moreover, the use of birth control is not solely or even principally a question of morality or religion.  It is primarily a question of personal health and individual choice.  At stake in this dispute is whether men and women in the United States have the right to engage in sex while protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
In his book It Takes a Family Santorum contends that the Supreme Court erred when it decided that Americans have a constitutional right to use birth control.  He disapproves of the Court's decisions in both Griswold v. Connecticut (which applied to married persons) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (which found that unmarried persons have an equal right to use birth control).  These decisions were rendered four decades ago in 1965 and 1972.
I thought that the right to birth control was well-settled.  So far as I can remember Santorum is right that it is an issue that "no president has talked about before," and I am surprised to see it emerge as an issue in the current presidential campaign.

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