A special reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving: Improved access to birth control

By Donald A. Collins | 23 November 2018
Church and State

(Credit: American Life League / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0)

On November 22nd, as we in the USA celebrated Thanksgiving, it marked for me a day of particular celebration. More on why in a moment.

In September, 1965 I first began working full time with a number of family planning organizations involved with providing women with birth control methods that allowed them to decide when or if they wished to have children.

Then in 1965 there were relatively few pioneering birth control organizations. Since then the number of NGOs actively at work in family planning has grown and other for profit entities started.

The NGOs in family planning then included only a few, International Planned Parenthood and its worldwide affiliates including Planned Parenthood Federation of America the instigation of the famous birth control pioneer, Margaret Sanger, and Population Council in NYC started by John D. Rochefeller III in 1952 and the Pathfinder Fund, now Pathfinder International, started in 1956 by long time Sanger colleague, Dr. Clarence Gamble and Marie Stopes in London.

After 1965 many other NGOs were started, including other US based agencies working primarily overseas to provide women with family planning choices. These include IPAS, Marie Stopes International, FHI360, PSI international and DKT International just to name a few of many whose work has been essential in helping millions of women and their families decide on how many children will be best for them.

However, the specific reason for my special marking of this Thanksgiving comes with my reading an article dated 11/21/18 which appeared on Thanksgiving, November 22, 2018 in the Washington Post entitled, Number of abortions in U.S. hit historic low in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available by Ariana Eunjung Cha, its National Reporter.

You are doubtless aware of the many strident voices that for decades continue to speak out against abortion choice and family planning in general. Their positions may be well meant by some of their adherents but to me and most thinking persons, their anti-family planning views are at bottom viciously aimed positions which create mayhem and pain against people over whom they apparently believe they have religious dominion!

So this good news about the decline in US abortions has nothing to do with efforts of the anti choicers who for so long have preached hate against those who favor choice. In fact their opposition has helped drive women to unsafe abortion providers and often caused death or permanent health disabilities for women seeking to end problem pregnancies.

We could name those organizations who hide behind their errant ideologies often couched in religious orthodoxy which has no place in the secular arena of personal health and safety.

The central point made by Ms. Cha’s Washington Post article was based on data from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She wrote,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveillance report comes at a heated time for abortion politics in the country, with Trump administration officials introducing new policies to reduce funding to abortion providers and state legislatures debating ever more restrictive laws on abortion. Just this week, a federal court in Mississippi blocked the state’s ban against abortions past 15 weeks gestation. In signing the bill into law, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) had said he hoped to make the state the “safest place in America for an unborn child.”

While the CDC paper did not delve into the reasons for the decline, analysts have cited improved access to birth control, which has led to a decrease in unintended pregnancies, especially among teens, as well as the state laws regarding parental consent, waiting periods and other conditions that make it more difficult for women to get abortions.

Analyses have suggested that improved contraceptive use played a role in the long-term declines.

Until the FDA approved the birth control Pill in 1960, the options for birth control were limited to condoms (often refused by males), abstinence (hard to pursue), the so called rhythm method (used by Catholics, sometimes called Russian roulette), or diaphragms, sponges or other barrier methods which were often clumsy and certainly inhibitive of sexual spontaneity.

Of course, the famous Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision of January 22, 1973 really opened the chance for women to be in charge of their choices to have children, a view male dominated religious leaders often attacked. It was ok for men to have sex but for women to be protected from pregnancy was simply not a male concern or a woman’s right!

The intervening years after the Pill and Roe allowed much family planning program progress. However, the arrival of a Searle drug called Misoprostol which was developed in 1973 to treat ulcers was not known to have such an important birth control use. Initially sold under the brand name Cytotec it was discovered to start labor, cause an abortion and happily was helpful in stopping postpartum bleeding which was a major hazard in the developing world, particularly in Africa.

Off patent as of 2005 and thus costing very little, misoprostol is now often used for abortions especially when combined with mifepristone or which allows safe abortions and has become widely available to women in many countries around the world.

When this occurred, I realized that women would quickly start using these drugs. I first predicted the coming access to safer more easily obtained abortions in 2011 in an article I wrote for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, which bravely published it, definitely ahead of the fuller flowering of the wider use of these new pills.

These new drugs in combo were offering a way to obtain a safe, inexpensive, often self-administered, early abortions! And they were fast gaining wide usage. Outstanding on the ground research by a remarkable woman MD named Michele Oberman in her May 31, 2018 NY Times article entitled, What Happens When Abortion Is Banned presents her powerful recognition of the profoundly important effect of chemical abortion choices for women worldwide. Oberman is a law professor at Santa Clara University (a Jesuit institution).

You can read about her and my long history of activism with abortion and how it has become so much more attainable in a June 16, 2016 article by me entitled, The Main Abortion Battle Is Really Over, Won by Economics, Science and Women.

Now safe, simple abortion suction services are widely and safely provided along with the pill combos by Planned Parenthood and others.

A relatively new organization known as Carafem offers the combo pills, suction abortion and other FP methods now in 3 locations, one in DC, one in Atlanta and one in Chicago. It appears to stress privacy and a quiet dignified atmosphere which should be comforting to women making what can often not be a simple choice.

Clearly these long active religious enemies are still very dangerous but as is now evident, these new means now cheap, safe and widely available that allow women to get early abortions have made it even harder for these religious enemies to gain their objective of stopping abortion access.

So now the official data has come from the CDC which confirms what we had earlier predicted. Women are no longer dying in large numbers from septic abortions as they commonly did for decades! It can only get better from here and thus as I read this Post story on Thanksgiving I had particular reason to be thankful!

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
Kindle Store

Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.

“Her Body, Our Laws” – A lecture by Michelle Oberman

Liberate the Pill

A Brief History of Contraception

How Birth Control Changed the World

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