Birth control was illegal 97 years ago, when Margaret Sanger and her sister, Ethel, opened a clinic in a tiny storefront in Brooklyn — the first Planned Parenthood health center. For 10 cents apiece, women could get information about family planning. From the very first day, women lined up down the block with baby buggies and babies in their arms.
Back then, it wasn’t unusual for women to have eight or 10 children, and women routinely died in childbirth. Margaret’s own mother had died at the age of 48, her body literally worn out from having 11 children and seven miscarriages.
Ten days after Margaret opened her clinic, she was arrested and thrown in jail — where she taught her fellow inmates about birth control. And the Planned Parenthood movement was started.
In 1960, the pill was approved as a contraceptive by the FDA and began to change women’s lives dramatically. But we still had to fight. It wasn’t until 1965 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married couples had a right to use birth control, in a case heard on behalf of one of Planned Parenthood’s great leaders. Since then, we’ve spent decades trying to make birth control more affordable by getting health insurance coverage that includes birth control, like it does any other preventive care.
Today we are closer than ever to realizing that promise. This morning, the Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidance for implementing the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act. The proposed regulations released today make clear that women will have access to birth control at no cost, no matter where they work.
Regulations like this can get confusing. Here’s the bottom line: places of worship are exempt from the birth control benefit, and they always have been. Today’s regulations don’t expand the group of employers that are exempt. Instead, the regulations simplify the definition of who is exempt, and they map out how women at other religiously affiliated employers (like schools and hospitals) will get birth control at no cost.