The Pill at 50 and Oklahoma’s Extreme Ultrasound Law

Fifty years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first birth control pill. Needless to say, the repercussions of this medical and public policy breakthrough are still being felt today.

Catherine Epstein of the Women’s Media Center thinks it’s significant that we celebrate the date a U.S. government agency approved the Pill, as opposed to the anniversary of its invention. The Pill has been at the center of a power struggle from the very beginning:

The pill has been under ideological fire since the first tiny tablet hit a woman’s palm. And the impact it’s had on women’s autonomy and freedom has been – as decades have passed – nearly equal to the fear (and subsequent restriction) it’s instilled in those who believe in curtailing reproductive rights.

Which came first?

Michelle Goldberg of the American Prospect takes up a longstanding debate: Did the Pill liberate women, or did it take a feminist revolution to make the Pill relevant? Call it a chicken and ovum problem: American women were able to use the Pill to wrest control of their reproductive destinies because they had a certain level of autonomy to begin with.

Women didn’t immediately embrace the pill when it came on the market because the stigma of divorcing sex and reproduction was still too great. Arguably, society’s attitudes about sex and reproduction had to evolve before the Pill could catch on. As Goldberg notes, oral contraceptives are widely available in Saudi Arabia, yet they pose no apparent threat to the patriarchy. I would argue that reproductive freedom is a positive feedback loop. Women who control their fertility are in a better position to push for even more autonomy through education, paid work, and social activism.

Reproductive rights and the Supreme Court

The battle over reproductive rights is far from over. With the impending retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, all eyes are on President Barack Obama as he mulls the shortlist to replace the Court’s leading liberal. Interestingly, the reputed front-runners are all white women: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit, and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.

Paul Waldman of the American Prospect casts a jaded eye on the upcoming confirmation battle. He predicts a good, old fashioned culture war brawl. He notes that the Republicans are already preparing to paint Wood as an “abortion rights extremist,” if she gets the nod, according to early opposition research obtained New York Times.

Everything is not OK

Speaking of abortion rights, Rachel Larris of RH Reality Check reports that the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s new law, which forces women to undergo ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortions. The Center argues that the law is unconstitutional because it violates a woman’s right to privacy by forcing unwanted information on her and impinging upon doctor/patient confidentiality.

Monica Potts of TAPPED floats the idea that, because these mandatory ultrasounds typically involve a vaginal probe, the Oklahoma law might violate the state’s rape laws.

WellPoint caves to House Dems

Finally, some good news on the women’s health front. Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo reports that health insurance giant WellPoint caved to political pressure from House Democrats and agreed to stop dropping sick customers.

WellPoint achieved nationwide notoriety in recent weeks when it was revealed that automatically reviewed the records of women diagnosed with breast cancer (and other ailments) to see if they had any unreported preexisting conditions that might justify terminating their coverage. This practice will become illegal when the health care reform legislation takes effect, but WellPoint has agreed to stop ahead of schedule.

Action Urged on Neglected Diseases

In the Progressive, Dr. Unni Karunakara and Dr. Bernard Pecoul urge the Obama administration tackle more neglected tropical diseases. Obama has already pledged unprecedented aid to fight five neglected ailments afflicting the developing world. Krunakara and Pecoul argue that this isn’t enough. The administration is fighting the good fight on malaria, but sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and Buruli ulcer, which affect a billion of the world’s poorest people.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.  This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

NateOne via Flickr/Creative Commons
by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger


Kathy J.
Kathy J7 years ago

History is compelled to repeat itself.

Jan M.
Jan M7 years ago

Oklahoma is promoting rape sodomy battery and undue mental duress against pregnant women by forcing this unnecessary , unwanted and demeaning procedure upon them.

sue w.
sue M7 years ago

Thank you for that post Rosalee it is good to shw these pro lifers just how sad some of these cases can be. It may have been 30 some years ago but incest is still around.

What also about the woman who had to have an abortion or she would have died? Hmm she wanted the baby. It was planned and it was her first. To have to watch the ultrasound would have killed her before her condition!
There is no empathy here whatsoever.

Rosalie Sundin
Rosalie Sundin7 years ago

30 years ago I had to accompany a 16 yr. old girl undergoing an abortion that was desperately needed (she was a victim of incest perpetrated upon her by an adult half-brother (he was in his 30s), and previously a victim of incest by her father) to Meadowbrook Women's Health Center. She had made the decision to have an abortion because she was afriad her child would be deformed, and it would be a daily reminder of the crimes that she had endured via her brother and father. The guilt she was going through was painful to watch -- she did not thing abortion was a good thing, but she realized she had no choice in order to survive emotionally and physically. Had her parents known she was going to have an abortion would have been horrible for her -- her mother (who was a lifelong victim of spousal abuse too and emotionally and mentally destroyed already) would have begged her to have the baby and give it to her to raise (in the same household the young woman and mother were abused in) and her father would have beat her for defying him. The abortion was a relief for her. To have a state force an incest victim like her to undergo an ultrasound simply as a means of mentally torturing her in order to force her to have the child would have been abhorent and sinful. The twisted minds of the Oklahoma legistrators is antiChristian and despicable.

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago

Thanks for post

Karen C.
Karen C7 years ago

I think forcing a women to do something she doesn't want to do is wrong. Many women are required to travel miles to find someone to do this procedure, then there forced to wait 48 hours and then have to come back again. In California there are about 20 counties that do not have abortion providers. These women do not think of this as just routine.

pam w.
pam w7 years ago

Sue...what makes you think women don't "know what they're doing" when they seek to terminate a pregnancy?

This is not an attempt to "inform." It's an attempt to intimidate, delay and humiliate a woman who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy.

Gwendolyn Krupa
Gwendolyn Krupa7 years ago


Sue Terry
Susan T7 years ago

I have been in this situation and I had an ultrasound. I have no idea if it is required by law in my was not vaginal it was a regular abdominal ultrasound. No big deal except I had to pee really bad! I really do not understand why people would be upset about the OK law. If you are going to get an abortion you should know what you are doing.

Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

I have not read the particulars of the Oklahoma law, and I do not know what this current Court will do with the case, when they get it. I do know, however, that, among other things, this case involves First Amendment issues.

The first Amendment protects not only the right to speak, it also protects the right to hear - or, as in this case, not to hear speech. That is the reason we no longer have vehicles moving through our streets with loudspeakers, which disturb others. Free speech belongs to the hearer, not only to the speaker. Forcing a woman to undergo and view an ultrasound prior to an abortion is tantamount to speech, such as is protected under the First Amendment. I believe that it should be found, under that provision, to be unconstitutional.

On the other hand, we seem to be stuck with an extremely conservative and activist Supreme court at the moment. If they are willing to confer a status on corporations of "personhood", to a degree to which our founding fathers never intended, who knows what they will do with this case. It is another reason that the Court needs to be not only balanced, but also term-limited.