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Wednesday, Apr 28, 2010, 8:15 am

Weekly Pulse: The Pill at 50 and Oklahoma’s Extreme Ultrasound Law

By Lindsay Beyerstein

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fifty years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first birth control pill (listen to Loretta Lynn's "The Pill" below). 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. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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