Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dr. Bill Roy: "Contraception: Did you know?"


We entered the Sixties one nation and exited the Sixties very much another nation, nearly entirely for the better. Somewhat buried among dramatic changes were less noted changes in abortion attitudes and new state abortion laws. Abortion was not in the news each day like the Vietnam War and civil rights, but nevertheless were a subject of study and debate.

Needless to say, this burning ember burst into flame a bit later, with the reading of Roe v Wade, the January, 1973 Supreme Court decision that decriminalized early abortions and limited restrictive state laws in the second three months of pregnancy. Shortly thereafter, the Republican Party gained decades of ascendancy in federal elections by exhibiting various forms of mostly symbolic opposition to abortion.

Meanwhile, back at the office, we were doing lots of Pap smears for early diagnosis of cervical cancer, and prescribing birth control pills which had become available in 1961. The baby boom was slowing down; Jane and I had contributed six children, all boys except five, to the boomer generation from 1949 to 1959. So had many of our friends.

Folks were thinking differently. I found myself spending after-office hours counseling Catholic wives and husbands about contraception. For the first time they were thinking more in terms of a half dozen rather than a dozen children, and about recreational sex as well as procreational sex.

Because I was sensitive to Catholic views on abortion, I was careful to tell them intrauterine devices and oral contraceptives on occasion may cause very early abortions. So while they may have come in after hearing about new contraceptives, many chose the old barrier contraceptives, condoms and diaphragms.

Of course--or did you know?--it was unlawful to prescribe contraceptives to anyone in Connecticut at that time. And legislators did not change that; judges did. The Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v Connecticut in 1965 that the Connecticut law was unconstitutional because the United States Constitution provides a “right of marital privacy.”

Those who oppose abortion will tell you this was the beginning of a slippery slope, because the right of privacy later was used by the court in Roe v Wade. They point out the court admitted that “right was not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution.”

Anyway, after 1965 states could not prohibit the prescribing and sale of contraceptives. And, after 1972, when the court struck down a Massachusetts law (Eisenstadt v Baird), states could not prohibit the sale of contraceptives to unmarried men and women.

Paradoxically, unwanted pregnancies were believed to be increasing in number. Some termed them epidemic. But 100 year old state abortion laws prevailed.

So what happened? Many women, unable or not wanting to marry, illustrated the resiliency of the human spirit and had the babies and cared for them with love and care. Illegitimacy did increase 100 percent from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties--and never stopped increasing to today’s 37 percent of all births.

Contemporary studies showed one-third to one-half of teen-age marriages had pregnant brides. And more than one-half of these marriages ended within 18 months.

As far as I know, everyone in private practice in Topeka “helped out” with private adoptions. There weren’t many rules, so we each had our own.

First of all, we waited for the mother to request help placing her baby. Even in this context, we felt our first duty was to the baby. Then, we further played God and told a lucky infertile couple whom we knew and believed would be good parents, we had a baby for them.

Meanwhile, studies and articles in popular magazines were appearing condemning American abortion laws and practices. In California, 223 of 1,063 of 1966 maternal deaths were the result of abortions. Nearly one-quarter who died were Mexican American and another quarter Negro.

The authors estimated there were 100,000 criminal abortions that year, consistent with the generally accepted figure of 1,000,000 in the country.

As a result of the clamor, in 1967 Colorado implemented a new abortion law, and shortly thereafter, Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan signed the nation’s most liberal abortion law in California.

Kansas was soon to follow.

Dr. Roy may be reached at

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