From Griswold to Title X: Why Birth Control Access Matters

By Laura Jensen

I have to be honest: until college, I knew nothing about Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court case that first recognized the right to privacy and laid the foundation for the right of all individuals to access birth control and abortion. I also knew little about Title X, the federal grant program that provides family planning services to low-income, uninsured individuals, or its constant funding cuts, until this year.

Not knowing about these important historical moments is a form of privileged ignorance for me. When I first got birth control, I was able to do so at a women’s clinic in a local hospital. I could choose whichever kind birth control best fit my body and life, and did not have to worry about how I would pay for these services and medications. In other words: birth control was something I had the privilege and capital to access without considering legal or financial consequences.

It wasn’t until I got to my small, rural college town in Maine that I had to consider the ways in which policies like Title X affected the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Title X clinics served over 20,000 residents in Maine in 2013. Of those, 49 percent earned less than $11,500 a year, and 85 percent earned less than $28,725 a year. Title X allowed those individuals to access contraceptive counseling and services, pregnancy tests, cancer screenings, and health education, as well as screenings for high blood pressure, anemia, and diabetes. But funding cuts since 2010 have meant that some of the most vulnerable in my states have been cut off from these services. Between 2010 and 2013, federal funding for Title X was cut $39.2 million, translating into cuts of over $1.7 million to Maine. That means that  16 percent fewer patients were served, and over 3,500 more women were in need of publically-funded contraceptive services. Clinics are far from each other, especially in the northern part of the state, leaving low-income and rural people with few options for birth control and family planning.

My college is in a very rural area. It takes over an hour to drive to the larger cities or towns, and over a quarter of the residents live below the federal poverty level. Without Title X services, a significant percentage of residents in my town would not be able to receive the range of healthcare services, including reproductive health services, available at these federally-funded clinics. I cannot help but consider what this means for local women, including students in my area who may be unable to access services as Title X continues to be under- or defunded.

I may have taken Griswold and Title X for granted, but after discovering how it affected the lives of people in my college town, I am grateful for how it opened doors for accessible reproductive health services. But with Title X funds constantly shrinking, I have to ask myself: without accessibility, who  does the right to birth control truly reach?

As we near the fiftieth anniversary of Griswold, we need to remember that legal availability of these services is severely diminished if we lack corresponding accessibility.

By Laura Jensen

Laura is a junior at Colby College where she double-majors in Government and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is currently working as the National Clinic Access Project Intern at FMF. When not writing feminist blogs, Laura can be found dancing, drinking (too much) coffee, and pretending to be an adult.

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