“For women, all freedoms hinge on bodily integrity.” -Ellen Chesler Author, Woman of Valor
100 years ago, a nurse named Margaret Sanger, responding to suffering and maternal mortality, began a movement to provide quality affordable healthcare to women. Margaret grew up in an Irish family. She had watched her mother’s health gradually decline after 7 miscarriages and the birth of 11 children. Her mother’s body had been so weakened after 18 pregnancies that she contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of 50. As she began her work as a nurse in New York, Margaret Sanger saw her mother’s same sad story repeated in other women. The lack of birth control was killing women and forcing many others into poverty. Although it was illegal in the U.S. in 1916 to educate people on birth control, Margaret Sanger decided that she must act.
After traveling to Europe to study birth control methods, Margaret, her sister Ethel and Fania Mindell opened a birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn on October 16, 1916. They were arrested nine days later and their clinic was shut down by police. Charged with “sharing birth control information,” they remained in jail for 30 days. Margaret Sanger left jail more determined than ever to fight for a woman’s right to plan pregnancies. She shared her vision that women should have information and proper reproductive health care. All women deserved to be healthy and to be given an opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
In 1923, Sanger opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in Manhattan to provide birth control devices and collect statistics on their safety and effectiveness. Planned Parenthood was created when this bureau merged with the American Birth Control League. The goal of Planned Parenthood was to give women control of their own reproductive health and in many cases, to fight against cruelty.
Such cruelty was evident in 1927, when the Supreme Court upheld the Virginia case of Buck vs. Bell. This decision is considered to be one of the worst in the history of the court. The state of Virginia had declared Carrie Buck to be epileptic and mentally disabled. She was neither. Having been raped by her foster parent’s nephew, she became pregnant. Her foster parents, embarrassed by her pregnancy, committed her to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and the Feeble-Minded. She was declared incompetent and her child was taken away from her. She was considered “unfit to reproduce” and told that she would be reproductively sterilized. The Supreme Court upheld the decision. As a result of this court decision 60,000-70,000 U.S. citizens, considered genetically or mentally inferior, were sterilized.
In their continued fight to protect women, Planned Parenthood clinics were opened in Harlem in 1930, Baltimore in 1932 and Houston in 1939. After a 20-year battle, in 1936, the Comstock laws were overturned in New York, Connecticut and Vermont. The Comstock laws had declared information on birth control as “obscene.” Those who violated the Comstock laws faced imprisonment with six months to five years of hard labor. Many members of the clergy recognized that women, immigrants and the poor were harshly impacted by a lack of birth control access. Citing the Bible verse, “You shall not oppress widows and orphans,” they worked with Margaret Sanger and Kenneth Rose to form the National Clergyman’s Advisory Council. The right to family planning wasn’t just a health issue, it was a basic human right.
Planned Parenthood continued their fight for women’s health in 1951, when they awarded a grant to Gregory Pincus, John Rock and M.C. Chang to develop the first birth control pill. The birth control pill gave women greater control of their own reproductive health. However, the use of contraceptives was still illegal by 1961. Estelle Griswold of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut opened a birth control clinic to test the state’s ban on birth control. In 1965, in Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married couples could use contraceptives. Unfortunately, unmarried women were banned from obtaining birth control. In 1972, in Eisenstadt vs. Baird, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts statute that banned the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people.
Planned Parenthood continues its fight to educate women and men and to ensure that they have access to medically accurate information and confidential health services. Today, Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality affordable health care for women, men and young people.
“Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Most people don’t think much about Antarctica. After all, it’s just a big sheet of ice. Right? Occasionally, we might read about the discovery of a 106 year-old fruitcake at Camp Adare or learn why penguins waddle. But otherwise, we pretty much ignore Antarctica. That changed last month when a chunk of ice the size of Delaware broke off from the Antarctic Peninsula. Although ice sheets routinely fracture and break away, the rate at which Antarctica is losing its ice is alarming. As global waters warm, the ice around Antarctica is disintegrating. Antarctica is melting and the world has taken notice. It is one of the most rapidly-warming parts of the planet. Antarctica has become the canary in the climate change coal mine and hard truths must now be faced.
Hard Truth #1: Antarctica is a lot more than just a sheet of ice. Its climate and geography drive the uptake of carbon dioxide and control the circulation of deep ocean waters. Climate change in Antarctica can cause a catastrophic rise in global sea-level and even atmospheric change. The Antarctic Peninsula is a key breeding ground for krill. Whales, seals, and penguins depend upon krill for food. Algae underneath the sea ice feeds the krill. When the sea ice disappears, so do the krill, collapsing the entire food web.
Hard Truth #2: The ice in the Antarctic is melting much faster than scientists previously thought. In addition to melting from climate change, newly discovered lakes and streams are destabilizing the continent’s ice shelves. Because of global warming the pace of this shelf melting and collapsing is increasing. 90% of the world’s ice is in Antarctica. To put the consequences of a melting Antarctica into perspective, if the entire Antarctic ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise by 200 feet. Although most scientists don’t believe this to be likely, they still project sea levels from melting Antarctic ice to rise 3 ½ feet by 2100. Such a rise in sea level would prove catastrophic for countries already at sea level. Bangladesh has a population of one million citizens and is at sea level. A 3 ½ foot rise in sea level would cause a global refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Hard Truth #3: The worst is yet to come. Last week, scientists at the University of Edinburgh announced the discovery of 91 previously undiscovered volcanoes in West Antarctica. Volcanoes tend to show up at weak points in the earth’s crust. Because the Antarctic plate is wearing thin, it is an ideal location for volcano formation. Scientists believe that more volcanoes will soon be found. The Antarctic volcano region is most likely the densest region of volcanoes in the world. As climate change causes ice to thin and melt, “pressure-sensitive” volcanoes will begin erupting. If lava manages to melt through a glacier, and warmer ocean water seeps into the hole, the entire system will melt much faster. Normally, the 91 volcanoes wouldn’t be likely to cause the entire ice sheet to melt, but global warming continues to cause large quantities of ice to disappear, thus increasing the likelihood that eruptions will be triggered. Eruptions would cause the bottom of ice sheets to heat, changing the speed at which glaciers move. This “feedback loop” would melt even more ice and raise sea levels even faster.
In leaving the Paris Climate agreement, the United States broke rank with 190 other nations. The world recognizes that climate change is a global crisis. It is real, it is happening every day and it is only going to get worse. Let us hope that the United States will once again enter the Paris Climate agreement. The recent discoveries in Antarctica are a signal that it’s time for the U.S. to recognize the hard truths of climate change. It’s time to wake up, face the facts of climate change and stop distracting ourselves with 106 year-old Antarctic fruitcake.
Want more information on climate change in Antarctica? Check out these links:
In light of the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, America can no longer turn a blind eye to the disease that is white supremacism. When addressing racism, Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke of “exposing the sickness to the sunlight, so that it may heal.” When brown shirted white supremacists lit torches, we saw their disease. When they marched through Charlottesville with brass knuckles and clubs, the sickness was exposed in the starkest terms possible, and a young woman was mowed down by hate. The sickness has been exposed to the sunlight. Now, we must look for ways to heal the blight of white supremacism.
On December 11, 1964, in honor of his Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King gave a lecture, “The Quest for Peace and Justice, “to the Nobel Committee. His words are as profound today as they were when spoken over fifty years ago. There is a path forward for America after Charlottesville. Martin Luther King gave us the roadmap to follow. It’s time we used it.
Excerpts from “The Quest for Peace and Justice”
(For the complete lecture and audio recording, visit nobelprize.org)
It’s clear after Charlottesville, that America has not yet rid itself of the pestilence that is white supremacy. It’s a road that we’ve been down before. But we see now that the road is much longer than we thought. Dr. King and others gave us a map to use on this road-a map of nonviolent resistance to white supremacy, hatred and bigotry. The sickness has been exposed to the sunlight. Let’s work together to heal our country.