Bonnie Henry: We won't return to bad old days before the pill

2012-09-09T00:00:00Z 2014-07-01T17:08:42Z Bonnie Henry: We won't return to bad old days before the pillBonnie Henry Special to The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Maybe it's a good thing. Was it just a couple of years ago that women of a certain age were lamenting the fact that young women had little idea - or appreciation - of the battles that had been fought for equality?

Well lament no more, fair ladies. Thanks to a faint yet worrying resurgence against birth control, young women across America can no longer take for granted the idea that they are in control of when - or even if - they have children.

And make no mistake. This goes way beyond who pays for those little round pills. Several anti-choice groups have launched recent protests under a banner that proclaims, "The Pill Kills." Then you have powerful men like former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum opining that contraception is "not OK. It's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

I'm not exactly sure what the good senator meant by "how things are supposed to be," but I have a pretty good idea.

My great-grandfather fathered 23 children with three wives. The first wife (my great-grandmother) died in childbirth, along with her 13th child. The second wife died in childbirth, along with her fifth child. The third wife buried my great-grandfather - after delivering five more children.

While researching my family's history this summer, I was struck by how many women gave birth to nine, 10, even a dozen children or more. The saddest case I came across was that of my father-in-law's great-grandmother, Eliza Jane McGrew, dead at age 36 after delivering her eighth child - leaving her husband to raise those eight children, newborn to age 16, alone.

I wonder what these folks would say if you could go beyond the grave and ask them if, indeed, this was the way things were supposed to be.

Little wonder, then, that the birth control pill was instantly embraced when it was approved in 1960. By 1965, more than 6 million American women were on the pill, including yours truly.

Sure I wanted a family someday. But not then, not when I was working full time and helping put a husband through college. Most of the young women working alongside me were in the same category. We dreamed of a day when we would have children. But in the meantime, we were confident it would be on our own timetable. We were in control of our own bodies.

Not that there wasn't blowback, even then. Four years after the pill got FDA approval, it was still outlawed in eight states. In 1968, Pope Paul VI declared his official opposition - a stance still held by the Catholic Church.

In 1975, country recording star Loretta Lynn - a mother of six - had a song, "The Pill," hit the airwaves. Or not. Many radio stations banned the song, whose lyrics - aimed at a recklessly fecund husband - extolled the freedom soon to be had by using the pill. Sample lyrics:

"All these years I've stayed at home while you had all your fun. And every year that's gone by another baby's come. There's gonna be some changes made right here on Nursery Hill."

Changes indeed. Changes my great-grandmother and all the other women of her generation could only dream of. Changes that today's women have no intention of giving up.

And that, protests and politicians' musings aside, is really the way things are supposed to be.

Bonnie Henry's column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at Bonniehenryaz@gmail.com

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