The recent Supreme Court decisions on contraception and abortion have me wondering just what century we are in.

Do people not understand that if you allow the government to control women’s bodies, that same government can also decide you must have an abortion and must use birth control?

Growing older has made me realize what I experienced as “current events” now constitutes “history.” It’s a sobering thought, since I don’t think of myself as old.

When I was 13, in 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protected a marital couple’s right to privacy and their ability to use contraception was no longer illegal. Sad, but true, couples who were trying to plan their family size before that time were considered criminals.

In 1972, the right to privacy was extended to unmarried couples. That meant at that time, when I was a junior at Colby, the health center was able to prescribe birth control pills.

The next year, the court used the definition of the right to privacy to legalize abortion, too late for some of my friends who had to endure dangerous trips to back alleys in Puerto Rico, Mexico or myriad cities in our own country.

For those who think if we outlawed abortion there would be no more abortions, I would offer the work of the Jane Collective. Started by a group of women in Chicago to help other women secure safe abortions, they performed over 11,000 between the years 1969 and 1973.

If women don’t have full control as well as access to affordable, 100-percent effective birth control, abortion services will always be needed. The question in this election is, are we a society that is going back to punishing women for seeking them, or are we going to let personal medical decisions be made safely by a woman and her physician?

I began my career in reproductive rights as a family planning director in 1981. At the time the most controversial issue facing the Maine Legislature was not whether to fund family planning — that was not in question as long as Sen. David Huber, a Republican, was chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Instead, it was whether we should be giving out a booklet that suggested a glass of red wine might be good for relieving menstrual pain.

For the first three years of my life as the director of the family planning clinics here in Waterville and Skowhegan, life was focused on providing education and quality contraception and reproductive health services to young women married and unmarried.

Life suddenly changed with the election of Ronald Reagan and the administration’s decision to defund the Title X Family Planning Program, half of our clinics’ funding.

That program was passed unanimously by the Senate and nearly unanimously in the House and signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970. Then-U.S. Rep. George H.W. Bush spoke of the “imperative” need to expand the family planning system.

What happened? Reagan’s election in 1980 brought the mixing of national electoral politics and religion and the long slog to deny women rights to our bodies.

In order to become vice president, Bush needed to renounce his belief in all things moderate Republican. And in 1988, he needed the evangelical right to be elected president. His gift to them once in office was Clarence Thomas, an anti-choice sexual harasser.

Fast forward 16 years, during which time legislative attacks on contraception and abortion were constant. Violent attacks were taking place against staff and patients entering clinics, resulting in deaths of people guilty of nothing more than providing legal services to women.

In the latest outrageous court opinions, the violence-reducing barriers keeping back so-called “sidewalk counselors” have been struck down in the name of free speech. In some cases, that speech means yelling, spitting and terrorizing women.

And corporations having religious rights? Beyond that ridiculous notion, Hobby Lobby has significant retirement fund holdings in companies that produce the very contraceptive products they are arguing they don’t have to provide their employees.

We live in odd times. We have people running for office who don’t believe in government, and who believe women have no right to control their reproductive lives.

Unfortunately, they all belong to the party that used to think very differently. Even the arch conservative Barry Goldwater was pro-choice, believing the government had no right to interfere in people’s private lives.

It’s time for voters, both women and the men who care about us, to say once and for all that if you’re against abortion, don’t have one, but keep your damn laws out of my choice. It’s time to abandon the Republican Party until they come to their senses.

Karen Heck is a senior program officer at The Bingham Program in Augusta and the co-owner of Tree Spirits Winery & Distillery in Oakland. She is also the mayor of Waterville.


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