When I started college in the 1960s, birth control was not available anywhere from anyone for any reason, unless you were married. Period. The pill had been released to the public, but the public needed to be in conventional unions sanctioned by society in general. And the pharmacist had to agree to fill the prescription, if one was brought to him. And believe me, it was almost always a him.
In my small college town, unplanned pregnancy was everybody’s worst nightmare — and it was a bad dream that became reality for many of my friends. Most of them married each other, and were plunged prematurely into relationships that often did not survive. Some did, of course. But they probably would have anyway.
One enterprising gas station in the neighborhood began stocking its men’s restroom with condoms, which were dispensed by a machine with a wheel that cranked down the purchase one at a time. I believe that each twist of the knob was a quarter. I do remember that the line outside the restroom at the Shell station on Friday night was long, and there were few cars at the pumps.
Eventually, when the student pregnancy rate become unwieldy enough, the campus physician stepped in and risked his job by making both the pill available through the student health center. Every one of us was diagnosed as having “problem periods” (they were especially problematic when they didn’t arrive on time). He also kept a supply of foam and condoms handy that were available on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of basis. We were sort of left to our own devices over the summers, so we were sure to renew our prescriptions before we disappeared into our private lives for three months.
A few of us resorted to abortions. They became legal in New York during my junior year, and more times than I care to remember we drove a terrified coed to the airport to catch a flight east. We would also pick her up in the middle of the night when she returned home. It was a grisly ritual, and it claimed many victims — both already-born and unborn.
For decades I have been a proponent of birth control on demand. And the demand should not have to be above a whisper. If the request is being made, clearly the need is already present. Sexual activity occurs whether we think the circumstances under which it occurs are proper, or not. Sex can result in pregnancy, and pregnancy is not something that should be forced on a female as a penalty for “doing it.”
There’s something else that birth control can prevent, besides pregnancy: abortions. An abortion is never a positive answer, but is almost always selected as a seemingly lesser of several evils. Regardless of which side of the debate a person takes, it cannot be argued that a deliberate choice of a death of some kind has been made. Even pulling a dandelion results in the demise of a living thing.
I was never able to complete a pregnancy, so my husband and I eventually adopted three children — all products of unplanned teen-aged pregnancies. They arrived in the world with many challenges, and even as adults their troubled beginnings pursue them throughout their lives. I raised them with love and hope, but now I think of the middle-aged women who are their birth mothers, and I wonder often how they have fared. I wonder why they didn’t use the contraception that they could have purchased easily, and why they chose to have their babies instead of terminating their pregnancies. I wonder, but I would never ask, even if I had the chance. Some questions simply have no black and white answers.
Here’s something to think about…