Women Harnessing the Law

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout this country’s history, the law hasn’t been consistently fair across gender lines, classifying women as second-class citizens and making assumptions about people based on gender stereotypes. But throughout that same history, women have harnessed the law to right these wrongs, changing the national conversation around issues as varied as medical privacy, marriage, caring for family members, and sexual harassment.

Let’s meet some of these trailblazers now!

Estelle Griswold

Estelle Griswold, left, and Cornelia Jahncke, of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, celebrate their Supreme Court victory.

The birth control pill came onto the market in 1960, but in Connecticut, contraception was outright banned by a law that predated the birth of the Pill by more than 80 years, imposing fines and jail time on people using any type of contraceptive device. Additionally, anyone “aiding and abetting” would-be birth-control users — including doctors and pharmacists — could be punished.

In 1961, in an act of civil disobedience, Estelle Griswold, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth control clinic — and was promptly arrested, prosecuted, and fined $100. Griswold immediately challenged the constitutionality of Connecticut’s anti-contraception law, but it was upheld in state courts. In 1965, however, the Supreme Court ruled that married couples had a constitutional right to make private decisions about contraception.

Griswold v. Connecticut was a landmark case in contraception access — but it was only a first step. In restricting its ruling to married couples, the Supreme Court perpetuated the idea that birth control was only appropriate within the confines of marriage. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried people, too, had a right to birth control.

Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times

Richard Loving was white and Mildred Jeter was black. In 1958, the couple obtained a marriage certificate in Washington D.C., and were jailed for violating Virginia code 20-54, which prohibited marriages between “white and colored persons,” and code 20-58, which prohibited couples from marrying out of state and returning to Virginia to reside as husband and wife.

The Lovings pleaded guilty and were banished from the state, forcing the couple to leave their families and home behind. A series of court battles culminated in the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1967 decision that Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage violated the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause. Continue reading

The Past Isn’t Always in the Past: Covington Catholic and the Politics of Race and Gender at Southern Private Schools

Nathan Phillips (center) leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March. Image (detail): Joe Flood

It was hard to miss the video that went viral on the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

On January 20, footage of a white high school student, flanked by his classmates as he stood in front of a Native American elder, took the news and social media by storm. The student stood at a close distance, wearing an apparent smirk below his “Make America Great Again” hat. The Native elder stood calmly but firmly, beating a small hand drum and singing over the noise from the student’s classmates, many of whom also sported the iconic red baseball caps of Trump supporters. One classmate appeared to taunt the Native elder with a gesture mocking a “tomahawk chop.”


The March for Life incident is a troubling reminder of a history that links segregated private schools to the anti-abortion movement.


The scene was from Washington, D.C., where students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, were attending the anti-abortion March for Life. It was an event that coincided with an Indigenous Peoples March, a grassroots gathering of community leaders, celebrities, and activists to address the environmental and human rights issues facing Native American, First Nations, and other indigenous people.

The incident drew conflicting narratives as more footage was pieced together to show how Nick Sandmann, the Covington student, came face-to-face with Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder, veteran, and activist. What gained general agreement was that tensions had first been elevated by verbal exchanges with another, smaller group identifying themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites. A few members of that group could be seen subjecting the Covington students to inflammatory language and insults. Thereafter, people have been divided, often along partisan lines, on whether Sandmann or Phillips was the instigator of the face-off. Continue reading

Book Club: Shout Your Abortion

Shout Your Abortion hit the book shelves in time for us to celebrate the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 2019. That Supreme Court decision (finally) recognized that abortion is a normal part of a woman’s reproductive life and a right guaranteed by the Constitution. The book, edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes, presents the real-life abortion “shouts” of 44 women and how they think about what is typically a routine medical procedure.

Shout Your Abortion, edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes

In 1973, when Roe was decided, eight years had already passed since my (illegal) abortion, and I was raising two daughters. I was relieved to know that women, including my two kiddos, would never again need to risk their lives to get reproductive health care they might need.

I didn’t think we would ever go back to unsafe abortions or forced motherhood. It never occurred to me (and many other women) that staying quiet and just getting on with life would leave an open mic for anti-abortion zealots to chip away at our protection. Alas, we were wrong.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund article

Fast forward 46 years. “Stop! We’re not having it! Listen to us! We’ve had abortions!” Minority anti-abortion voices are no longer drowning out the majority of the American people (72 percent) who do not want to see Roe overturned and are taking action to prevent it, including our book’s “shouters.”

The genesis of the book was Amelia Bonow’s Facebook post about her abortion, passed along by Lindy West as #ShoutYourAbortion, prompting a deluge of “shouters.” Continue reading

Best of 2018: Bloggers Pick Their Favorite Posts

When 2018 began, we weren’t even a full year into the Trump administration, and we were staring down the barrel at another three years of it. Luckily, as 2018 got going, so did we. The Resistance injected new blood into politics, from the local to the federal levels, and by the end of the year we were celebrating the victories of candidates passionate about the rights of women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and voters. Whether you want to call it a “blue wave” or a “blue ripple,” the country enjoyed record voter turnout in last month’s midterms, and Arizona is now officially a purple state. We’re looking forward to what 2019 will hold, and are ready to keep fighting!

Our bloggers were with us throughout the year, reminding us of what’s most important: advocating for health, justice, and dignity for all. They shared their favorite posts of 2018.

Anne has spent years on the front lines fighting abortion stigma, the sinister force that fosters silence and shame. She introduced us to one of her sisters in arms, Karen, who for 40 years kept her abortion a secret. When Karen finally unburdened herself of the stigma, her sons rallied to her side, realizing they can’t be complacent. This powerful story about a beautiful family will bring tears to your eyes, and remind you of the harm abortion stigma can cause. Reproductive rights aren’t just a “women’s issue,” and male voices are needed in this fight.

Matt wrote an incredible four-part series examining the link between white supremacy and opposition to abortion. His favorite piece was the final installment in this series, covering the 1990s. During this decade, the white supremacist, anti-abortion, and Patriot movements converged to give us terrorists like Eric Robert Rudolph, who bombed the Olympics, a gay bar, and abortion clinics. Fast forward a couple of decades, and by 2016, the stage was set for Trump’s misogyny, racism, transphobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.

Mother and babyAnna examined the shocking, disturbing racial disparities in U.S. maternal mortality. The United States’ high maternal mortality rate is heartbreaking no matter how you look at it, but is especially pronounced for black women, who are 3.5 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than white women. In fact, in New York City, their maternal mortality rate is on par with that of North Korea, and Amnesty International considers high U.S. maternal mortality rates to be evidence of “significant systemic human rights failures” — not a distinction you’d expect for a wealthy nation like our own.

Rachel was alarmed by Supreme Court nominee — and now justice — Brett Kavanaugh from the start, and put together a withering indictment of him — and that was before the sexual assault allegations came to light. Kavanaugh’s judicial record reveals priorities aligned with religious doctrine rather than with the Constitution: He fought to save religious employers from the “burden” of a two-page form, but refused to recognize an undocumented minor’s unwanted pregnancy as representing any kind of burden. That seat needed to be filled by a justice who views women as equals, with full say over what happens to their bodies — instead, we got Kavanaugh, who will be an axe hanging over our heads for years.

Serena’s favorite piece was published back in March for Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on amazing women who changed history for all humankind. She introduced us to luminaries such as Wendy Davis, Shirley Chisholm, and Dolores Huerta to show us how much power one person can wield! She also used the opportunity to celebrate the right to vote, which millennials and Gen X’ers can wield to honor the suffragists who came before them. These generations cast the most ballots, and if a greater proportion of them voted, their voices would be impossible to ignore!

What the RBG Biopic Is (and Isn’t) About

In July, when Focus Features began ramping up promotion for its forthcoming film On the Basis of Sex, many news sources reported that Felicity Jones would play a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she went to court in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld. In that 1975 case, a father whose wife had died during childbirth fought for the Social Security survivor benefits that he needed to raise his son in her absence.

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld challenged laws that were stuck in a pre-feminist past, one that made those benefits available to widows but not widowers, as if all marriages were between a man as breadwinner and a woman as homemaker — and only the latter would need to see an income replaced after a spouse’s death.


RBG understood early on that men, too, were hurt by gender discrimination.


It may be a fitting testament to Ginsburg’s role in many important gender discrimination cases that when those news sources looked for clues from a trailer and other promotional materials, they made a false match, concluding incorrectly that Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld would provide the plot for On the Basis of Sex. Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and Teen Vogue were among the media companies that made the understandable mistake.

In an interview in February, Ginsburg herself had told Forward that the film would focus on another landmark case, Charles E. Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. Focus Features confirmed as much when the need for corrections in other, later articles became apparent.

The Moritz and Weinberger cases have a lot of similarities. Both involved male plaintiffs who challenged laws that were based on antiquated ideas of gender roles, notions that were quickly becoming less relevant and less realistic as more women entered the workforce, often turning single-earner households into dual-earner households, and at other times becoming their household’s sole income-earner. Both cases deserve a look — even if it was only by accident that a Ginsburg biopic brought renewed attention to one of them. Continue reading

Vote on November 6: Pink Out the Vote Tomorrow

Not happy with the Trump administration? Tomorrow is our chance to make our voices heard. Our health and rights are at stake. If candidates don’t stand with us on access to safe and legal abortion, affordable birth control, care at Planned Parenthood, or health care equity, then they don’t deserve to represent us. Continue reading

Due Protections: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 40

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1977. Photo: Lynn Gilbert

Today, Susan Struck’s political positions are nothing that would stick out in a red state like Arizona. A few years ago, she joined the chorus of support for the once-threatened A-10 fighter jet program at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. In a 2010 article on immigration, a writer noted her concerns about automatic citizenship for U.S.-born children.

Despite the rightward tilt that would be assigned to her views today, Struck was once at the center of a fight for reproductive justice, a cause taken up by a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back when “The Notorious RBG” was still a lawyer for the ACLU. It was that fight that led to Ginsburg’s involvement in the writing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, a landmark piece of legislation that turns 40 this month.


Despite 40 years of protections, pregnancy discrimination hasn’t gone away.


Now retired in an Arizona ranch community, Struck first arrived in the Copper State at the end of the 1960s, when she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Davis-Monthan. She told Elle in a 2014 interview that she reveled in her newfound independence from the family and church she left in Kentucky. “She went on the Pill and stopped attending confession,” the article recounts, and she spent her free time enjoying her sexual freedom and the chance to experience Tucson’s foothills in a newly acquired Camaro.

Still, Struck wanted more excitement, so she asked to be sent to Vietnam. She was assigned to Phù Cát Air Force Base, where she quickly hit it off with an F-4 pilot — and ended up pregnant. Struck understood that the Air Force gave officers in her situation two choices: get an abortion or be honorably discharged. It was 1970 then, still a few years before Roe v. Wade, but the armed forces had made abortion legal ahead of civilian society. Continue reading