A century ago, women had little defense against endless childbearing. Many produced a dozen or more babies, often wrecking their health.
A young nurse, Margaret Sanger, began crusading for birth control to save women from excessive pregnancy. She was denounced from all sides, even by clergy who said she was trying to thwart divine will. She was jailed eight times under puritanical Comstock Laws that forbade any mention of sex.
But she persisted stubbornly and won a following. She launched an organization that grew into Planned Parenthood -- but birth control remained illegal in some states.
A half-century later, Sanger was vindicated. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married couples have a right to practice contraception in the privacy of their bedrooms. Seven years later, the high court extended that right to unmarried couples.
Most Americans thought the birth-control battle was over -- but now it's raging again.
President Obama's historic medical reform requires all health insurance plans to provide contraception at no cost to women who want it. This provides an extra blessing by reducing unwanted pregnancies that consign too many teenage girls to single motherhood or abortions.
Federal administrators exempted churches that think birth control is sinful, but not church-owned colleges, hospitals, agencies and the like. For a year, some Catholic bishops and other churchmen have been waging court battles, contending that their religious freedom will be trampled if they cannot hinder contraception for their female employees.
So far, the lawsuits are producing contradictory results. This month, federal courts rejected a claim by the religious owner of the Hobby Lobby store chain, who says his faith won't allow him to help employees avoid pregnancy. But other courts upheld claims by two church-owned schools, Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College. Obviously, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually must settle the dispute.
We hope the high court rules in favor of birth control, as it did in 1965 and 1972. American women should have a right to choose when they're ready for pregnancy. A choice shouldn't be forced on them by store owners or bishops.Human rights include the freedom to decide one's own sex life. Sooner or later, that principle will be locked in place alongside other American freedoms.