CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From the mid-1800s into the early 1900s, the lifetime birthrate among white women in the United States fell from seven children to 3.5, while the birthrate among black women remained steady. Panic ensued among male leaders of the time. Their concern was that women were committing "race suicide," the extinction of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
The response? Create a succession of laws forbidding access to contraceptive information, restricting the sale or advertising of contraceptive devices. A Society for the Suppression of Vice, headed by Andrew Comstock, waged a campaign to enforce these laws. Congress was persuaded to outlaw sharing birth control information through the mails. Every state banned abortion except to save the life of a mother.
Women rallied and obtained suffrage and gained a little control over their own bodies. During the 1970s, further advances toward equal rights for women occurred. Women started being able to obtain credit for the first time. Overt discrimination largely ceased. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that under the U.S. Constitution, women have the unalienable right to the option of abortion.
The pinnacle of women's rights was 1973. Since then, the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified, and the Paycheck Fairness Act has still not been passed by the Senate -- this act seeks to ensure women earn more than 77 cents on the dollar of their male counterparts for the same work.
Andrew Comstock must be dancing in his grave. From January to March 2012, 430 pieces of legislation seeking to limit a woman's access to contraception and/or abortion services have been introduced across the country.
It was the Comstock laws, which solidified and rallied the women's suffrage movement and motivated mainstream women to seek the vote and other rights many take for granted today. Let's not turn back the clock a hundred years. People should contact their representatives and let them know women's reproductive decisions are just that -- women's decisions. And while they're at it, they can tell Sens. Rockefeller and Manchin we want the Paycheck Fairness Act passed.
Or else don't trouble your pretty little head about such things, and we can all go back to 1900.
Caudill, of Dunbar, is a writer and English student at West Virginia State University.