In 2016, Planned Parenthood celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Now, as we continue to see more and more threats to defund the nationwide reproductive healthcare hero, it seems fitting to take a look back at the organization’s inception and the impact it has had during its 100-year lifetime. 100 years ago in Brooklyn, New York, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic, the beginning of what we now know as Planned Parenthood. Her clinic was not met with open arms from law enforcement; at that time, just talking about birth control could send a person to jail.
Later, in 1923, Sanger founded the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, where birth control could be discussed and studied by medical professionals, and given to patients in need. In 1930, additional clinics that later became known as Planned Parenthood were built in other New York City boroughs, such as Manhattan and the Bronx. These clinics were initially known as Mothers’ Health Centers. Four years later, reproductive healthcare clinics also started appearing in the Midwest, namely Iowa. In 1936, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that birth control could be prescribed to married women “to save lives or promote well-being.” One year later, in 1937, the American Medical Association “recognize[d] birth control as an essential health service.” Both of these victories improved the way Sanger’s mission was viewed. They were the beginning of both the medical and the legal world realizing the importance of access to contraceptives.
Public approval of contraceptive use and reproductive healthcare education added to the validity of Sanger’s aims. By 1938, all 99 counties in Iowa had a doctor willing to provide contraceptives and family planning services, and the earliest forms of sex ed started spreading through the state. In 1940, it was found that 77% of Americans approved of having reproductive health clinics provide information on birth control to married couples. For contraceptives in the 40s, this was a pretty high number. In 1942, Planned Parenthood officially became the organization we know today. It went from being called the Birth Control Federation of America, to the more inclusive Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Clinics continued developing in different areas of the country throughout the 1940s and 50s.
In 1958, the NYC branch of Planned Parenthood eliminated the Department of Hospitals of the City of New York’s policy that only provided contraceptive education to married people. One year later, the intrauterine device (yes, the same IUD women are rushing to get now) was put on the market.
The 1960s saw further birth control accessibility for unmarried women, as well as more reproductive healthcare and education for people in high-poverty areas. In 1973, abortion was finally legalized nationwide in historic ruling of Roe v. Wade. Of course, what a woman was able to do with her pregnancy during the third trimester was still left to the states. Unfortunately, three years later, the Hyde Amendment was passed, which prevented Medicaid funds from being used towards abortion (unless in the case of an emergency). This was especially detrimental to low-income women, who make up over half of all Medicaid users.
In 1978, Planned Parenthood appointed its first female president since Sanger, and its first ever president of color. Faye Wattleton was a black woman who developed the 1989 publication, African American Women for Reproductive Freedom. Wattleton held her presidency at Planned Parenthood for 14 years, in which the organization continued to open clinics and spread sexual education throughout schools nationwide.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan ordered the Global Gag Rule (sound familiar?), which prevented any international organization receiving U.S. family planning funds from providing any abortion-related education, information, or advocacy. Later, in 1993, President Bill Clinton revoked the Gag Rule. In 1989, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund was founded to perform “educational, advocacy and electoral activity.”
In 2000, RU-846, or the “abortion pill” became available in the U.S.. In 2004, Planned Parenthood activists and supporters gathered for the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC. Planned Parenthood referred to the march as “the largest and most diverse reproductive rights demonstration in history.” In 2011, Planned Parenthood Global launched, which now supports 12 countries worldwide. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled to protect abortion access in Texas in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt, which spurred Planned Parenthood to continue fighting for abortion rights.
Birth control options have actively developed since they were first introduced to women, and couples, around the nation. Their normalization in the United States has helped equate it with a basic preventative health right and helped women champion those who may have a harder time gaining access to them.