1936 December 7

OK to Import Japanese Diaphragms


Birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger ordered one of a new type of diaphragm (referred to as a pessary) that had been developed in Japan. They were seized by Customs officials when they arrived in the U.S. They were acting under the 1930 Tariff Act, which included the provisions of the 1873 Comstock Act (passed on March 3, 1873) that outlawed the distribution of birth control information and devices. In U.S. v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries, decided on this day, the U.S. Court of Appeals held that the ban on birth control devices was “unreasonable” and overturned the ban. Sanger said that the decision “firmly establishes the precedent that contraceptive material may be lawfully admitted into this country and by implication disseminated through the mails in this country if intended for legitimate use.”

The struggle for legal access to birth control information and devices in the U.S. was a long one. Margaret Sanger was arrested for opening the first birth control clinic on October 16, 1916. Four months later, she spent a month in jail for her crime. The major breakthrough was the landmark Supreme Court decision, in Griswold v. Connecticut on June 7, 1965, which struck down a ban on contraceptives in the state and established a constitutional right to privacy. The first federally supported birth control clinic opened on November 2, 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Congress passed the first law providing federal financial assistance for family planning services on December 24, 1970.

Read: Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 3rd ed. (2007)

And more about Margaret Sanger: Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (1992)

Learn more at a timeline on birth control: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52188

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