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By 1965, 46 states across the country offered their citizens legal birth control services. Massachusetts did not. In a new attempt to reach more women, PPLM sent thousands of letters of congratulations to new mothers, offering child spacing and infertility advice, education and research in human reproduction. The letters’ attached tear-off attracted more than 1,300 responses requesting further information. The inquiries launched PPLM’s Telephone and Visiting Program in which invaluable information was dispensed. But the laws still presented an insurmountable obstacle to poor women, unable to limit the number of children they bore.
One woman, three of whose five pregnancies were the result of contraceptive failure, wrote:
- Is there any way possible for me never to become pregnant again? I mean until I die. We have been married for five years. I have had five children and one miscarriage. I have repeatedly asked doctors to sterilize me, but get the same answers. As long as I’m physically fit, I can have more babies every year. I have a moral obligation to the five I have. I think I should rather end my life than go through another pregnancy and bring another child into the world where it cannot be cared for properly.
Massachusetts women had no more legal methods at their disposal than had their grandmothers at the turn of the century. In 1965, legislative opponents in the majority argued that a bill to legalize birth control was “a damnable, dirty legislation. This would legalize murder. God’s law has been on the books for 2000 years. This is an attempt to change God’s law.”
One year later, thanks in large part to the relentless behind-the-scenes work of PPLM staff and volunteers, Massachusetts became the last state in the nation to legalize the provision of contraceptive care—although only to married persons with a medical prescription. In 1967, Boston University students invited birth control advocate Bill Baird to lecture on contraception. As expected, he was arrested for “exhibiting and delivering” a contraceptive article in violation of Massachusetts law. But by 1972, the Massachusetts birth control law was seen as a quaint anachronism no longer taken seriously or enforced. That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, making MA the last state in the nation to legalize the distribution of contraceptives for all women upon request, both married (1966) and single (1972). Finally, Margaret Sanger’s 1928 dream was realized. It had taken only 44 years!