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Barefoot and Pregnant

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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There is a sexist expression popular in the 1950s that says that “A women’s place is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” Are you offended by that? Good. Because it seems that everything old is becoming new again.

“Constitutionally unsound rulings like Griswold v. Connecticut, Kelo v. City of New London, and NFIB v. Sebelius confuse Tennesseans and leave Congress wondering who gave the court permission to bypass our system of checks and balances.” U.S. Senator (Tenn.) Marsha Blackburn

“Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said Tuesday that he would be open to the Supreme Court overturning its 1967 ruling (Loving v. Virginia) that legalized interracial marriage nationwide to allow states to independently decide the issue.”From a Washington Post column.

Our country is in a political culture war. I say political because most of the country, in poll after poll, support progressive policies that move the country forward, socially, politically, and economically. Many politicians in the Republican party, in contrast, as reflected in the quotes above, seek to undo Supreme Court decisions that are decades old and move the country back to the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Before I talk about what has been settled law, and most of you consider as just common sense now that they have been in place so long, I want to share some personal history.

I was born in Woodville, TX in 1950. My dad was 17 years old, my mom 21. They were married in April of 1950; I was born in September. All you need is one hand and kindergarten level math skills to figure out that I was not conceived in April. It seems clear that when she reached the time when she could no longer hide her pregnancy, they married.

This kind of thing in a small East Texas town in 1950 was a scandal. Unmarried couples didn’t live together. Most did not have sex until marriage. So, this was a big deal.

My conception was, however, not an accident. My mother still lived at home at age 21 and had a very controlling stepfather. So much so that he determined my mom was better off if she lived under his control permanently. My dad was a 17-year-old teenager, with the usual overabundance of hormones. Because a woman usually needed either a father or husband to do all kinds of legal things, she decided a husband was the way out. Her father, though, wouldn’t have allowed her to marry.

So, they decided that her getting pregnant would force the situation and achieve both of their goals. And the plan worked. Kind of. The fact that a 17-year-old would probably not be the easiest husband to live with never occurred to my mom. It was a rocky relationship for a while.

The story has a happy ending, though. When they died a month apart in 2002, they had been married 52 years.

My point in telling the story is to drive home the fact that the U.S. was a very different place in the 1950’s and 1960’s. A lot of the personal freedoms we live with now didn’t exist. And as a result, people often ended up making bad decisions out of necessity. Things were pretty good for white men, not so good for women. It took women decades to achieve any sort of equality with men.

Now back to those quotes I used to start this column.

Marsha Blackburn referenced Griswold v. Connecticut, a Supreme Court ruling she deemed “Constitutionally unsound.” She believes it should be reversed.

Before 1965 when the Supreme Court ruled in this case, it was illegal in many states for even married couples to possess any kind of birth control. That includes condoms, pills, diaphragms, etc. You could be arrested and fined or imprisoned for having them in your home. Connecticut was one of them. And the Griswold’s were being prosecuted under that law. 

Contraceptives were made illegal under obscenity statutes. Possessing Contraceptives was considered obscene. When the case reached the Supreme Court, the Griswolds won. But it was still five years before every state had revised their laws to make the sale of contraceptives legal for married people. And 1972 before a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for unmarried people to get access to contraceptives.

Marsha Blackburn says that the Supreme Court ruled wrongly and wants the current court to reach back 50 years and again make birth control illegal. 

Republican Senator Mike Braun last week took a swing at another 50-year-old Supreme Court ruling, Loving v. Virginia, that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage. Interracial marriage has been legal now since 1967. And he wants to undo that ruling. He’s not alone.

These are just two examples of U.S. Senators wanting to return the U.S. to the 1950s. But there are many more who share these views. Which seems a little odd, as one of the Supreme Court Justices, Justice Thomas, is in an interracial marriage, as is our Vice-President.

Now throw in the likely successful push to strike down Roe v. Wade, which had the effect of legalizing abortion, and the push back to the mid 20th century appears to be a triple-play for Republicans.

My mother at 21 was a beautiful, intelligent young women without many good choices. She became a stay-at-home mom and never held a job outside the home. Effective, legal contraception empowered women by allowing them to decide when to have children, and to take control of their lives.

Majorities of Americans support birth control, interracial marriages, and a host of other laws that empower people. But a growing number of politicians are saying out loud now what they could never say before. They want to mandate when and with whom you can have children, and who you can love and marry.

Watching old 8mm movies from the 1950s is a lot of fun. Perfect mom, dad and three kids family living in neat mid-century modern homes. But behind that façade things were not so great. 

Don’t allow politicians to undo the progress we’ve made over the last 50 years. The 1950s is a fun place to revisit, but you do not want to live there.


Declaimer – I referenced quotes from Republican politicians in this column. In the interest of full disclosure, I am politically Left-Libertarian (fiscal conservative/social liberal).

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