In June 1916 most women were unable to obtain birth control information – much less contraceptive pills, patches, or vaginal rings. Distribution of basic contraceptive guides was illegal in most jurisdictions. Such was the case in Portland, Oregon when Sanger visited the city as part of her first national lecture tour. After her first talk at a local theater, the all-male city council met in secret and prohibited the dissemination of Sanger’s Family Limitation pamphlet. A few days later local authorities arrested and jailed Sanger, local physician Marie Equi, and other supporters for distributing the guide. Portland was the only city on the tour to do so, prompting local attorney C.E.S. Wood to chide, “Portland is the most ridiculous of cites.”
Today women in Oregon and California can pick up birth control prescriptions and products at their local drugstores without the time and expense of a doctor visit. Women in several other states can use smart phone apps or websites to obtain prescriptions from clinicians after answering personal health questions either online or by video. Products available include birth control pills, morning-after pills, patches and rings. There are variations for delivery or pick-up but a few outfits ship directly to a location women specify.
The new “digital distribution” systems represent a considerable shift in access to reproductive information and products. So far, these new services have not met the fierce resistance of birth control and abortion foes. Birth control advocates recognize drawbacks with the easy availability via apps and the internet: many of the digital services do not provide insurance coverage for birth control products and many women cannot afford smart phones or internet access. But proponents hope that digital distribution will encourage more women to adopt effective contraception and thus reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions.
One early-adopter of the birth control apps told the New York Times: “It’s been for years going through these nonstop hoops of fire to get birth control…if I went through my normal physician and the referrals, I would be six months pregnant before I would get my hands on it.”
The New York Times (“Birth Control via App Finds Footing Under Political Radar,” June 18, 2016) mentions these digital sites for birth control prescriptions: lemonaidhealth.com , Prjktruby.com , https://nurx.co. , www.virtuwell.com . Also available through Planned Parenthood Care clients in several Western states and Minnesota.
“Portland Moral or Ridiculous?” Oregonian, June 21, 1916, 10.
Michael Helquist examines Margaret Sanger’s 1916 visit to Portland, Oregon in “Lewd, Obscene, and Indecent”: The 1916 Portland Edition of Family Limitation” in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2016. In the same issue, Helquist co-wrote with artist Khris Soden “Adventures in Family Planning” a history comic about Sanger’s arrest. (Both the article and comic can be downloaded here.
Helquist received the Joel Palmer Award for his article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly (Spring 2015) titled: “Criminal Operations”: The First Fifty Years of Abortion Trials in Portland, Oregon” (click for pdf download).
Helquist’s biography “Marie Equi, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions,” published by Oregon State University Press, 2015 was named a 2016 Stonewall Honor Book for Nonfiction by the American Library Association.