Pl. Parenthood Prez: Without Birth Control 'Few Women Had Opportunity to Finish School'

Terence P. Jeffrey | September 6, 2012 | 11:57am EDT
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Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards speaks at the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

( - Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday that before birth control was legalized in the United States women did not have the opportunity to finish school and did not live long past the age of 50.

"Nearly 100 years ago when Planned Parenthood was founded, birth control was illegal," Richards told the convention. "And as a result, few women had the opportunity to finish school, and we really weren't even expected to live much past the age of 50.

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"But times have changed," she said. "Today, we're mothers and we are teachers and scientists and accountants and members of the armed forces. And because of President Barack Obama, more women than ever are serving in the U.S. cabinet and on the United States Supreme Court. We've come so far. We`ve come so far."

However, a study on historical trends in high school graduation rates for Americans born between 1900 and 1980 done for the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that throughout that period females had a higher graduation rate than males. Furthermore, the data shows that high school graduation rates for both sexes were higher for people born in the late 1940s than for people born in the early 1980s.

81.4 percent of American males born from 1946 through 1950 graduated from high school compared to 82.1 percent of females, according to the NBER study. Only 75.0 percent of American males born from 1980 through 1982 graduated from high school, while 79.9 percent of American women born in the time period did.

To the degree that contraception use increased among American school girls born after 1945 it could not have increased their likelihood of graduating from high school because the female high school graduation declined after that.

Similarly, statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dating back to 1900 indicate that in all periods since then women in the United States have had a longer life expectancy than men.

According to the most recent edition of the United States Life Tables published in the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Reports, Americans born in the 1900-1902 period had an overall life expectancy of only 49.24 years. But American women born in that period had a life expectancy of 50.70 while American men born in that period had a life expectancy of only 47.88.

In each of the 11 different time periods since 1900-1902 for which the CDC has calculated the life expectancy of Americans, women have maintained a relative life-expectancy advantage over men.

American women born in 2007, according to the CDC, have a life expectancy of 80.4 while men born that year have a life expectancy of 75.4.

PBS has published a timeline marking significant dates in the legalization and use of contraception in the United States. According to this timeline, a “wide assortment” of birth control devices was available in the United States through the early 1870s. In 1873, Congress enacted a law (the Comstock Act) that prohibited dissemination of contraceptives through the mail or interstate commerce. In 1936, PBS says in a summary of the Comstock Act, a federal appeals court decision “made it possible for doctors to distribute contraceptives across state lines.” In 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that a Connecticut state law prohibiting contraception violated the right privacy.

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