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Slouching Towards Sterility

There is an undeniable connection between free-and-easy birth control and the unraveling of American order.

Estelle Griswold and Dr. C. Lee Buxton with Coat Going to Hearing
Estelle Griswold and C. Lee Buxton at a 1961 circuit court appearance. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration green-lit the sale of an over-the-counter birth control pill for the first time in the country’s history.

The move follows the recommendation of a panel of seventeen scientific advisors who voted unanimously in May to affirm the public health benefits of an over-the-counter pill—unanimity, of course, being a sure sign that selection for the panel was not an especially balanced process. 


The drug, Opill, will soon be available to anyone and everyone, with virtually no restrictions and hardly more regulation. 

In an effusive celebration masquerading as a news article, the New York Times predicts that “the move could significantly expand access to contraception.” What does this mean, though? It cannot possibly mean what these words in this order would mean to a reasonable person. “Access” to contraception is already damn near universal. 

In context, it is entirely clear that “access” for these people is synonymous with “use.” The concern is not whether birth control is legal or illegal, or whether it is produced and made available to all or part of the public. It is whether any individual — of any age, gender, socioeconomic status, BMI, etc.—will encounter any kind of guardrails when attempting to purchase a powerful drug that hijacks an essential bodily function.

The implications of this radical position are concerning, to say the least.

According to the New York Times, “Experts in reproductive health said its availability could be especially useful for young women, teenagers and those who have difficulty dealing with the time, costs or logistical hurdles involved in visiting a doctor to obtain a prescription.”


This is a rather diplomatic way of noting that the FDA’s move here will make children, trafficking victims, and anyone else with limited agency more available for sex than ever before.

It seems this dimension has not even been considered by those who insist on driving “progress” and “access” in “reproductive healthcare.” But what else could possibly be expected of a sweeping government action that drastically reduces obstacles to consequence-free sex while simultaneously eliminating such basic requirements as identity verification and third-party involvement? The whole thing is a cartel coyote’s wet dream.

Equally concerning, organizations like the New York Times are not even attempting to obscure their interest in the age question here. The aforementioned report is littered with insistent mentions of Opill’s importance to minors, who have sometimes been afforded minimal protections when at risk of being treated as sex objects; no longer. The agenda is transparent.

Though troubling, none of this should be especially surprising.

Last year, when Donald Trump’s appointees to the Supreme Court saved the lives of countless American babies by repealing the infanticide mandate of Roe, The American Conservative published a symposium asking which terrible SCOTUS precedent should be overturned next.

My answer—an easy one—was Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1963 ruling that invalidated state laws prohibiting the sale of birth control pills. (Only two such laws remained in the Union at that point.)

It is difficult to overstate how far-reaching and disastrous the consequences of this case have been.

The actual question of birth control is almost secondary. What Griswold did was to sneak into the body of American law an entirely novel concept of the individual’s relation to the state. Prior to the Court’s innovation in Griswold, the “right to privacy”—an inheritance from the English common law tradition—was understood as just that: a right to privacy. It was a man’s right to be free from arbitrary imposition on his lane, essentially an extension of the right to property.

In Griswold, following arguments laid out decades earlier by Justice Louis Brandeis, the Court not only expanded but essentially redefined the concept. Underlying the revolution was Brandeis’s 1890 conclusion that “the principle which protects personal writings and any other productions of the intellect or the emotions, is the right to privacy, and the law has no new principle to formulate when it extends this protection to the personal appearance, sayings, acts, and to personal relation, domestic or otherwise.”

Once the Court accepted this conclusion, the right to privacy became a right to action, and everything went to hell.

This may sound like hyperbole, but this relation between free-and-easy birth control and the unraveling of American order—the decline of an empire—is not that. It is not even conjecture. It is a simple fact.

From the root of Griswold v. Connecticut grew Roe v. Wade, Lawrence v. Texas, Obergefell v. Hodges—a host of poison fruits that have nearly killed a whole civilization.

It was on contraception that radical progressives struck the decisive blow against American public morality. The victory of the birth control activists in this country, that is, was the final triumph of anti-human individualism over the politics of the common good.

Maybe the damage is done. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and all that. But if there is any hope for reclamation of the broader culture—for a restoration of the Christian ethos that animated the United States until just before the generation that delivered Griswold—it will not be in half-measures.