The copper intrauterine device, or IUD, is a long-term, reversible contraceptive first introduced by Howard Tatum and Jamie Zipper in 1967. Health care providers place an IUD inside a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. Copper IUDs are typically made of T-shaped plastic with some portion covered with exposed copper. Prior to the invention of the first IUDs, women had few long-term options for safe and reliable birth control. Those options mostly consisted of barrier methods and the oral birth control pill, which were only effective if used correctly and consistently. For women seeking to control their fertility, a copper IUD was one of the first forms of long-term birth control that was highly effective and did not require consistent and regular action on the woman’s part to remain effective.
Much change has occurred in abortion laws over the past 50 years, this thesis tracks those changes principally through Supreme Court Cases, such as United States v. Milan Vuitch, Roe v. Wade, and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood among others. The landscape of abortion law in the US continues to shift today, as recently as 2017 with Plowman v. FMCH cases were being heard in courts that wrought subtle yet important changes in abortion law.
In June 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court decided the case Plowman v. Fort Madison Community Hospital, or Plowman v. FMCH, and ruled that women who gave birth to children with severe disabilities could sue for wrongful birth in Iowa. Specifically, after Plowman v. FMCH, a woman could sue for wrongful birth if she believed that her physicians failed to disclose evidence of fetal abnormalities that may have prompted her to terminate the pregnancy. Pamela and Jeremy Plowman filed the suit against the Fort Madison Community Hospital in Fort Madison, Iowa, alleging that hospital physicians failed to inform them that a prenatal test showed fetal abnormalities. Plowman v. FMCH gave women in Iowa the legal right to sue if physicians failed to tell them about fetal defects.
Hormone releasing intrauterine devices or hormonal IUDs are contraceptive devices placed in a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy by continuously releasing a low dose of certain hormones. Jouri Valter Tapani Luukkainen, a medical researcher at the University of Helsinki, introduced the first hormonal IUD in 1976. Luukkainen’s IUD was a plastic device shaped like a capital T. The horizontal shafts of the IUD held a reservoir of the hormone Levonorgestrel that the IUD slowly released at a constant rate over the IUD’s lifetime, allowing the hormonal IUD to remain effective for five to seven years. Women can use hormonal IUDs for long term contraception that requires no maintenance on the part of the user. The hormonal IUD provides women an option for reliable long-term birth control that does not require maintenance to remain effective.
Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood) was the 2007 US Supreme Court case in which the Court declared the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 constitutional, making partial birth abortions illegal. In 2003, the US Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibited an abortion technique called partial birth abortion. A partial birth abortion is similar to, but not the same as, a Dilation and Extraction or D&X abortion, which is what the Ban was intended to prohibit. Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood eventually reached the Supreme Court, where the Court ruled that the Ban was constitutional. In Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, the Court ruled for the first time that it was constitutional to ban a method of abortion without providing an exception for cases where a pregnant woman’s life was endangered.
Milan Vuitch was an abortion provider in the twentieth century, who performed thousands of abortions in Washington, DC, at a time when abortions were legal only if they preserved the life or health of the pregnant woman. Vuitch was a frequent critic of Washington DC’s anti-abortion law and was arrested multiple times for providing abortions that were not considered necessary to preserve the pregnant woman’s life. After several arrests, Vuitch challenged the law under which he had been arrested, and his case made its way to the Supreme Court in Vuitch v. United States. Although Vuitch technically lost in his Supreme Court case, the Court’s ruling expanded the meaning of health and Vuitch was able to continue providing abortions. Vuitch provided abortions to women who sought them but were not able to legally justify them, and his Supreme Court case was one of the earliest challenges to the abortion law.
On 2 July 1979, the United States Supreme Court decided Bellotti v. Baird, ruling that a Massachusetts law that prohibited minors from obtaining abortions without parental consent was unconstitutional. That law prohibited minors from receiving abortions without permission from both of their parents or a superior court judge. Under that law, if one or both of the minor’s parents denied consent, the minor could petition a superior court judge who would determine whether the minor was competent enough to make the decision to abort on her own. In addition to judging the minor’s competency, a superior court judge could also determine whether the abortion was in the minor’s best interest. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision and ruled that the existing Massachusetts law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Bellotti v. Baird affirmed that minors had the right to choose an abortion and that the decision to abort was personal and could not be overridden or vetoed by a third party.
In the 1971 court case United States v. Milan Vuitch, hereafter US v. Vuitch, the US Supreme Court ruled that a Washington, DC law was constitutional by overturning a 1969 district court decision. Beginning in the early twentieth century, Washington, DC, prohibited abortions except for abortions performed to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman. In 1969, Milan Vuitch, a physician in Washington, DC, was convicted of criminal abortion for providing an abortion when the woman’s life was not endangered. In his defense, Vuitch argued that the Washington abortion law was unconstitutionally vague, meaning it failed to define health in terms clear enough so that doctors could be sure what actions violated the law. Though a lower district court agreed with Vuitch and struck down the law as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court later disagreed and overturned the decision. US v. Vuitch was one of the first US Supreme Court cases that challenged the constitutional validity of laws regulating abortion and set a precedent that helped determine future abortion cases, like Roe v. Wade in 1973, which made abortions more accessible and gave women more control over their bodies.