In A.Z. v. B.Z. (2000), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Boston, Massachusetts, affirmed a lower courtÕs decision, ruling that contracts that require a party to become a parent against his or her will are unenforceable and contrary to public policy. The case centered around A.Z. and B.Z., a divorced couple who had previously used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to start a family together during their marriage and had several preembryos cryopreserved as part of the process. While undertaking IVF, the couple signed multiple consent forms requiring them to decide what should happen to the cryopreserved preembryos in the event of certain listed contingencies, such as death or separation of the couple. The couple indicated their preference that B.Z., A.Z.Õs now former wife, could use the cryopreserved preembryos if the couple later separated. When their relationship deteriorated, however, A.Z. objected to B.Z.Õs attempt to have additional children using the preembryos, leading to a lengthy legal battle. The court case A.Z. v. B.Z. established Massachusetts public policy that people should not be forced to become a parent against their will, even if they previously agreed to provide their genetic material for reproduction.
David Michael Rorvik is a science journalist who publicized advancements in the field of reproductive medicine during the late twentieth century. Rorvik wrote magazine articles and books in which he discussed emerging methods and technologies that contributed to the progression of reproductive health, including sex determination, in vitro fertilization, and human cloning. During that time, those topics were controversial and researchers often questioned Rorvik’s work for accuracy. Rorvik contributed to the field of reproductive medicine by communicating methods of reproductive intervention and contributing to the controversy around new developmental medicine technologies.
In the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court ruled that laws banning abortion violated the US Constitution. The Texas abortion laws, articles 1191–1194, and 1196 of the Texas penal code, made abortion illegal and criminalized those who performed or facilitated the procedure. Prior to Roe v. Wade, most states heavily regulated or banned abortions. The US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade secured women's rights to terminate pregnancies for any reasons within the first trimester of pregnancy. It also sparked legal discussions of abortion, fetus viability and personhood, and the trimester framework, setting a landmark precedent for future cases including Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and Stenberg v. Carhart (2000).
Nearly seven decades ago, the US government established grants to the states for family planning and acknowledged the importance of enabling all women to plan and space their pregnancies, regardless of personal income. Since then, publicly-funded family planning services have empowered millions of women, men, and adolescents to achieve their childbearing goals. Despite the recognized importance of subsidized family planning, services remain funded in a piecemeal fashion.
No-scalpel vasectomy, or NSV or keyhole vasectomy, is a surgical method of sterilization that involves puncturing the skin of the scrotum to access the vas deferens, a tube that carries spermatozoa, or sperm, from the testes to the penis. The surgeon performing the procedure blocks the flow of sperm through the vas deferens, sterilizing the patient. NSV is a less invasive procedure, as it does not use a scalpel to make a deep cut on sensitive scrotal tissue. Typically, urologists perform NSV with the purpose of rendering the patient sterile while not altering other functions of the testes, scrotum, and penis. Li Shunqiang developed the technique in China in 1974 as a less invasive method of vasectomy for male patients. Li’s development of NSV provided an alternative method to vasectomies that rely on making incisions into the scrotum with a blade. NSV gained wide use as a sterilization technique, providing a path for males to take greater responsibility for contraception and family planning.
Harry Clay Sharp was a surgeon who performed one of the first recorded vasectomies with the purpose of sterilizing a patient. Sterilization is the practice that makes a person unable to reproduce, and vasectomy accomplishes that by severing the vasa deferentia, the sperm-carrying tubes in the male reproductive system. Historically, sterilization procedures have varied in techniques, goals, and risks, but Sharp’s method of vasectomy allowed restriction of a patient’s reproductive functions without significantly affecting other bodily functions. Historians have associated Sharp’s use of the procedure, primarily on prison inmates, with eugenics, a movement with the goal of bettering humans via selective reproductive practices. With vasectomy, Sharp was able to sterilize people whom he did not deem fit to reproduce. Beyond simply pushing forward a new surgical method of sterilization, Sharp’s political advocacy led to the use of his technique as a method of eugenicist control over human reproduction, especially in Indiana.
Ernst Gräfenberg was a physician and researcher who studied sexology, the study of human sexuality, in both Germany and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Gräfenberg researched the use of intrauterine devices as a form of contraception, and he developed the Gräfenberg ring. The Gräfenberg ring was one of the first intrauterine devices that effectively prevented pregnancy without causing infection, and it became the forerunner of all modern intrauterine devices, or IUDs. Gräfenberg also studied the role of the urethra in female orgasm. He was one of the first researchers to discuss female pleasure in a scientific manner, and, more specifically, he was one of the first to write about the erogenous zone on the anterior vaginal wall, colloquially called the G-spot. Through the technology he developed and the ideas he proposed, Gräfenberg advanced knowledge of female anatomy, pleasure, and reproduction, enabling researchers and professionals to better understand and cater to females’ reproductive and sexual needs.
In 1914, Margaret Sanger published “Family Limitations,” a pamphlet describing six different types of contraceptive methods. At the time Sanger published the pamphlet, the federal Comstock Act of 1873 had made distributing contraceptive and abortion information through the US postal service illegal. The Comstock Act classified contraceptive information as obscene and limited the amount of information available to individuals about preventing pregnancies. In 1915, Sanger’s husband was charged with violating the Comstock Act for distributing “Family Limitations” and was sent to jail for 30 days. The case sparked many birth control activists to lobby for the repeal of the Comstock Act. By inciting controversy during a time when the Comstock Act limited contraception access, Sanger’s pamphlet “Family Limitations” increased women’s knowledge about various methods of preventing pregnancy.
The Family Planning Services and Public Research Act of 1970, often called Title X Family Planning Program, is a US federal law that provides federal funding for family planning services to low income or uninsured families. The US federal government passed the law, Public Law 91-572, in 1970 as an amendment to the Public Health Services Act of 1944. The Act created the Office of Population Affairs (OPA) under the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (here called the Secretary). Through the Act, the OPA and the Secretary provide resources and policy advice to the US government on health issues. The OPA also issue grants and formed contracts with public and nonprofit organizations to assist in the establishment and operation of voluntary family planning services. The Act helped to extend reproductive health services to low income individuals and to individuals who otherwise struggle to get such services.
In Maureen Kass v. Steven Kass (1998), the Court of Appeals of New York in Albany, New York, ruled that the state should generally consider IVF consent forms signed by participants in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) program valid, binding, and enforceable in the event of a dispute. The court indicated that decisions regarding the handling of cryopreserved pre-zygotes, often called preembryos, contained within these consent forms should be upheld. Although Steven and Maureen Kass had signed IVF consent forms agreeing to donate unused preembryos to research, during their divorce Maureen argued for custody of the preembryos. The New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Steven Kass and concluded that the informed consent forms signed by the former couple had clearly manifested the coupleÕs mutual intent to donate any preembryos to research in the event of a dispute.