Educating the Public about Reproduction
Education about contraception is an integral part of reproductive rights. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Criminal Code made it illegal to not only sell but also to advertise materials that prevented contraception. The consequence of this was that all written materials that either promoted or instructed the public about control were specifically against the law, unless it could be proven that it served the public good. A few individuals sought to educate the public about birth control despite the legal restrictions. A significant figure during this time period was Mary Elizabeth Hawkins who founded the first Canadian birth control clinic in Hamilton, Ontario in 1932. Another notable individual was A.R. Kaufman, who founded the Parents’ Information Bureau in Kitchener, Ontario around the same time.
The Eastview Birth Control Trial
A key event occurred in 1936, when one of Kaufman’s field workers, Dorothea Palmer, was arrested in Ottawa for violating section 207c of the Criminal Code which prohibited the selling and advertising of contraceptives. The trial lasted six months, with Palmer winning her case by arguing that her actions served the public good.
“Why, if the Criminal Code forbade ‘every one from having for sale or disposal any means of instructions or any medicine, drug or article intended or represented as a means of preventing contraception,’ was the clinic allowed to proceed? In reply to that question, Mr. A.R. Kaufman asked an equally pertinent question, ‘How could the law stand to have a thousand court cases on its hands?’ Whenever an infraction occurred, if it was for the common good, the law turned a blind eye toward it.”Bailey, Thomas Melville. For the Public Good:A History of the Birth Control Clinic and thePlanned Parenthood Society of Hamilton,Ontario, Canada. Hamilton: W.L. GriffinLimited, 1974, 13.
The Involvement of the Government
It was not until the late 1960s that the government started to fund organizations that promoted birth control. Over the span of a century, the right to information and education about contraception has changed drastically; currently education about contraception is not only allowed, but is firmly encouraged and even disseminated by the government.
“Effective sexual health education programs ensure access to clinical health and social services that help people address the counselling and health care needs they may identify as they learn about sexual health. Examples of such services include birth control and pregnancy counselling.”Health Canada. Canadian Guidelinesfor Sexual Health Education. Ottawa: Division ofSTD Control, Laboratory Centre for DiseaseControl and Health Service Systems Division,Health Canada, 1994, 13.