The Legality of Reproductive Health Care for Minors in the 1960s

In 1969, an article in the journal’s very first issue examined the legality of providing contraceptives and treatment for venereal disease to U.S. minors—those younger than 18—particularly if they were unmarried. At a time when the limited availability of such services for minors was a growing concern, the authors of “Birth Control, Teenagers and the Law” assessed federal and state statutes that determined whether health care providers could offer them. Many restrictive laws focused on the criminal aspects of “contributing to the delinquency” or “impairing the morals” of a minor in the absence of parental consent or involvement, while laws that allowed providers to offer services often focused on how “mature minors” had the right to consent to medical care, most notably to treat venereal disease and prevent its transmission. As federal and state-sponsored family planning programs were established and expanded in the late 1960s, the abolition of restrictive birth control laws and the enactment of statutes that promoted greater access to health care for adolescents resulted in a dramatic shift in the provision of family planning services for teenagers. This early analysis helped document the legal evolution in this critical period of expanding reproductive rights.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine