Wednesday, February 20, 2019

February 20th...This Day in History (Ireland allows sale of contraceptives + others)

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Ireland allows sale of contraceptives
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In a highly controversial vote on February 20, 1985, the Irish government defies the powerful Catholic Church and approves the sale of contraceptives.

Up until 1979, Irish law prohibited the importation and sale of contraceptives. In a 1973 case, McGee v. The Attorney General, the Irish Supreme Court found that a constitutional right to marital privacy covered the use of contraceptives. Pressured by strong conservative forces in Irish society, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, the government was slow to change the law to reflect the court’s decision, and a number of proposed bills failed before reaching the books.

In 1979, the Irish health minister, Charles Haughey, introduced a bill limiting the legal provision of contraceptives to “bona fide family planning purposes.” Signed into law in November 1980, the Health (Family Planning) Act ensured that contraceptives could be sold by a registered pharmacist to customers with a valid medical prescription. Still, many people saw the law as too strict. Over the next several years, a movement began to make contraceptives more easily available, causing bitter divisions inside and outside of the Dail, Ireland’s main house of Parliament.

As the government debated the changes, Catholic Church leaders railed against them, warning that increased access to contraceptives would encourage the moral decay of Ireland, leading to more illegitimate children and increased rates of abortion and venereal disease. On the eve of the vote in early 1985, the Dublin archbishop claimed the legislation would send Ireland down a “slippery slope of moral degradation.” Some politicians were even threatened with violence if they voted for the legislation.

On February 20, 1985, a coalition of the Fine Gael and Labour parties led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald defeated the opposition of the conservative Fianna Fail party by an 83-80 vote. The new legislation made non-medical contraceptives (condoms and spermicides) available without prescriptions to people over 18 at pharmacies; it also allowed for the distribution of these contraceptives at doctors’ offices, hospitals and family planning clinics. Though it was still illegal to advertise contraceptives and use of the birth control pill remained restricted, the vote marked a major turning point in Irish history–the first-ever defeat of the Catholic Church in a head-to-head battle with the government on social legislation.

(More Events on This Day in History)

GENERAL INTEREST
1986
Chunnel plans announced
Attempts to dig a channel tunnel between Britain and France date back to 1883, and Napoleon drew blueprints for a tunnel in 1802. Yet not until February 20, 1986, were France and Britain able to announce that a tunnel would soon become a reality. Trains, cars and buses would be ...

GENERAL INTEREST
1962
An American orbits earth
From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Hershel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut. Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National ...

GENERAL INTEREST
1725
American colonists practice scalping
In the American colonies, a posse of New Hampshire volunteers comes across a band of encamped Native Americans and takes 10 “scalps” in the first significant appropriation of this Native American practice by European colonists. The posse received a bounty of 100 pounds per scalp ...

WORLD WAR II
1942
Pilot O’Hare becomes first American WWII flying ace
On this day, Lt. Edward O’Hare takes off from the aircraft carrier Lexington in a raid against the Japanese position at Rabaul-and minutes later becomes America’s first flying ace. In mid-February 1942, the Lexington sailed into the Coral Sea. Rabaul, a town at the very tip of ...

VIETNAM WAR
1968
Hearings begin on American policy in Vietnam
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins hearings to investigate American policy in Vietnam. This was a direct result of the Tet Offensive, in which Viet Cong forces, supported by large numbers of North Vietnamese troops, launched the largest and best-coordinated ...

SPORTS
1998
Tara Lipinski becomes youngest Olympic figure skating gold medalist
On February 20, 1998, 15-year-old Tara Lipinski wins the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and becomes the youngest gold medalist in her sport. Lipinski donned her first pair of skates at age six. In 1994, at age 12, she won a gold ...

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