Family Classes: Rethinking Contraceptive Choice

University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy, Forthcoming

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 504

GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 504

27 Pages Posted: 2 May 2010

See all articles by Naomi Cahn

Naomi Cahn

George Washington University - Law School

June Carbone

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law


The political attention paid to moral values - in the context of the high profile fights over abortion, homosexuality, and abstinence education - has developed over the past quarter century in ideological terms as though race and class no longer existed. In fact, the changing understandings that attend family formation reflect a long term shift in the pathways to middle class life which has created a new technocratic elite - an elite that invests heavily in both men and women’s advanced degrees, and has remade family life to its advantage. The success of the new model, which we call the “blue family paradigm,” and the sexual revolution at its core undermines what had once been consensus support for traditional values (which we will call “the red family paradigm”), and for the structure of family life following from abstinence to courtship to marriage.

The result of the tensions between these family ideals has been a moral backlash. In this Article, we highlight the tensions between the two family models, focusing on contraception, and critique the class-based nature of the results. We argue that the politicization of family issues has produced its own “vicious cycle” of moral concern, draconian changes that disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, and a new round of moral panic justifying further punitive measures, as the initial restrictions (such as closing abortion clinics and slashing family planning funds) make matters worse. We conclude that the “culture wars” are very much about class, and yet they are framed as a fight between two relatively privileged groups, in which class implications of the struggle disappear from sight. This Article argues that only by making these class implications visible - for low income, middle class, and wealthy individuals - can we design more effective interventions that can break the cycle.

Keywords: family law, children and the law, women and the law, class, race, contraception, abortion, culture wars, moral backlash, family formation, contraception, sexual revolution

Suggested Citation

Cahn, Naomi R. and Carbone, June, Family Classes: Rethinking Contraceptive Choice. University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy, Forthcoming; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 504; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 504. Available at SSRN:

Naomi R. Cahn (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-6025 (Phone)
202-994-5614 (Fax)

June Carbone

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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