Not even fifty years ago the Supreme Court recognized the right of married couples to make family-planning decisions free from unnecessary interference by the state in the landmark decision Griswold v. Connecticut. There the Court ruled that the Constitution provides a broad right to privacy that shields the most intimate of decision from the prying eyes of the state and ultimately helped push the movement for reproductive justice forward to Roe v. Wade.
The law at issue in Griswold prohibited the use of “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception.” Estelle Griswold, Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut and Dr. C. Lee Buxton a physician and professor at the Yale School of Medicine opened a birth control clinic in New Haven to test the law. Shortly after it was opened the two were arrested, tried, found guilty of illegally providing contraception and fined $100 each. Their convictions were upheld at the appellate level until the Supreme Court held the Connecticut law unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.
Sometimes when legal historians discuss Griswold they note the law was old–passed in 1879–and rarely enforced to imply or reduce the seriousness of the law challenged and the issue of whether or not married couples (and later single persons) had a right to privacy when dealing with matters of health and bodily autonomy. I mean, after all, who would really question such a position?
How about the entirety of the conservative movement today, that’s who.
It was a position that used to make some sense, back before contraception was again under attack and presidential candidates declaring Griswold wrongly decided. In today’s political climate, however, that’s a different story.
And because of that shift we have to pay close attention to the legislation anti-choice activists are advancing in the name of the 14th Amendment like fetal personhood because those bills pose the greatest substantive jurisprudential threat to Griswold while legislation designed to make contraception more expensive and harder to access represent the greatest legislative threat.
So when others suggest the war on women is some manufactured political meme, or if they tell you you’re overreacting to the Blunt Amendment and state efforts to restrict family planning and contraception, remind them that not even fifty years ago those restrictions were already in place.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons