More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Connecticut’s ban on contraceptives. The Griswold v. Connecticut decision established privacy as a constitutional right and revolutionized sexual and reproductive rights in the U.S. The Griswold case was a catalyst for landmark decisions, including Roe v. Wade, which was overturned almost one year ago. The fight to exercise bodily autonomy and maintain privacy in healthcare decision-making continues as constitutional rights are chipped away.
Contraception comes in various options, from condoms and pills to intrauterine devices. More than 90% of people in their reproductive years have used some form of contraception. And while a majority use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, 40% of people also use them for nonpregnancy-related reasons, like managing a medical condition (KFF).
• Donate to organizations like Bridge Collective, ARC-Southeast, Healthy and Free Tennessee, and Jane’s Due Process that offer reproductive healthcare and support in anti-abortion and anti-contraception states.
• Support programs like BCBenefits providing affordable birth control.
• Demand your senators support the Right To Contraception Act to protect birth control access.
When the birth control pill was introduced in 1960, most states still had anti-contraception laws. Connecticut’s laws were among which had the nation’s strictest, prohibiting the sale and use of contraception as well as banning doctors from providing information about them (Justia). This was a particular barrier for poor women, as more affluent women with private physicians had better access (Yale Medicine Magazine). Read how the creation of the pill came at the expense of Puerto Rican women.
Hoping to overturn the law, Estelle Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, a gynecologist at the Yale School of Medicine, opened a birth control clinic in New Haven. Charged $100 for providing illegal contraception, the pair appealed their case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Connecticut law conflicted with the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
On June 7, 1965, the Court overturned the Connecticut law, saying it violated the right to marital privacy (Library of Congress). Seven years later, this right was extended to unmarried individuals in Eisenstadt v. Baird, which noted, “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child” (Library of Congress).
Five years after the Griswold ruling, the Title X program was enacted. It provides affordable family planning and preventive health services to low-income people, including minors, like free or low-cost contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, breast and cervical cancer screening, and pregnancy-related counseling (Office of Population Affairs). It’s the only federal program that provides affordable reproductive and sexual health care services and allows teens to receive confidential access to reproductive care without parental consent (Planned Parenthood).
The rulings enabled control of childbearing, allowing people to delay or opt out of parenthood or space out pregnancies to reduce health risks. They expanded reproductive health care beyond middle- to upper-class white women and increasingly allowed greater educational, political, professional, and social mobility while decreasing infant and maternal death rates (Planned Parenthood). And reducing the number of unwanted or unplanned births meant reducing the number of unhealthy pregnancies and instances of child abuse and neglect.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the Court should review all of its “substantive due process precedents,” specifically naming Griswold. While there is no direct effect on birth control access or legality, the ruling cleared a path to override contraceptive access.
Clinics in states with abortion bans have lost or are at risk of losing their federal funding under Title X since service providers are required to offer pregnant people information on pregnancy termination and abortion referrals upon request—which would violate state abortion bans (CNN). Tennessee lost $7.5 million for violating Title X and will have to rely on state funding to finance the health department family planning (WJHL). A Texas federal judge ruled in December 2022 that Title X violates state and federal law and parental rights, siding with the father of three who didn’t “want his daughters to be able to access contraception or family planning services without his permission” and finding that his rights were being infringed upon since the Texas Family Code grants parents the “‘right to consent to…medical and dental care’ for their children” (Texas Tribune). State officials and anti-abortion groups are conflating contraceptives with abortion with the narrative that “contraception kills babies” (Slate).
But restricting the legal right to contraception and privacy had been in the works years before Roe v. Wade was overturned, from the Supreme Court ruling that employers could withhold contraception coverage because of their religious beliefs to the underfunding of Title X under a Trump-era “gag rule” (Justia, NPR). Even privacy rights fail to protect low-income pregnant people, especially Black and Latine ones, who are forced into letting “the government collect private information about their reproductive and sexual choices, and physically intrude into the private spaces where they raise their kids” to receive necessary government assistance (Bloomberg). And more than 19 million people needing contraception care reside in contraceptive deserts that prevent them from accessing it (Power to Decide).
Losing contraception access is a loss of choice. It removes our ability to decide if and when we want to be pregnant and have children and who and what we want to be. No entity or law should make that decision for us. And if we have learned anything since Roe’s fallout, we know we can’t let it happen again with Griswold.
• Griswold v. Connecticut paved the way for a string of landmark Supreme Court decisions.
• Conservatives are attacking contraception access.
• Birth control is basic health care that enables personal autonomy and self-determination.