Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Estelle Griswold and a Woman's Right to Contraception

Griswold v. Connecticut (decided 7 June 1965)

Estelle Griswold
It's been only sixty years--7 June 1965--since the U.S. Supreme Court decisions overturning a Connecticut court ruling that criminalized the use of contraceptives.

The state of Connecticut had banned contraceptives in an 1879 law: "any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception shall be fined not less than forty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days." Further, "any person who assists, abets, counsels, causes, hires or commands another to commit any offense may be prosecuted and punished as if he were the principle offender." 

The case arrived at the Supreme Court after Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton were arrested and found guilty as accessories to providing illegal contraception. On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors (now known more simply as the Connecticut Supreme Court) upheld their conviction, and Griswold and Buxton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on 29 March 1965.

On 7 June, the Court announced its decision: by a vote of 7–2, the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy." So contraception was legal--at least for married women.

It would be great to think that the court's decision, based on the right to privacy, would be accepted today, but a woman's reproductive freedom--including her right to choose a contraceptive product for herself--continues to be eroded. 

All the pertinent documents in the case are available at the Cornell University Legal Information Institute; you can access them by clicking here. You can hear the oral arguments at the Oyez Scholar at Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech website by clicking here.