When Contraception Was a Crime: Griswold v. Connecticut

Estelle Griswold, left, and Cornelia Jahncke, both of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, celebrate the Supreme Court's decision in favor of birth control access.

Estelle Griswold, left, and Cornelia Jahncke, of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of birth control access.

The right to access birth control was in the crosshairs last year, when the Supreme Court ruled that certain employers had the right to exclude emergency contraception from their employees’ health plans. But the Hobby Lobby case was just one in a long line of contraception-related cases decided by the Supreme Court, and while that outcome was a setback for the reproductive rights movement, history also is filled with decisions that helped advance the cause. One of those victories came 50 years ago this Sunday, on June 7, 1965, when the Supreme Court handed down a decisive win for contraception access in Griswold v. Connecticut.


Griswold v. Connecticut was a landmark case in expanding access to birth control — but it was only a first step.


When the birth control pill came onto the market in 1960, it was a dream come true for anyone wanting to control her own reproduction. But in 30 states it was illegal to advertise contraception, and in two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, it was outright banned. In fact, anyone using birth control in Connecticut was at risk for a fine or imprisonment. These draconian laws didn’t stop people from seeking birth control from their doctors, but it did force them to engage in activities that were technically “criminal.”

Connecticut had been the birthplace, in 1844, of one of history’s most relentless anti-contraceptive crusaders, Anthony Comstock, whose Puritan upbringing spurred a nearly lifelong crusade against what he saw as the devices of immorality. Comstock was the driving force behind federal and state laws that banned birth control, and it’s estimated that he initiated as many as 4,000 arrests, one of the last of which was Bill Sanger, husband of Margaret Sanger, for distributing a pamphlet on family planning. Comstock died on September 21, 1915, months after Sanger’s arrest.

Connecticut’s anti-contraception law predated the birth of oral contraceptives by more than 80 years. It was so broadly worded that more old-fashioned family-planning methods, such as diaphragms and condoms, could also see their users fined or sent to jail. There was also equal punishment for anyone “aiding and abetting” would-be contraceptive users, meaning that doctors, pharmacists, and others could be punished for providing patients with birth control or information about it. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • RosieVaccineBWThis is starting to tick me off. Too many parents are not taking advantage of the Gardasil vaccine — which prevents cancer. CANCER. Come on, people. Seriously. (Yahoo Health)
  • Hopefully people aren’t avoiding vaccinating their children with Gardasil due to “promiscuity” worries. ’Cause that’s been thoroughly debunked! (Slate Double X)
  • Despite the gross miscarriage of justice that was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Obama Administration is actually kicking butt in the fight for contraception coverage. (Think Progress)
  • Oh look, Arizona Republicans are trying to pass new and horrible abortion legislation! There’s something you don’t see every day. #Sarcasm (Tucson Weekly)
  • Could the future of birth control possibly include a pill that would allow men to have “dry” (fluid free) orgasms????? No babies and no fretting over that dastardly “wet spot” on your 800 thread count sheets! Dreams really might come true after all. (The Atlantic)
  • Ever think about the temperature of the place you store condoms and other birth control? If not, it’s probably a good idea to start! #BetterSafeThanSorry (Bustle)
  • So, we’ve all heard of ISIS, right? Vast Islamist extremist terrorist organization that kidnaps and tortures and beheads people, rapes and sexually enslaves women, and commits mass executions and promotes unspeakable horror and terror everywhere they infiltrate? Well, a Republican in South Dakota says Planned Parenthood is like … way worse. (Slate Double X)
  • If you have health insurance and are still paying for your birth control, you need to read this! (Time)

Hobby Lobby: Birth Control and the Law

Birth control activists Margaret Sanger and Fania Mindell inside the Brownsville birth control clinic, circa October 1916

Birth control activists Fania Mindell and Margaret Sanger inside the Brownsville birth control clinic, circa October 1916

In 1964, when I was a 16-year-old college freshman, my Bronx pediatrician asked if I was sexually active, and offered to prescribe birth control whenever I started having sex.

In 1964, his doing so was legal in New York because of a 1918 ruling by Judge Frederick E. Crane of the New York Court of Appeals, but not in Massachusetts, where I was in school.

Birth control is only legal in this country because of a concerted campaign of civil disobedience carried out by Margaret Sanger and her followers. Here is a brief look at the legal history of birth control in the United States.


In 1917, a judge opined that women did not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.”


In 1873, the Comstock Act was passed into law, making the dissemination of “obscene” material through the mail illegal. Any attempts in the early part of the 20th century to teach about sexuality and the prevention of pregnancy — including Margaret Sanger’s work as well as Mary Ware Dennett’s The Sex Side of Life, which she wrote for her sons when she could not find any adequate literature to assist in educating them — were prosecuted under the Comstock Act.

Margaret Sanger witnessed her mother’s early death after 11 live births and seven miscarriages. Later, as a nurse on New York’s Lower East Side, she witnessed poor women dying from attempting to abort unwanted or dangerous pregnancies. She decided to challenge the Comstock Act. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: David Bradley for State Senator, LD 10

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 26, 2014, with early voting beginning on July 31. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” Make your voice heard in 2014!

10 Bradley, David_16Incumbent state Senator David Bradley, who Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona interviewed in 2012, is seeking once again to represent the interests of Legislative District 10 — an area that includes much of eastern Tucson and portions of central Tucson — in the Arizona legislature. During his most recent term, he has sponsored or co-sponsored a number of bills designed to reverse state-mandated barriers to abortion access and to provide accurate, accessible health care for Arizonans.

Mr. Bradley kindly took the time to participate in this interview on July 10, 2014.


“Medical decisions should be made based on science and not the philosophical positions of legislators.”


How has your commitment to serving Arizona grown over the past two years? On the policy level, what has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

Medicaid expansion and the creation of the new child welfare agency were both positive and hopeful accomplishments of this legislative term. The existence of a reasonable center in the legislature is also reason to be positive about the legislative session. Much, of course, rides on the governor’s race this year, with hope that a reasonable individual is elected.

Last legislative session, you voted against HB 2284, the warrantless inspection bill, which now permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. How do you explain to constituents the unique nature of abortion care and the need for heightened privacy and safety for patients?

I focus on the personal decisions that a woman makes, hopefully done in consultation with others, [which] should be done both with privacy and safety. Opponents to abortion are free to make their case in just about any forum they choose, but that should not include the clinics where those services are delivered. In the end, the final decision is for the woman making it, and that decision should be made without coercion or intimidation from anyone. Continue reading

Supreme Court Rules Against Women in Hobby Lobby and Buffer Zone Cases

Five out of six male Supreme Court justices voted in favor of Hobby Lobby's right to deny full contraceptive benefits. Their opinion does not represent the entire male population. Photo: NARAL

Five out of six male Supreme Court justices voted in favor of Hobby Lobby’s right to deny full contraceptive benefits. Their opinion does not represent the entire male population. Photo: NARAL

On the morning of June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court (or should I say the men of the Supreme Court) ruled in favor of two corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, who argued that they should not have to provide insurance coverage for their employees’ birth control, as required by the Affordable Care Act, because of the business owners’ personal religious beliefs.

The court stated that when corporations are “closely held” and it can be shown that the owners operate the business consistently with certain religious beliefs, then these corporations can be exempted from federal laws that burden those religious beliefs.


Emergency contraception and IUDs work primarily by preventing fertilization, and won’t interfere with existing pregnancies.


The “beliefs” in question held by these two corporations concern two forms of birth control — emergency contraception and IUDs (intrauterine devices). But their “beliefs,” that emergency contraception and IUDs are abortifacients, aren’t rooted in actual science.

Here are the details.

Hobby Lobby believes that “life begins at conception.” They define “conception” as the time at which a sperm and egg combine to create a zygote.

The medical community, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), defines conception as the point at which a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. According to ACOG, the term “conception” properly means implantation. Continue reading