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

Lost in Translation: What the Doublespeak of Reproductive Rights Opponents Really Means

NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona's Kat Sabine in front of the Capitol in 2012.

NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona’s Kat Sabine in front of the Capitol in 2012.

A “dedication and commitment to protect the health of women” sounds like something from the mission statement of a praiseworthy organization — one that might even get you to grab your wallet for a donation or your running shoes for a marathon. Those nine words, though, came from Gov. Jan Brewer, in a proclamation against Roe v. Wade that she signed for the Center for Arizona Policy.

The Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) is an influential, far-right Christian organization behind more than 100 of Arizona’s state laws. Since its founding in 1995, CAP has taken positions that are antagonistic to the health of Arizonans — adults and children alike. As Rachel Port has written previously for this blog, CAP has opposed anti-bullying measures, comprehensive sexuality education, and the Affordable Care Act.


Abortion opponents may claim to safeguard women’s health, but their policies put women in danger.


People who oppose access to abortion have made rhetoric about the health of women and children a common theme in their messaging, implying that the termination of a pregnancy is a dangerous procedure that threatens patients’ health. It’s been part of their toolbox even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a patient can undergo — safer, in fact, than childbirth. It’s been in use in spite of other contradictions as well, like those CAP exhibits in its disregard or adversarial stance toward policies that would promote the health of women and children. Continue reading