News Contraception

On The 47th Anniversary of Griswold, We’re Still Battling For Birth Control

Robin Marty

Happy anniversary, Griswold v. Connecticut! It's a shame we have to fight this all over again.

It was 47 years ago today that the Supreme Court ruled that obtaining contraception was no longer a crime. But despite the precedent set by Griswold v. Connecticut, women are actually finding it nearly as difficult to access birth control as they did back when it was prohibited. 

It’s an irony not lost on Alexandra Marshall, the future daughter-in-law of one of the plaintiffs in that landmark case. Marshall looks back on her time in the courtroom in this Boston Globe article, and reminisces about a time when birth control was only as accessible as the state you lived in.

In that historic courtroom I wasn’t aware that it was forbidden to take notes — a guard admonished me — and yet, while lacking that quotable record of my impressions during those momentous deliberations, I can recall with a piercing precision my recognition of the fundamental unfairness. It was the discrepancy between those Connecticut women denied their “right of marital privacy” and my own sexual freedom as a mere college student with lawful access to contraception in New York. It was that some of us were protected, and some weren’t.

My generation’s coming-of-age in the late ’50s and early ’60s was haunted by the girls who got sent away to submit their infants to those newly flourishing “homes for unwed mothers,” where all evidence of identity was guaranteed to be permanently lost. This involuntary surrender was a safer alternative, certainly, to the fatally botched procedures that could only be whispered about like the cruelest of rumors, but that those inhumane “solutions” were counted as “choices” in that era of willfully limited options epitomizes the injustice the court corrected.

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But although birth control may have been decriminalized across the country, we’re now seeing our access restricted once again. Women’s health advocate Sandra Fluke takes a look at the newest ways in which the “anti-birth control” faction has been trying to risk women’s health in an effort to control her body, especially when it comes to a law allowing employers to refuse to cover contraceptives in Arizona insurance plans.

Writing at the National Partnership for Women and Families, Fluke says:

It is hard to believe we are having this conversation today, the 47th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the case that decriminalized contraception….science shows that timely access to contraceptive services vastly improves maternal and child health. Planning and spacing pregnancy is in fact a medical necessity for healthy women and healthy families. But instead of recognizing this fact, this law divides reproductive health care into pregnancy prevention versus everything else – a dangerous method of restricting access to a critical health care need.

Currently, states may be making pushes to allow employers to deny birth control coverage, but we could never return to a point where it may be a crime to use contraception again, could we?  Women are Watching has celebrated the anniversary with a clip of likely presidential nominee Mitt Romney discussing whether Griswold was wrongly decided and the decision on birth control should be returned to the states.

Could we be heading back to the past when it comes to reproductive rights?  Author Jessica Pieklo thinks so. She writes:

[W]e 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.

Happy anniversary, Griswold! Let’s hope you see at least 47 more.

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