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Griswold v. Connecticut - Significance

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The decision articulated a constitutional "right to privacy," which would later be interpreted as protecting the right of unmarried persons to use birth control inEisenstadt v. Baird (1972), and the right of women to terminate their pregnancies in Roe v. Wade (1973).

Connecticut's anti-contraceptive law, passed in 1879, was simple and unambiguous:

Any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception shall be fined not less than fifty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days nor more than one year or be both fined and imprisoned. (General Statutes of Connecticut, Section 53--32.)

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 principal offender. (Section 54--196.)

The Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut first brought the law before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942, with a physician as appellant. The Court ruled that the doctor lacked standing to sue, since his patients--and not he--suffered injury due to his inability to legally prescribe birth control. In June of 1961, declining to rule in a suit brought by several women, the Supreme Court called the normally unenforced law "dead words" and "harmless empty shadows." Estelle T. Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, chairman of Yale University's obstetrics department, decided to test the "death" of the 1879 law: On 1 November 1961, they opened a birth-control clinic in New Haven. Dr. Buxton cited the June decision and explained to the press: "This leads me to believe that all doctors in Connecticut may now prescribe child spacing techniques to married women when it is medically indicated."

Griswold v. Connecticut - 1879 Law Alive And Well [next]

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