Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965))

Photo of a man protesting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, Connecticut.

Photo: man protesting outside of Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, CT

The 60s decade in the 20th century America was a time of challenging law and challenging the importance of morality. It was a time of change, protest, and hope. The Griswold v. Connecticut case of 1965 was a landmark case, challenging Connecticut’s law of informative contraception.

Estelle Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, who gave a young married couple advice and information on contraception. Both she and her colleague, Dr. C. Lee Buxton, were charged and found guilty as accessories to illegally providing conception and were fined $100 each. The two took the case to the Supreme Court and challenged Connecticut’s law, arguing that it goes against the law of ‘right to marital privacy.’ With a trial the grand jury’s 7-2 voted Connecticut’s law invalid; Griswold and Buxton won their case.

Justice William O. Douglass of the Supreme Court found that Connecticut’s law could not prove it absolutely necessary to restrict the married couple’s rights of privacy. The married couple’s use of contraception constitutes a fundamental right, and it was Connecticut’s job to prove to the Court that its law was absolutely necessary to overcome that right, in order to win the case – which it failed to do.

This was the first case in which the fundamental idea of privacy became the center of conversation. It was here where we see law and legalities meddling into private laws with even married couples. According to Justice John Marshall Harlan II, this is only a fundamental idea because marriage and marital privacy has always been protected in American society (Harlan).

Dr. Buxton, a medical professional and professor at Yale Medical School, and Griswold were charged and arrested for providing information. Connecticut’s law at the time prohibited contraception, and so the two were convicted as being accessories to it. This went against the constitutionally protected law of right to marital privacy, and so the case was settled – birth control, from then on, could not be denied from married couples.

The 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut served as a model for future cases in reproductive rights. It inspired later decisions in cases such as Eisenstadt v. Baird, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, and several others in the United States.

“Since 1965, there has been a dramatic decline in unwanted births, the result of pregnancies that women wanted neither at the time they were conceived nor at any future time.” Thanks to the Griswold v. Connecticut case, the public began to realize the importance of privacy in reproductive rights within married couples. This justice grew outside of marital status in future cases to come.

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