Personal Liberty

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Case background and primary source documents concerning the Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut. Dealing with whether or not a citizen has a natural right to privacy, this lesson asks students to support or refute the Supreme Court’s ruling in Griswold that the Constitution protects a right to privacy within marriage that includes the decision to use artificial birth control.

Founding Principles

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Liberty

Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

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Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Case Background

The Comstock Laws, federal laws passed in 1873, banned the interstate distribution of “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials. With specific references to birth control devices and information, the regulation effectively outlawed birth control. Twenty four states passed similar laws.

In the early twentieth century, the “second wave” of the American feminist movement was largely behind efforts to repeal these laws. Individuals including Margaret Sanger campaigned for universal access to birth control. Sanger went on to found Planned Parenthood. Later in the twentieth century, challenges to laws banning birth control continued. One such law was a Connecticut statute, largely unchanged since adopted in 1879, that banned the use of “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception.” The law punished people who offered advice or counseling on birth control as severely as the offenders who actually used it.

In the 1960s, Estelle Griswold, the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, together with a physician colleague from Yale School of Medicine, opened a birth control clinic for married couples in New Haven, Connecticut. The clinic was staffed with doctors and nurses, who provided counseling on birth control to married women only. She was prosecuted, and the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. Griswold argued that marital privacy was a natural right protected by the Ninth Amendment, as well as by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Key Question

Support or refute the Supreme Court’s ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), that the Constitution protects a right to privacy within marriage that includes the decision to use artificial birth control.

Directions

Read the Case Background and Key Question. Then analyze Documents A-M. Finally, answer the Key Question in a well-organized essay that incorporates your interpretations of Documents A-M, as well as your own knowledge of history.

Materials

Documents you will examine:

  1. James Otis, Against Writs of Assistance, 1761
  2. Sections of the Bill of Rights, 1791
  3. Section of The Fourteenth Amendment, 1868
  4. Connecticut Statute, 1879 (revised 1958)
  5. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925
  6. “Margaret Sanger Has Her Mouth Covered,” 1929
  7. Palko v. Connecticut, 1937
  8. Dissenting Opinion, Poe v. Ullman, 1943
  9. “Man Pickets Outside New Haven Planned Parenthood,” 1963
  10. Majority Opinion (7-2), Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965
  11. Concurring Opinion, Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965
  12. Dissenting Opinion, Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965
  13. “Birth Control Advertising,” 1967

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