Fifty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced one of its most important decisions of the 1960s. This landmark decision unleashed an era of new opportunities, changing American society and the economy for the better.
Few have heard of it.
That’s because Griswold vs. Connecticut remains one of the Supreme Court’s most underappreciated cases. Griswold’s immediate effect was to legalize the use of contraception for married couples in Connecticut. But it also led to the creation of a national network of family planning clinics and, eventually, near universal legal access to contraceptives for unmarried women. Griswold was more than a legal decision about privacy. It empowered Americans to become more deliberate parents and opened opportunities both to children and adults.
To understand the profound and enduring effects of this case, consider its context. In 1965, 24 states prohibited the sale of contraceptives to any individual. Inconceivable to most Americans today, these prohibitions were passed during the “Comstock era” of the late-19th century to curb the distribution of “obscenities,” of which contraception was just one. These Comstock-era restrictions resulted in significantly lower use of the newly introduced birth-control pill, which was approved for use in 1960. The restrictions persisted despite the fact that, by the early 1960s, over 75 percent of Americans agreed that birth-control information should be available.