Contraception and Privacy: In Light of Fundamentalist Pharmacists Unlawfully
Refusing to Dispense Birth-Control Prescriptions
Researched by Edward C. Paolella
(April 10, 2005)
United States Supreme Court Decision: Griswold v. Connecticut
Should people be allowed access to drugs or devices designed to stop contraception, and thus be able to engage in sex without having to worry as much about pregnancy? There have been many laws in the United States which prohibited the manufacture, distribution, transportation, or advertisement of such drugs and devices. Those laws were challenged and the most successful line or argument stated that such laws interfered with a sphere of privacy which belonged to the individual.
Connecticut prohibited the use of drugs or instruments to prevent conception, and the giving of assistance or counsel in their use. The laws in question had been enacted in 1879 (and originally written by P.T. Barnum, of circus fame): 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....
The Supreme Court ruled that the "statute forbidding use of contraceptives violates the right of marital privacy which is within the penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights." According to Justice Douglas, who wrote the majority opinion, the rights people have are more than what can be read in the literal language of the Constitutional text. Citing a number of earlier cases, he emphasized how the Court had established a justified precedent for protecting the marital and family relationships from government interference without strong justification.
In this case, the Court failed to find any justification for this kind of interference.