1961 November 10

Estelle Griswold Arrested – Road to a Right to Privacy Begins


Estelle Griswold, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, had just opened the New Haven clinic ten days earlier, on November 1st. She was arrested on this day under an 1879 state law and charged with distributing contraceptives to two married couples. Police closed the clinic. The appeal of her arrest reached the Supreme Court, and in the historic Griswold v. Connecticut decision, on June 7, 1965, the Court established a constitutional right to privacy. Griswold, in turn, became the basis for Roe v. Wade, establishing a constitutional right to abortion on January 22, 1973.

Estelle Griswold died in 1991 at age 81. In 1994 she was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

The fight for public access to birth control devices and information was a long one. See, for example, the notorious 1973 Comstock Act (passed on March 3, 1873), which outlawed the distribution of devices and information for many decades. Margaret Sanger, the greatest birth control advocate in American history, opened the first birth control clinic in America on October 16, 1916. She was arrested a week later and served a one month jail term for her crime. The Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law banning birth control devices on June 7, 1965, and established a constitutional right to privacy. Congress passed the first law providing federal funds for family planning services on December 24, 1970.

Learn about Estelle Griswold in the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame: http://www.cwhf.org/inductees/reformers/estelle-griswold/

Read: John W. Johnson, Griswold v. Connecticut: Birth Control and the Constitutional Right of Privacy (2005)

And read: David Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade (1998)

Learn about Planned Parenthood today here.

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