1943 February 1

Supreme Court Upholds Connecticut Anti-Birth Control Law


In Tileston v. Ullman, decided on this day, the Supreme Court upheld a Connecticut law banning the use of drugs or instruments that prevented conception. The attorney in the case was Morris Ernst (born on August 23, 1888), who was a pioneer in the fight for reproductive rights and against censorship. Twenty-two years later, in Griswold v. Connecticut, on June 7, 1965, the Court declared the Connecticut law unconstitutional and established a constitutional right to privacy.

The fight for public access to birth control devices and information has been a long one — and continues today. 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.

The Court: “No question is raised in the record with respect to the deprivation of appellant’s liberty or property in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment. . . ”

Read: Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 3rd ed. (2007)

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

Learn more about the struggle for reproductive rights: https://www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/aclu-history-safeguarding-reproductive-freedom

Watch historian Linda Gordon discuss the history of birth control: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQ2ymfXxN5c

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