Griswold v. Connecticut
The right to privacy is not specifically defined by the Constitution but following the Supreme Court’s 1965 landmark decision in Griswold v. Connecticut it has become a de facto part of American liberties.
In its decision the court delved into several portions of the Constitution to find justification for the right to privacy, finding it in the self incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court voted 7-2 to strike down Connecticut’s “Comstock Law” that forbade doctors providing contraceptive devices and medicines on that basis.
As recently as the 1960s two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, still had laws (infrequently enforced) that forbade doctors and clinics education of women about contraception to avoid pregnancy – and supplying those devices or drugs. There were few women’s gynecological clinics until Estelle Griswold, director of Planned Parenthood clinics there, along with a Yale gynecologist C. Lee Buxton, were arrested and fined $100 for providing services in New Haven.
There had been such clinics since the early part of the 20th Century, the first opening in Hartford in 1935. While other lawsuits had been filed over the existence of the Comstock Law, few came to fruition because the law was not generally enforced. In 1961 the Supreme Court dismissed Poe v. Ullman, but Justice Marshall Harlan’s dissent cited portions of the Constitution that referenced not just privacy but the concept of liberty as being free from purposeless restraints, opening the door to the eventual Griswold decision.
These two cases formed the underpinning of future birth control, sexual freedom, abortion, and homosexual rights (including gay marriage) decisions by the Supreme Court, including Roe v. Wade, Eisenstadt v. Baird, Lawrence v. Texas, and Obergefell v. Hodges.