The temporary or permanent prevention of pregnancy by barrier devices, hormonal pills and implants, surgery, spermicides, intrauterine devices, or other means.
In the 1800’s some Christians viewed contraception as immoral, believing that its widespread use would lead to promiscuity, marital infidelity, divorce, child abandonment, and abortion. In the mid-nineteenth century several states passed statutes banning the dissemination and use of contraceptives. In 1873 Congress enacted a law forbidding the sending of contraceptives or information about them through the mail.
Margaret Sanger (on step, facing baby) outside a Brooklyn courtroom during one of the many "birth control trials" to which she was subjected.
Early in the twentieth century, Margaret Sanger and others began campaigning for public acceptance of birth control and the repeal of laws against contraception. Some campaigners viewed contraception as an instrument of women’s liberation, some sought the freedom to have sex without fear of pregnancy, and others were principally motivated by eugenic goals.
By the 1940’s most states permitted physicians to prescribe contraceptives. Nonprescription distribution of contraceptives was still legally restricted although these laws were rarely enforced. Procontraception groups challenged these restrictions on contraceptives in federal courts. Their initial efforts were unsuccessful. In Gardner v. Massachusetts
In Griswold v. Connecticut
In dissent, Hugo L. Black and Potter Stewart argued that nothing in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution prevents a state from restricting contraception pursuant to its police power to protect public health, safety, and morals. They faulted the majority for substituting an allegedly enlightened judicial view of the requirements of public morality for the contrary judgment of the elected representatives of the people of Connecticut.
Griswold purported to protect the institution of marriage against legal interference with spousal decisions about birth control. In Eisenstadt v. Baird
Opponents of judicial activism criticized the Court’s invalidation of laws against contraceptives as a step toward judges injecting their personal views about morality and public policy into the Constitution. Supporters of the right of privacy doctrine were disappointed by the Court’s unwillingness to expand the doctrine beyond decisions about childbearing to embrace consensual sex generally. In Bowers v. Hardwick
Appleby, Brenda Margaret. Responsible Parenthood: Decriminalizing Contraception in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Critchlow, Donald T. Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Hilliard, Bryan. The U.S. Supreme Court and Medical Ethics: From Contraception to Managed Health Care. St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, 2004. Mason, J. K. Medico-legal Aspects of Reproduction and Parenthood. Brookfield, Vt.: Dartmouth, 1990.
Black, Hugo L.
Bowers v. Hardwick
Douglas, William O.
Eisenstadt v. Baird
Family and children
Goldberg, Arthur J.
Griswold v. Connecticut
Privacy, right to
Roe v. Wade