Eugenics & Contraception, part 15

An 1879 anti contraception law was still on the Connecticut books in the 1950s. Its original sponsor had been the State legislator and circus owner PT Barnum. (Joke about clowns in congress goes here!) Estelle Griswold and her colleagues wanted to challenge the law in a very specific way: They wanted an exception for married women who had medical need of contraception. 

The first attempt was Tileston v. Ullman and Poe v. Ullman, concurrent cases from plaintiffs who argued they needed birth control. The plaintiff names were anonymized for safety. “Paul and Pauline Poe” had delivered three babies, each of whom had died of medical complications shortly after. Tileston had been paralyzed giving birth. 

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against them, claiming the law was hardly enforced and thus not a hardship. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, saying  there was no proof of harm. In the ruling opinion the justices pondered the notion of privacy rights, whether they were fundamental, and whether they were included in the Constitution. 

Griswold and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Yale School of Medicine, needed to show proof of harm. In November 9, 1961 they opened a small birth control clinic near the Griswold home and Planned Parenthood Offices. Immediately a man was picketing outside and within days police came in to inspect the premises. They demanded the names of two patients. Griswold had preselected a married graduate of Yale Divinity and the wife of a respected professor. 

Each woman provided and signed a detailed statement of the medical care they received, as prearranged by Griswold. On November 9 of the same month the clinic was shut down and Griswold and Lee arrested for distribution of contraception. They were each fined $100. It was a small harm but a provable one. They were ready to go to court. 

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