Even though it essentially engendered the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, its predecessor, Griswold v. Connecticut doesn’t have nearly the same recognition amongst the general public (although it should be noted that it has actually gotten some attention recently what with comments from Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum condemning it as judicial activism).
Suffice to say, plenty of folks erroneously believe that the right to privacy (whether you believe that is something enshrined in the Constitution or invented by the Supreme court) was recognized for the first time in 1973. I myself was one of them- it was only a year or so ago when I read Cristina Page’s “How The Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Sex, Virtue, and the Way We Live Now" that I learned of the origins of the right to privacy and the inextricable connection between the birth control movement and the abortion rights movement. I wasn’t particularly looking to educate myself further on the subject- Supreme Court says Connecticut can’t stop married folks from using a rubber, what more d’ya need to know?- but on a stop to the library to pick up some new books on hold (hint, hint), my eyes caught sight of Susan C. Wawrose’s “Griswold V. Connecticut - Contraception and the Right of Privacy" and I couldn’t help but throw it on top of the pile.
Clocking in at just 129 pages, it’s a slim, quick read (I finished it in a single sitting); this isn’t a heavy tome of legal analysis, but rather, a highly readable overview of the events leading up to, and the effects after, the Griswold v. Connecticut decision. Given that it was published in 1996, it is somewhat outdated- it speaks of John Salvi III, Paul Hill, and Michael Griffin, but not Scott Roeder, and mentions Bowers v. Hardwick but not Lawrence v. Texas- a murderer and a ruling, respectively, not to come until later. Nonetheless, given that most of the information therein is historical, the book doesn’t suffer for its age.
The charm of Wawrose’s writing is in the details- while by no means a novelization of true events, there are more than enough colorful tidbits of information about the participants engaged in the birth control battle to make up for the dryness that necessarily accompanies listing multiple court filings and appeals. Over the course of reading the book, I couldn’t help but exclaim aloud “Why is this not a movie yet?”- maybe a TV period piece a la Iron Jawed Angels, at the very least*. In other words, this book is quite entertaining, although it does taper off into a more textbookish tone in its last chapter’s discussion of the aftermath of Griswold. Equally wonderful is its nearly thirty black and white photographs- a political cartoon or two, but mostly portraits or candid shots of the people written about, the legislatures and courts doing the voting, and birth control dispensation (the picture above, of Griswold celebrating the decision, is just one example).
Wawrose’s book is not comprehensive- she finishes with a “For Further Reading Section”- and I imagine someone wanting to know more would do well to seek out more expansive books about the birth control rights movement. But for someone who only knew the bare bones of the court decision, it was still pretty enlightening. I had no idea, for instance, why the decision took place in Connecticut as opposed to other states (Connecticut was the only state with laws preventing not just distribution of contraception, but also its actual use), or how calculated Griswold’s arrest was or how it came about (they were hoping for it, and one lone angry Roman Catholic dude badgered the police to raid her clinic), or the politics surrounding the legislative (rather than judicial) efforts to repeal the antiquated laws regarding contraception (hint: Catholics). And, of course, there are also a lot of other fun and interesting facts- like the role of circus magnate P.T. Barnum in outlawing contraception.
"Griswold V. Connecticut - Contraception and the Right of Privacy" is not a "must-read" or a book I’d shell money out for, but if you come across it at your library and have some spare time, it’d be well-worth it to augment your current knowledge about this rather crucial but oh-so-overlooked Supreme Court ruling.
* No, seriously, you guys. I am like this close to writing a crappy screenplay.