First came Griswold
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By Jim Sedlak

The pro-life movement in the United States zeros in on the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court. That decision decriminalized abortion in the United States and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, defined health so broadly that, since January 22, 1973, abortion-on-demand throughout pregnancy has been allowed.

While it is understandable that Roe and Doe get the attention, it is important that we recognize that the foundation of those decisions came eight years earlier in the Griswold decision—handed down on June 7, 1965, 55 years ago this week.

Planned Parenthood was founded in 1916 and immediately set about to get contraception legalized in the United States. Once that was accomplished, Planned Parenthood would move to get abortion legalized. The fight to legalize contraception was accomplished in two parts that were separated in time by almost 30 years.

The first came in the striking down of the federal restrictions on contraception. In its Winter 2011 newsletter, the Sanger Papers Project of New York University traced a series of court cases that culminated in a 1936 case known as U.S. v. One Package. This was a purposeful effort by Sanger to challenge the federal laws against the physical distribution of contraception. She ordered a shipment of contraceptive diaphragms from Japan and was charged with a crime. She won the case, and the newsletter headline proclaimed: "Tracing One Package—The Case That Legalized Birth Control."

Having had great success at eliminating the federal laws on birth control, Planned Parenthood turned its attention to the still-existing state laws and worked in several states to get the laws overturned. The most restrictive of these laws was in Connecticut where it was even illegal for a married couple to use contraceptives in their own bedroom. Penalties included a fine and up to a year in prison. Although law enforcement generally ignored this particular provision of the law, it did enforce the laws against the public sale and distribution of contraception.

After some unsuccessful efforts at overturning the Connecticut laws, Planned Parenthood finally devised a winning strategy. It opened a birth control clinic in Connecticut. The clinic manager was Estelle Griswold, who was also executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut. The clinic sold contraceptive devices, and when police raided the clinic, Griswold freely admitted to selling the contraceptives and provided the names of two customers who would testify that they had purchased them.

Griswold was arrested, tried, and convicted of breaking the law. She appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 7, 1965, the Court handed down the decision in the Griswold v. Connecticut case. That decision not only struck down all the laws against contraception in Connecticut and all other states, but it proclaimed a new “right” that it purportedly “found” emanating from the penumbra (shadows) of the Constitution. 

In Griswold, SCOTUS proclaimed a “right to privacy in sexual matters.”

Once the Supreme Court handed down the Griswold decision in 1965, the gloves came off. Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates were free to openly advocate for changes in the abortion laws. The first state to accomplish the liberalization of its abortion laws was Colorado. State representative Richard “Dick” Lamm wrote the new law and got it passed in 1967just two years after Griswold. It is worthy to note that Lamm was highly influenced by his mother, Mary Lamm, a Planned Parenthood supporter. From that beginning in Colorado, abortion laws were liberalized in a growing number of states. New York decriminalized abortion on July 1, 1970, and Planned Parenthood did its first legal abortion on July 2, 1970, in Syracuse. 

In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down the Roe and Doe decisions which, the court said, was based in part on the [fictitious] “right to privacy in sexual matters” it found in its Griswold decision.

In 2003, Lawrence v. Texas relied on Griswold’s right to privacy in striking down sodomy laws. At that time, homosexual activities were viewed as anathema. Following Lawrence and the extension of the right to privacy over such acts, homosexuality is now glorified and same-sex marriage has been legalized.

The impact of Griswold cannot be dismissed—a grisly decision that ushered in abortion, sodomy, and the demise of the family.

In preparation for this Sunday, June 7, 2020, ask your clergy members to speak in church about the origins of much of what we see happening in the world around us. Ask them to speak about the impact of Griswold.

Jim Sedlak is executive director of American Life League, founder of STOPP International, and host of a weekly talk show on the Radio Maria Network. He has been successfully fighting Planned Parenthood since 1985.