ACLU History: Laying the Foundation

Document Date: September 1, 2010

The first major Supreme Court test of reproductive rights came in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, challenging the state’s 1879 prohibition against the prescription, sale, or use of contraceptives, even for married couples. On behalf of a physician and a Planned Parenthood clinic director who were prosecuted for prescribing birth control to married women, Harriet Pilpel, an ACLU board member and Planned Parenthood General Counsel, filed a challenge to the birth control ban in the lower court and filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 ruling, the Justices struck down the law, holding for the first time that the Constitution guarantees a ‘right to privacy’ when individuals make decisions about intimate, personal matters such as childbearing. Nearly a decade later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), the Court established the right of unmarried couples to obtain contraceptives as well.

Throughout this period, and in the succeeding decades, the ACLU – with Pilpel leading the way – was a pioneering legal advocate for the right to contraception, the right to abortion, and the right to bear a child.

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» ‘The Right of Abortion’ (
» ‘Harriet Pilpel, 79, Lawyer, Dies; An Advocate of Women’s Rights (
» Harriet F. Pilpel Papers Collection at Smith College (

» Timeline of Important Reproductive Freedom Cases Decided by the Supreme Court

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