Today is the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), which, in striking down a criminal ban on contraceptives, recognized for the first time that the United States Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, and that this right encompasses a right to obtain and use contraceptives. (For all you legal eagles and repro rights buffs out there, Griswold recognized this right as it applied to married couples only. Seven years later in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972), the Supreme Court would recognize the right as it applies to single people on the theory that treating married and single people differently in this regard violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment). Griswold paved the way for, among others, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), cases that protect reproductive decision-making and sexual autonomy and privacy.
Justice Douglas wrote in Griswold:
“The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. Various guarantees create zones of privacy. . . . The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees. . . . Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.” (Internal citations omitted).
While the constitutional basis for this decision has long been criticized since the right to privacy is not explicitly found in the text of any amendment, men and women today undoubtedly benefit from the decision’s outcome.
This is certainly true for female athletes. Balancing career and family is a daunting task for anyone, and taking time out of one’s career to give birth and raise children can stunt one’s career trajectory. But unlike many of us, who can work in our careers well into our 60s and 70s, athletes have a much smaller window to make a name for themselves. Sure, athletes go on to do commentary, become coaches etc., but the length of time that they can actually play and compete is relatively short, and for the most part coincides with the prime time in life for having children. And so the ability of female athletes to control the timing and spacing of childbirth, if ever, is of supreme importance.
On the anniversity of Griswold, we recognize the impact this case – and the efforts of the women’s movement that undoubtedly led to the Court’s decision – continues to have on the lives of women in this country.