About a half-century ago, Connecticut still had an antiquated law on the books restricting married couples’ access to birth control. A legal challenge put that law to the test: do states really have the right to do that?
In a case called Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court answered that question with a resounding “no.” In a landmark, 7-2 ruling, the high court said state laws blocking contraception access are unconstitutional because they violate Americans’ right to privacy.
Given contemporary standards, it may seem foolish to think of states returning to the days where married couples couldn’t legally access birth control, but support for Griswold, even now, is hardly universal.
The News & Observer published a piece the other day asking all of the many U.S. Senate candidates in North Carolina whether states should be able to restrict contraception access. The results were pretty striking.
[Incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan] supports abortion rights for women. The leading GOP contenders want to make abortion illegal. Three of the Republican candidates go even further, arguing to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The only exception, they say, is to protect the mother’s life.The Republican candidates also say the state has the authority to ban contraceptives and favor a “personhood” constitutional amendment that would grant legal protections to a fertilized human egg and possibly ban some forms of birth control.
Specifically, of the five leading Republican candidates hoping to take on Hagan in November, all five said states have the right to ban contraceptives if state policymakers chose to do so.
In fairness, it’s important to note that three of the five Republican candidates said states shouldn’t exercise that right to block access to birth control, even if they can. A fourth said he couldn’t imagine North Carolina taking this step, while a fifth didn’t want to say whether the state should pursue a ban or not.
And while those details certainly matter in practical terms, there is an underlying legal principle at the heart of the debate: can states ban birth control? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 40 years ago that states have no such right; all of the major Republican U.S. Senate candidates in 2014 believe the Supreme Court was wrong.
For these candidates, if a state wants to restrict married couples’ access to contraception, there are no rights afforded by the Constitution that say otherwise. It would appear that for these would-be senators, the right to privacy does not exist.
This seems like the sort of issue that could matter, not just in North Carolina, but in every state. As contraception access suddenly becomes more controversial for the first time in a long while, perhaps newspapers in other areas will ask the same question to candidates in both parties?