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Connecticut’s Key Role in the Saga of "the Pill"

May 17, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Americans everywhere are celebrating - or decrying - the birth control pill, which just turned 50. Connecticut played a special role when the pill first appeared, involving the arrests of prominent health care providers. When the pill debuted in 1960, it was illegal in Connecticut, even for married women, until a momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1965.

The case is named for Estelle Griswold, the head of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut at the time. She was arrested along with a physician from Yale Medical School for dispensing birth control pills to married women, says Susan Yolen, vice president for public affairs and communication for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.

"Connecticut was one of the few states in our part of the country that really did not allow married women to access birth control pills, which were, of course, the cutting-edge, newest thing on the market."

She says after those arrests, supporters of birth control drove women across the border to New York State to get the pill. Four years later, in 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that married couples could make their own decisions regarding birth control, based on the right to privacy.

Access to the pill has broadened since 1965, and Yolen says the pill is considered by many social scientists to be one of the most game-changing developments of the past century, whether one applauds or condemns it.

"Certainly it was one of the things that first enabled women to start deciding when they wanted to have a family, if they wanted to enter the workplace, and certainly in terms of enhancing their access to education. It's the single most important improvement in the status of women, not just here, but worldwide."

Yolen says the Griswold case set the stage for legalizing abortion eight years later, also decided on the basis of the right to privacy.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT