Griswold Anniversary Par-tay!

Cynthia L. — a.k.a. Sister Blah 2, will be guest posting with us for the next little while.

June 7 marks the 43rd anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the SCOTUS decision holding that contraceptive use by married couples is protected by a constitutional right to privacy. So, is anyone planning on holding a big party today to celebrate? My guess (feel free to correct me) is that the answer is no.

One might be tempted to attribute this to the fact that celebrating any SCOTUS decision would be, well, hopelessly nerdy. But witness the public and even ritualistic celebration of 2nd Ammendment rights among the US Mormon populace–bumper stickers galore, just to name one manifestation. Will we ever see members of the church raising their condoms or birth control pills to the sky and proclaiming, “from my cold, dead hands!!” a la Charlton Heston?

Certainly part of the difference comes from the larger merger of LDS culture with the conservative movement, thus LDS are merely plugging into an existing vibrant cultural infrastructure for celebrating gun rights–and not celebrating contraceptive rights. But suppose LDS were to hypothetically divorce ourselves from the larger conservative movement for a moment–would it then make sense for us to celebrate Griswold?

Griswold says that choices about what goes on in the marital bedroom, when and how many children to bear, are private ones. This is virtually identical to the church’s official position. So, bring out the balloons and streamers? My read of our church culture is that although the policies match up almost exactly, many would say that celebration isn’t quite exactly the right stance. Why? Are we to merely accept that Griswold is the law of the land, but view it as unfortunate in some way? In some “ideal” parallel universe, would LDS be fighting to overturn it? What are the parameters of that parallel universe? I feel like we are in a kind of funk, where just about everyone uses contraception at some point or another, yet we feel that we should be wringing our hands and fretting and feeling at least vaguely guilty about it. Is that doctrinal?


  1. 3 children, a full-time career, a home-based buziness for my wife, and 4 busy church callings between us (as well as soccer games, piano lessons, etc.) are all the birth control we need. :)

    Dave Barry once said that the most amazing about people with 8 children was that they had managed to find enough time and privacy to *conceive* 8 children…

  2. Huh. I think, perhaps, that your observations about 2nd amendment celebration are not particularly representative of Mormonism as a whole. I don’t know of anyone like that where I live. And I am not sure anyone has birth-control bumper stickers – Mormon or not. Pro-choice stickers, sure. But no one really feels like access to birth control is threatened. Now if there was a strong anti-birth control lobby, I’d bet you’d see them around.

  3. Ugly Mahana says:

    I’ll second J. Stapley’s comment at number 2. No need to feed the fiction that American Mormons (or is it Mormon Americans?) automatically buy into every caricature of U.S. right-wing politics.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    At my party we had a big punch bowl full of condoms. But I got kind of ticked at the EQP for bogarting all the purple ones.

    There was a time–not that long ago–when our leadership would not have been pleased by the decision. And even now for them it might be more a necessary accomodation with modernity than an ideal. If women were having 12 to 16 children a pop like our fundamentalist sisters we could really brag about those growth stats. So yes, there is still a lingering sense of guilt over birth control in marriage within the Church.

    All I can say is I’m glad I wasn’t married 75 years ago. And I’m very grateful for the decision and the very positive effect it has had on my life.

  5. It seems like this is less a post about the politics of birth control per se than about how changing sociopolitical values conjugate (pun intended) with our religious values, especially when assimilation into the societal mainstream is increasingly important within our system of religious values. It’s worth noting that many or most Church leaders at the time of the Griswold ruling were staunchly opposed to birth control. Some of that opposition has lingered into the disturbingly recent past. Regardless of how Mormons tend to come down on the 2nd amendment, raising the question of how our religious convictions are (re)shaped by changing social norms and about the concept of birth control in general in Mormon doctrine and cosmology is, I think, an important exercise.

  6. sister blah 2 says:

    #2,3– Yes, points well taken. My point was not at all that members universally display NRA stickers, or even support the ideas, but merely that they exist.

    And I wouldn’t expect to see contraceptive rights celebrated via bumper stickers specifically, but I’m just curious about what people perceive to be the mood with which we are “supposed” to approach birth control. A necessary evil? Or something to be celebrated? Or just something that is so ingrained into our lives that we don’t even think about it either way? Of course a lack of Griswold-day parties doesn’t necessarily signify anything. But is there something incongruous about a “true blue mormon” (whatever that means to you) exclaiming that they are so grateful for birth control? Maybe not. I’m curious what people think.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    “Emanations.” “Penumbras.” Griswold is a good result but a bad legal decision. The right to privacy? A good right but not a constitutionally-developed one.

  8. How I celebrate that particular decision is none of your business – and I certainly am not going to be sending out invitations.

  9. “But is there something incongruous about a “true blue mormon” (whatever that means to you) exclaiming that they are so grateful for birth control?”


  10. Mark IV says:

    Nice post, sister blah, and good questions, too.

    When I saw Griswold Anniversary at the top of my web browser, I thought of Chevy Chase, and wondered how long ago long National Lampoon’s Vacation was released.

    Also, being hopelessly nerdy isn’t a drawback around here; it’s almost a requirement. If there is anything nerdy, nerdful, or nerdlike, we seek after these things.

  11. Good questions, Cynthia.

    I’d say that there are various reasons why there’s no Griswold celebration.

    The first is the Griswold was a stepping stone (a major one) on the path to Roe, and of course, church members tend to be very strongly anti-Roe. This bleeds over to Griswold — many strongly anti-abortion church members tend to condemn the entire line of cases. They would apparently be quite happy to turn birth control regulation over to the states, if that meant the end of Roe.

    A second, also very important reason is that Griswold may be completely in harmony with _current_ official statements about family planning. But it was absolutely not in line with contemporaneous statements. Church leaders 40 years ago spoke out very strongly against birth control. Older church members remember those statements well.

    (The best treatment of the evolution of church statements on birth control and family planning is Melissa Proctor’s excellent article, at ).

    A third possible factor is that the culture warrior types in the church — the people most likely to celebrate things like Supreme Court decisions — still tend to see birth control as a bad thing, as part of a combined assault by Satan on “the family.” It doesn’t help that they often team up with Catholic activists, who absolutely see birth control as bad.

    In fact, I sat through a Sunday School lesson not three months ago, where the visiting speaker explained that the United Nations was trying to destroy the family, by introducing and encouraging feminism, abortion, birth control, homosexuality, and sex education.

  12. sister blah 2 says:

    #1–anon, at the risk of thread-jacking my own thread by bringing up this name…the Dave Barry quote is exactly what I always think of when I see the Duggars. Bless them, I don’t know how they do it.

  13. Hip, hip, hooray! Let’s hear it for people staying out of our bedroom. Now if only the kids would recognize our constitutional, God-given right to privacy!

  14. sister blah 2 says:

    LOLZ, Jami, that comment ruled.

  15. Aaron Brown says:

    What Steve said at #7.


  16. Peter LLC says:

    In my house certain preventive measures are not unknown. I also own several guns (including assault rifles!). Make of that what you will.

  17. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 11
    That sounds like an oddly paranoid Sunday School lesson, Kaimi. The U.N.? Are they flying in the feminists and homosexuals on black helicopters, by any chance?

    I am grateful for Griswold v. CT. It has certainly impacted my life for the better as well (which is somewhat ironic, when you stop and think about it….!).

  18. “In my house certain preventive measures are not unknown. I also own several guns (including assault rifles!). Make of that what you will.”

    So, are the assault rifles the preventative measures? That would destroy the mood for me all right!

  19. Julie M. Smith says:

    mark IV, you are giving gst a run for his money these days

  20. Peter LLC says:


    Yes. They are stored under the bed.

  21. Mark B. says:

    And I thought Peter LLC’s guns were there to destroy the mood for the young men who come to take his daughters out. That’s effective birth control.

    Whether, as Steve says, Griswold was a good result is something about which I’ll express no opinion.

    But it was horrible law. Justice Stewart’s dissent has the money quote:

    But we are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that I cannot do.

    But now we have cheerleaders for the Court, hoping that the result (the law be damned) is to our liking. And Justice Douglas’s reasoning [sic] was a big push down that miserable road.

  22. Again, I must play my age card: I was there for the ‘Pill’ wars. they were just as hot as today’s abortion wars, or the SSM wars. I am glad they are over, and now are just parlor talk.
    An aside: I was staying at a friend’s home, in his basement make over. As I was undressing for a shower, I noticed a baseball bat next to the door. The shower was a quick one. I asked a breakfast if there was something I should know….

  23. Mark B. says:

    Except, Bob, that (1) the “wars” about the pill were not about whether it could be sold legally (even the Connecticut law invalidated in Griswold wouldn’t have had any effect, since the pill isn’t sold without a prescription, and the Connecticut statute only prohibited sales of contraceptives without a prescription), but about whether using the pill was a good thing or not–and that’s a legitimate issue for discussion, so long as you’re not trying to pass a law barring its use and (2) I don’t know if there were any other states with laws, in 1965, like the one invalidated in Griswold. Roe v. Wade, on the other hand, was decided in the face of a majority of state laws that severely limited legal abortions and it not only invalidated all those laws, but stretched the boundaries that legislatures had established in states (like NY, CA and CO) that had liberalized abortion laws before 1973.

  24. #23:I don’t disagree with your legal points. I do disagree that the ‘Wars’, were/are over the legal points. I think they are more social convolutions. Each side only using the law as their weapon.
    There a lots of things just in the Bill of Rights for some good legal ‘debates’. But only two or three draw a big enough crowds to start ‘Wars’.

  25. The Second Amendment isn’t a SCOTUS decision. (I haven’t read the comments so that might have been pointed out already but I couldn’t resist. Sorry, now go ahead and celebrate Griswold — but what are you going to do to celebrate it? Hand out condomns to junior high kids?)

  26. uh, condoms, oops.

  27. Sister Blah 2 – #12

    …the Dave Barry quote is exactly what I always think of when I see the Duggars. Bless them, I don’t know how they do it.

    I don’t know how anyone does it either but my mother, who had five, always said “once they out number you it doesn’t matter how many you have.”

  28. #25: Call me a Liberal (you’re correct), but I do not see as bold a line between an “Amendment” and a ‘SCOTUS decision”. But maybe , I am making your point(?).
    ME?….I am celebrating the “Social Security Act”.

  29. Bob: I don’t think that being liberal or conservative necessarily has anything to do with whether there is a difference between one of the Amendments to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights and a SCOTUS decision.

    If I understand you correctly, it sounds like you are saying that for you a SCOTUS decision is equivalent to an enumerated right in the Bill of Rights and you take this view because you define yourself as liberal.

    It is an interesting issue. In real terms, there isn’t much substantive difference between the effect of a Constitutional Right that is literally enumerated in the Bill of Rights and one that is not in the Bill of Rigths but rather is identified by the SCOTUS as emanating from a penumbra of such rights.

  30. I have a question or 2. Just how difficult was it for people to obtain BC prior to Griswold? Did other states actually enforce BC laws?

  31. sister blah 2 says:

    #25– John, Griswold was very limited in scope, only asserting a contraception right for married couples. It wasn’t until a subsequent decision that the right was broadened to apply to single people. So passing out condoms at Jr. High would not exactly be in the spirit of Griswold. It is precisely Griswold‘s narrow tailoring to contraception (not abortion) and married couples (not singles) that I think makes it an interesting object for study in terms of how LDS view it–we’re not talking about a legalizing some things we like but other things we abhor. (However, as Steve and Kaimi and others have pointed out in this thread, although the conclusion was narrow, the means of reaching the decision was broad and opened the door for many other decisions that we don’t like.)

    re: 2nd Amendment is an amendment, not a SCOTUS decision. You’re right, my wording there lacked clarity, but as Bob noted I was thinking in terms of decisions and amendments being sources of liberties on equal footing as far as celebrateability (that’s probably not a word, but should be!).

  32. #30: The ‘Pill’. came about 1960. Griswold 1965. But many types of BC have always been around. My Grandmothers used “Brest Feeding”, but seem to still have one child a year. Catholics, with the ‘Rhythm Method”, also had a failure or two.

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