Roe v. Wade's 1973 constitutional guarantee of a woman's right to choose abortion emerged from a long and remarkable battle to extend Americans' individual liberties to include a fundamental right to sexual privacy. Only in 1965 had the Supreme Court first begun to protect such intimate personal freedoms by finally invalidating an archaic Connecticut criminal law that had prohibited the use of birth control. Despite the landmark importance of this crucial struggle, not until now has this legal revolution received the comprehensive treatment it deserves. Roe v. Wade's origins lie not in the U.S. Supreme Court's dramatic internal deliberations of 1971-72 or even in the grassroots women's movement of the late 1960s but, instead, in the 1920s and 1930s efforts to win repeal of the Connecticut birth control law. Those initial attempts failed, but twenty years later Connecticut Planned Parenthood director Estelle Trebert Griswold launched a new crusade against the statute. After one appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court lost by the narrowest of margins in 1961, Griswold and a medical colleague were convicted for providing birth control services in open defiance of the law. When their appeal finally reached the Supreme Court, the justices held that such a fundamental constitutional right to privacy did indeed exist. That resounding Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut opened a previously unimagined constitutional door: the opportunity to argue that a woman's access to a safe, legal abortion was a fundamental individual right. In 1969, the first abortion rights case was filed in federal court in New York, soon followed by others, including Roe v. Wade in Texas and Doe v. Bolton inGeorgia. After those two challenges were upheld by local federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court - which so far had confronted the abortion issue on only one occasion - agreed to review both decisions. The comprehensive, once-secret files of former Justices William J. Brennan, William
David J. Garrow is Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory University's School of Law. He received the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award for his biography of Martin Luther King, Bearing the Cross (1986). His earlier books include The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981) and Protest at Selma (1978).
"Riveting. . . . A fascinating account of the inner workings of the Court."--Donald Critchlow, "Journal of American History