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Birth control and privacy rights, incrementally won

RE “A woman’s right” (Op-ed, June 6): Massachusetts legal history regarding birth control importantly supplements Alexandra Marshall’s interesting description of the mid-1960s Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that married women had a constitutional right of access to birth control. Massachusetts continued to deny any such right to unmarried women, and upheld this denial on a 4-3 vote by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1969. I was the law clerk for the late Justice Arthur Whittemore, who wrote the dissent.

That same case reached the Supreme Court in Eisenstadt v. Baird, which on March 22, 1972, held that unmarried women also had the right of access to birth control, and in which Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote his famous words: “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision to bear or beget a child.”

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On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, quoting those words.

John H. Henn


The writer, a retired partner at Foley Hoag LLP, has been pro-bono reproductive rights counsel to Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts since 1976.

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