by Hillary Schneller, Staff Attorney, Center for Reproductive Rights
This week marks the 45th anniversary of a key decision protecting our constitutional right to reproductive freedom—and it is not Roe v. Wade. Often flying under the jurisprudential radar is Eisenstadt v. Baird, decided on March 22, 1972, in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution protects the right of unmarried individuals to use contraception. There, the Court pronounced simply: if this right of personal liberty “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 whether to bear or beget a child.”
This anniversary happens to coincide with the confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch, who has heard cases bearing on access to contraception during his time on the bench, but has never heard a case about abortion access. While Judge Gorsuch’s lack of a record on abortion has confounded those who seek a window on how he would decide reproductive rights cases, there is much to be gleaned from his views about access to contraception. Senators should ask Judge Gorsuch where he stands on the right to contraception, a right that he has not acknowledged even while writing opinions that would allow employers—if not the government itself—to deny individuals access to birth control.
It may be unsurprising that Judge Gorsuch has never addressed the constitutional right to contraception. While abortion is well-known to be a constitutional right, contraception lacks equivalent popular recognition. Eisenstadt is in fact the second case in a trio in which the Court defined the fundamental right to contraception. Those three cases—Griswold v. Connecticut; Eisenstadt v. Baird; and Carey v. Population Services International—identify a sphere of personal liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that is shielded from government interference. The Court has carried that point through its decisions about reproductive freedom, personal decision-making and family relationships.