40th Anniversary of Birth Control Ruling Marked

The 40th anniversary of a decision older than the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade was marked Tuesday, with legal experts still debating the controversial nature of the precedent that was set, which many see as a turning point in America for parental rights in matters of pregnancy.

Activists in Washington both celebrated and condemned the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut (search). The landmark case gave a victory to Planned Parenthood worker Estelle Griswold, who successfully challenged Connecticut's law banning the use or provision of birth control.

The decision was an enormous victory for women's rights groups but a tough pill to swallow for others.

Catherine Roraback, Griswold's attorney in the case, recalls it well. She said that they were hoping to help the poor, who, unlike wealthy women, could not circumvent the birth control ban with a wink and a nod to cooperative doctors.

"Rich women got contraceptives all the time in Connecticut, they could get them on prescription. They could go to a drug store and get their contraceptives. It was poor women who didn't get that service," Roraback said.

Griswold ended up doing more than preserve contraception — it identified a broad, new right to privacy, one not appearing in the Bill of Rights (search), but nonetheless present, the court concluded.

"Griswold, by saying that there were some rights that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, specifically a right to privacy, therefore fueled cases like Roe versus Wade, it made them possible," said Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein.

In Roe v. Wade (search), the Supreme Court concluded that Griswold's "right to privacy" includes the right to choose an abortion. In 2003, the high court upheld the sexual privacy rights of homosexuals in Lawrence v. Texas (search). Both decisions — unquestionably linked to Griswold — cemented its status as "infamous" among some anti-abortion backers.

"Is that what the founders put when they said, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident,' that there is a right to contraception, there is a right to abortion on demand, there is a right to sodomy, was that what the founders intended?" asked Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

But supporters of abortion rights maintain the case was a boon to reproductive freedom. They vow to continue advancing the cause.

President Bush's "policies have reversed years of progress by blocking access to emergency contraception, underfunding family planning programs and steering taxpayer money to unproven and unsound abstinence-only programs. As we celebrate the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, we must continue to fight for access to basic health care and family planning services," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement Tuesday recognizing the importance of Griswold. He has introduced a bill calling for increased access to birth control. On the House side, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Christopher Shays, R-Conn., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., also joined in, introducing the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act (search), to guarantee pharmacies fill all legal prescriptions.

Opponents call such measures a prescription for promiscuity.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Megyn Kendall.