It seems some dudes are ready to party like it’s 1965.
There are three Republican candidates running for Michigan Attorney General and, at a candidate forum on Friday, all three said that Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court case that found a right to privacy allowing married couples to use birth control, was wrongly decided and tramples on states’ rights—just like Roe v. Wade, in their opinion.
The candidates—former state house speaker Tom Leonard, state Rep. Ryan Berman, and Trump-endorsed attorney Matthew DePerno—were at the end of a forum at Alpena Community College when the moderator asked about their opinions on Griswold. Michigan Live reports that none of the candidates knew the case by name but once they learned what it held, they all opposed it.
Leonard said: “This case, much like Roe v. Wade, I believe was wrongly decided because this is—it was an issue that trampled upon states’ rights and it was an issue that should have been left up to the states.” Berman said: “I’m all about states’ rights and limiting federal, and especially federal, judicial activism.” And finally DePerno chimed in, saying that Griswold and Roe were states’ rights issues and predicted that the Supreme Court would find that “the privacy issue currently is unworkable.”
The precedent set in Griswold underpins so many other fundamental privacies, like birth control for non-married couples (1972), abortion (1973), sex in same-sex relationships (2003), and marriage equality (2015). If the Supreme Court were to overturn Griswold, those rights would be left vulnerable. States could also theoretically try to ban the use of birth control, or say that no insurance policy in the state would be required to cover birth control; both options would be very unpopular.
These men are vying for the party’s nomination in order to challenge incumbent Democratic AG Dana Nessel, who called the exchange “terrifying.” (All three candidates also said they supported conducting a “forensic audit” on Michigan’s 2020 election results, because anti-abortion/anti-contraception politicians and activists are often also pro-coup.)
How did we get here? After years and years of people like Andrew Shirvell spouting nonsense. Shirvell, executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, testified on Monday in favor of a proposed 15-week abortion ban by saying that birth control often fails, which results in people seeking abortions, or in his words: “The contraceptive mentality is what fuels the bloodthirsty abortion industry in our country.” (Shirvell also has ties to Michigan: He was once an assistant attorney general in the state until he got fired for targeting the gay University of Michigan student body president on his blog. Remember how I said Griswold is connected to marriage equality? Yeah.)
Shirvell also stated incorrectly that some long-acting reversible contraceptive methods prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining, which he said made them “abortifacients.” This is a right-wing dog whistle for the copper IUD, a device that can be used for emergency contraception and that craft store chain Hobby Lobby didn’t want its insurance plan to cover under Obamacare because it wrongly believed it causes abortions. Medically and legally speaking, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. Meanwhile, copper IUDs and morning-after pills work primarily by preventing the ovaries from ever releasing an egg.
Conservative politicians have been railing against emergency contraception since it went over the counter in 2006 and the Affordable Care Act mandated that insurance plans cover birth control starting in 2014. But it’s much rarer to hear them attack the Supreme Court case that allowed married couples to use birth control of any kind, emergency or otherwise. That kind of thinking has been bubbling beneath the surface but very infrequently said out loud.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a 2019 dissent that “from the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as a means of effectuating eugenics”—though even he didn’t name-check Griswold in that writing. But Jonathan Mitchell, the evil genius behind the Texas bounty hunter abortion ban, wrote this in a July 2021 legal brief to the court:
...the right to abortion that this Court invented in Roe v. Wade....And there are other court-imposed “substantive due process” rights whose textual and historical provenance are equally dubious. See, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965); Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003); Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015).
In Shirvell’s and Mitchell’s demented worldview, cisgender women and other people who can get pregnant don’t need access to birth control or abortion because they’ll only have sex when they want to procreate. Perhaps they don’t want women to be able to open their own credit cards, either.