Theses Bachelor's

The Supreme Court and the Body: A Historical Critique of Privacy

Nowak, Miranda

"The Supreme Court and the Body: A Historical Critique of Privacy" traces the social and legal conceptions of conceptions of privacy in American intimate life. The primary focus of the paper establishes 1) How the Supreme Court formulated the right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, and 2) How social and legal trends reconceptualized privacy, culminating the Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973. The first major analytical portion examines the beginnings of legal privacy formulation in the late nineteenth century. In the same chapter, I pose a theory on the motivations behind the origins of anti-abortion and anti-contraception legislation. I argue that the two most crucial factors in this particular sector of policy formation depended on Nativism and the newly-formed American Medical Association's desire to gain sole control over all areas of medical practice. The second chapter critically looks at the arguments and opinions in Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned Connecticut's nineteenth century anti-contraception statute. It is here where I argue that Brandeis's and Stanton's original articulations of privacy most closely associate with Supreme Court law. The third portion examines how matters of reproduction disengaged with privacy due to the efforts of feminist activists, abortion-rights activists, policy makers concerned with overpopulation, and medical professionals. All of these groups used the courts to viciously attack the state abortion regulations after the Court announced its decision in Griswold. The final analytical portion examines the arguments and opinions in Roe v. Wade, which invalidated abortion regulations based on an established Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy. The paper ultimately advances two primary arguments: first, the Roe opinion segregated reproductive freedom from a right to privacy. By relying primarily on medical standards and an off conflation of jurisprudential standards, Roe had the opposite effect Griswold: it took reproductive freedom out of realm of privacy insofar as the Constitutional is concerned. Second, that the Roe opinion was a unique product of its time. The Court majority in Roe might have been able to advance a stronger constitutional theory if they had not decided Roe in 1973. The era from 1965 to 1973 was a uniquely difficult moment for any kind of jurisprudence, let alone privacy jurisprudence.


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Academic Units
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2010


Senior thesis.