Women’s rights have come a long way since the days of suffrage, and some Supreme Court rulings have helped the women’s movement take steps forward. Here are five of those important cases that we can thank for expanding women’s rights.
- Roe v. Wade
Starting with perhaps the most famous one, Roe v. Wade was the case that legalized abortion nationwide. In this 7-2 ruling, the court decided that abortion was covered under the fourteenth amendment, which gives every citizen a right to privacy. Supporters of Roe were relieved to have their rights to freedom and privacy protected by the highest court in the land.
- Griswold v. Connecticut
Griswold v. Connecticut established that married women were allowed to use contraceptives. Prior to Griswold, the state of Connecticut had passed a law banning contraception for married women. Estelle Griswold, who ran a Planned Parenthood, helped open a birth control clinic, and was arrested for violating the law. The Supreme Court ruled that married people had the right to privacy against state rules of contraception, and this right prevented Connecticut from outlawing contraceptives.
- United States v. Virginia
United States v. Virginia focused on the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admission policy. As a compromise, Virginia proposed creating a female-only program. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that this was not acceptable because the women’s college would not provide the same amount of rigor as the men’s program. Ginsburg wrote that the program would “[deny] women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature–equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society.”
- Ferguson v. City of Charleston
Ferguson v. City of Charleston established that involuntary drug testing of pregnant women violated the fourth amendment. Staff at a hospital in South Carolina were concerned about the growing number of “crack babies,” or babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine during their pregnancies. Police and medical professionals came up with a list of criteria to give a woman a drug test, and if she was positive, she could be arrested and prosecuted. The Supreme Court decided that these non-consensual tests violated the fourth amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches. The majority opinion stated that women suffering from drug addiction should be given treatment, not prosecuted.
- Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders
In 1998, Nancy Drew Suders was forced to quit her job with the Pennsylvania State Police because she was sexually harassed by her male coworkers. She was unable to file a report and was blamed for not using the procedures available for sexual harassment. In Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, the Supreme Court ruled that it was appropriate for Suders to bring her case forward, even though she didn’t use the internal procedures. It was decided that it was reasonable for Suders to resign. Even though she wasn’t fired from her job, the harassment she faced made it impossible to continue working, and she had the right to leave and still report her coworkers.
These are just a few of the important Supreme cases in American history that advanced women’s rights. We have a long way to go, but thanks to the brave women of our past, we’re growing closer to equality every day.