A debate between the Republicans running for Michigan attorney general confirmed warnings from reproductive rights advocates that Republicans aren’t going to stop with abortion bans—they’re coming for birth control next. In the last question of last Friday’s debate, all three men said they thought the 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down laws banning the sale of contraception had been wrongly decided, because states’ rights.
At least two of the three candidates did not know what Griswold v. Connecticut was about—which itself is kind of an issue in people campaigning to be Michigan’s top lawyer, since Griswold is a pretty damn famous case. (I literally learned about it in high school, and I am not a lawyer.) But all three agreed, once they learned what it was, that it was bad.
The Connecticut law struck down in Griswold allowed the prosecution of married couples for buying contraception. In Griswold, the Supreme Court said that the law violated the “right to marital privacy,” foreshadowing the privacy right that would be invoked in Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Here’s what the Michigan Republicans seeking to be the state’s top law enforcement officer had to say about the marital right to privacy around birth control decisions.
“Remind me,” Tom Leonard, the former speaker of the state House, said. After an explanation, he was ready to condemn the decision.
“Yeah, okay, I just, and I wanted clarification,” Leonard said. “This case, much like Roe v. Wade, I believe was wrongly decided, because it was an issue that trampled states’ rights and it was an issue that should have been left up to the states.”
State Rep. Ryan Berman literally pulled out his phone during that exchange.
”Yeah, you know what, I wasn’t familiar with Griswold v. Connecticut, but I’m an advanced legal researcher so I pulled it up real quick to look what it’s about,” he said. “And it says the court ruled that the Constitution did in fact protect the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on contraception. Again, I would have to look more into it and the reasoning behind it, but I’m all about states’ rights and limiting federal judicial activism.”
Matthew DePerno, endorsed by Donald Trump for enthusiastically signing on to the Big Lie about the 2020 elections, had the same basic answer, minus the admission that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
”Listen, all these cases that deal—Griswold, Roe v. Wade, Dobbs— these are all state right issues. I think that’s what we’re gonna see with the US Supreme Court. They’re gonna come down on the side that these liberty issues—number one, the wide expanse that was given on Roe v. Wade and this litany—are unworkable. The Supreme Court has to deal with that, has to decide, mark my words, that the privacy issue currently is unworkable. It’s going to be a state right issue on all of these things—as it should be!”
DePerno wasn’t done. “We need to start defending state rights as attorney generals, across this country,” he said. “Too many people, even in our own party, too many people have lost the idea of what states’ rights means. They haven’t read the works of our Founding Fathers. They haven’t read The Federalist Papers. They continue to push the idea that we need to give rights away to the federal government. We don’t. We need to take state rights back. We need to stand in our borders. When the feds come and try to take our rights, we need to stand as citizens in Michigan and hold the line and protect states’ rights.”
So, yes. Republicans are 100% coming for the right to obtain birth control once the Trump Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, with that decision likely coming this June. Already some states are advancing personhood legislation, which would declare an embryo or fetus to be a legal person. Such laws criminalize abortion, but they also potentially ban forms of birth control like the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception.
”All 3 Republicans running for Michigan Attorney General just stated that they oppose the ruling in Griswold v Connecticut which outlawed prosecuting married couples for using contraception,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel tweeted Friday evening. “You read that right. Terrifying.”
Lots of people who support abortion rights spent years responding lackadaisically to warnings that Republicans were stacking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and legalize abortion bans. Now we see how true those warnings were, as they come to fruition. It’s time to sit up and listen to the warnings that Republicans won’t stop there.