Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

This guide offers a history of various movements by citizens in the United States to gain political and social freedom and equality. It highlights resources available through the library and also offers a list of current civil rights organizations.

Women's Reproductive Rights

Women like Margaret Sanger and Mary Ware Dennett were early proponents of women's right to contraception and sex education. Though they were met with great resistance, their efforts allowed for later generations to at least discuss birth control as an option. It was not until the 1960s, however, and the introduction of the birth control pill, that women could impede pregnancy for the first time by their own choice. However, several major religious institutions opposed contraceptives and many states banned the sale of artificial contraceptives, even to married couples. It would take Supreme Court decisions to make the pill accessible to women - single and married.

Abortion was another hurdle to be overcome. While Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, and held that a woman's constitutional rights were violated by states that banned abortion, the decades since that decision have seen restrictions and limitations placed upon it, making abortions more difficult to obtain. At the same time, access to birth control is also not always readily accessible and many would like to see organizations like Planned Parenthood, which strive to offer affordable reproductive services to women, defunded.

Currently, states like Ohio are focused on abortion bans that will limit when women can seek out abortions. This indicates a trend towards greater restrictions on women's reproductive rights in the future.

Notable Supreme Court Cases:

Library Resources:

  • Judith A. Baer, ed., Historical and Multicultural Encyclopedia of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States, HQ766.5.U5 H57 2002
  • NARAL Foundation, Who Decides? The Status of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States, KF3771.Z95 W46 2005 (Also available online)
  • Mary Ziegler, After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate, HQ767.5.U5 Z54 2015

Roe v. Wade

Planned Parenthood Protests