The People vs. Bill Baird -
By Brenda Loew
Did you know that March 22, 1997 is only the 25th Anniversary of legal birth control for unmarried people? The U.S. Supreme Court, in a historic case, Baird vs. Eisenstadt stated on March 22, 1972 "... if the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual married or single to be free . . . to decide whether to bear beget a child..." That decision legalized birth control nationally for single people.
Think how your private sex life has been impacted by this decision. Suppose pioneering abortion/birth control crusader Bill Baird, who originated the Court action had lost the decision and birth-control remained a crime. Imagine if you were denied access to birth control help. How would your life be different? How would your sexual activity have been altered? What kind of nightmares would you have experienced? Would an unwanted pregnancy force you into desperately seeking a dangerous criminal quack abortion? Perhaps a "shot gun" wedding? Perhaps you'd experience the wrath of insensitive "religiously moral" family members, peers, etc.
Think about the incredible vision, courage, dedication, and sacrifice it took for one person - Bill Baird - to take on the U.S. Government - politicians, religious forces - public apathy and tragically even back stabbing "allies" in order to challenge archaic laws. To give you a brief background of what led to Baird vs. Eisenstadt, I offer you the following information. Bill Baird, in 1963, while clinical director for a St. Louis based national pharmaceutical birth control manufacturer - EMKO - was coordinating research at various hospitals. While at a New York hospital, he heard the screams of a woman in the hospital corridor. Rushing toward the cries of anguish, he saw a young minority woman staggering and covered with blood - a visible piece of coat hanger imbedded in her uterus. She died.
Bill was outraged at the injustice that she could not legally obtain an abortion and since she was unmarried, she was legally denied access to birth control help. Baird thought that these birth control and abortion flaws had to be changed.
In 1965, he outfitted a twenty-five foot mobile "PLAN VAN,' -- a sex education classroom on wheels. Its purpose was to teach the poor about reproductive health care. Baird's efforts resulted in his being jailed 8 times in five states (NY, NJ, MA, WI, and VA.) His crime was lecturing on reproductive rights. He was jailed in Hempstead, NY in 1965 for publicly exhibiting birth control devices in his PLAN VAN. In 1966 he was convicted and sentenced to prison for 20 days in Freehold, NJ. His crime? Publicly showing birth control to unmarried poor women in his PLAN VAN.
The media covered his pioneering efforts nationally. In 1965, NBC newsman, Frank McGee, did a special on Bill Baird's efforts. Twenty years later CBS journalist Charles Kuralt aired a similar story on Baird's life. Student's at Boston University learned of Baird's efforts. The editor of the Boston University News, Ray Mungo, (today a renowned writer), wrote Bill pleading with him to challenge Massachusetts archaic 19th century law that denied unmarried people access to birth control/abortion information. The letter was accompanied with a petition of 679 names.
The Massachusetts law was called "CRIMES AGAINST CHASTITY, MORALITY, DECENCY, AND GOOD ORDER" and sentenced its violators up to five years in jail and charged them with a felony. The law stated in effect: ". . . whoever prints, publishes or distributes or gives away...or exhibits any device or gives information or advice..., for the purpose of procuring a miscarriage...or preventing...pregnancy shall be punished." The law continues... "whoever sells, lends, exhibits...any instrument...to be used for self abuse. . .shall be punished by imprisonment." Self abuse obviously meant masturbation and the use of dildos and vibrators.
How many people who you know would risk a five year prison term to fight an oppressive law in a state in which he/she knew only a few people? Bill Baird dreamt that if by some good fortune he was able to wisely challenge the law, the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case and change the restrictive laws nationally dealing with birth control and abortion.
Baird's supporters in New York told him it was too risky - he had no financial or legal support. Didn't he realize, people said, that 98% of the thousands of cases submitted to the U.S. Supreme court were rejected? To take such a risk with only a 2% chance of being heard by the high court was "foolhardy".
When Bill Baird graduated high school (a good athlete and scholar) he was listed in the year book as "class dreamer". Bill was always dreaming of a world in which people would care about each other and help each other. Bill was one of six children - two died raised in poor humble surroundings in Brooklyn, New York.
Bill dreamt that if he were successful in his challenge, it would help millions of people. Thirty years ago, April 6, 1967, history was made. Bill stood before an overflow audience of over 2,000 people at Boston University. Police were spotted throughout the audience. Bill spoke passionately of freedoms, the rights of privacy of women - of all people - the right to their own sexuality - the right to access birth control and abortion aid regardless of age marital or economic status.
The air in the audience was tense! Students knew something historic was about to happen. In order to challenge the existing law, Baird exhibited various birth control/abortion devices toward the end of his speech. He gave out the names of abortion doctors in other parts of the world where abortion was legal. He gave away, free, one condom and one package of EMKO contraceptive foam to an unmarried 19 year old female minor. A minor in those days was anyone under 21 years of age.
At the end of his 45 minute speech, Baird was arrested by a horde of policeman headed by Lieutenant Joseph Jordan, Chief of the vice squad. The vice squad normally arrests prostitutes. The audience erupted attempting to come to his aid. He told them to be calm, that he would work through the legal system to bring about the freedom he had dreamed of.
The original court papers police filed were called "the people of Massachusetts vs. Bill Baird " (similar to the recently heralded movie THE PEOPLE VS. FLYNT which also acclaims free speech.) Bill was indicted on 2 felony charges: 1. Illegally exhibiting obscene objects - birth control/abortion devices. 2. Giving away free a condom and EMKO contraceptive foam.
Nationwide, newspaper editors believed that Baird's arrest warranted page one coverage. The Boston Herald page one headlines screamed "VICE SQUAD NABS BIRTH CONTROL SPEAKER". Strange things started to happen. James Hamilton of the Boston ACLU stood up before the 2,000 people at Baird's lecture and said the ACLU would defend his case. Shortly, thereafter the ACLU disassociated itself from Baird's case. Fortunately, prominent Boston Attorney, Joe Balliro, took over.
Many thought that Planned Parenthood, with its budget of millions of dollars would jump at the opportunity to support Bill Baird's challenge to the law.
Shockingly, Planned Parenthood's newsletter Spring 1967 headlined "PUBLICITY - TOO MUCH?"...There is nothing to be gained by court action of this kind. The only way to remove the limitation remaining in the law is through the legislative process. .." Many of Baird's supporters withdrew helping because they accepted Planned Parenthood's statement "there's nothing to be gained".
The 1967 Harvard Graduate bulletin quoted Planned Parenthood writing: "...Planned Parenthood feels it could live with the present law". (Baird states he was incensed that Planned Parenthood was willing to "live "within an archaic law that oppressed others.) ... And Baird's efforts are an embarrassment to our group" (they regarded Baird's efforts an embarrassment yet his efforts were eventually successful in spite off their statements). The Harvard Graduate Bulletin continued: "...the national president of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Alan Guttmacher said "Baird has been over enthusiastic - every couple seeking birth control information should go to a doctor." Bill Baird felt that this was an elitist concept. He believed health information should be available through a myriad of sources - social workers, nurses, TV and radio ads, etc.
Many felt that Planned Parenthood was trying to sabotage Baird's efforts either because of "territorial rights" petty jealousies, etc. Part of the problem might have been, Baird was at the same time actively fighting to repeal all abortion laws. Despite efforts of modern day revisionists, Planned Parenthood was opposed to abortion. Their literature as late as 1967 stated "Abortion kills the life of a baby...".
Bill established the nation's first abortion birth control center in Hempstead NY in 1964 helping thousands of women from across the nation. The cover of Sepia magazine, July 1967 - a magazine for the black community printed the telephone number of Bill's nonprofit facility making it clear that if people wanted an abortion they would merely have to call Bill at that phone number. Coronet Magazine, June 1969, did a cover story on Bill's efforts to help women get abortions. The Coronet feature headlined "Coronet interviews Bill Baird who has arranged 3,000 illegal abortions. Approve of him or not it means he has the largest number of cases ever studied."
The Washington Post on January 15, 1969 in a feature story on Bill Baird stated " . . ton that cold night the waiting room was jammed with pregnant women.. tit was 3:00aTn before the last patient saw Baird..."
How many people do you know who would be willing to assist pregnant women from across our nation including South America and Canada until 3:00am in the morning? AND DO IT FREE. Baird never knew if anyone in his crowded waiting room was a police officer waiting to arrest him (he could be facing a 10 year jail term) for "aiding and abetting an abortion".
Parenthood's executive director of Ma, Ms. Hazel Sagoff, wrote on June 20, 1967
that many believe was an obvious effort to undercut support for Baird vs.
Eisenstadt ".. .we are told by our lawyers, experts in constitutional law
that there is no violation of constitutional rights in the present law. They
tell us and we agree that the only way to liberalize a current law is through
the process of filing a bill in the
Baird fought then, as he does today, the interference of the Catholic Church in their efforts to force their religious dogma on people not of their faith. Baird called for the removal of the tax exempt status of the church because of its lobbying efforts and said they should register as a foreign lobbyist. He has been courageously saying that for over 30 years.
As recently as 1994, Pulitzer Prize writer, David Garrow, in his book "Liberty and Sexuality" exposes Planned Parenthood's continued hostility to Bill Baird's pioneering efforts.
David Garrow wrote "...some years later former PPFA President Lorraine Campbell ...acerbically called Baird "a thorn in our flesh for years". He was always talking about abortion under the aegis of birth control when we were trying to avoid the issue of abortion at that point . . . every social change and every step forward in history requires its nuts . . ." It is hard to believe that Planned Parenthood with all their legal experts could never admit they were wrong . To try to suggest that Baird is a "nut" tells you a great deal about the caliber of many in Planned Parenthood's leadership.
I have known Bill Baird for ten years. I have seen his courageous leadership on the picket line, in demonstrations, and on the lecture circuit. I have heard him speak on college campuses where he almost always gets a standing ovation. I have heard him debate on television and radio. He has an incredibly fast mind with a vast knowledge of law, medicine and theology. I and others truly believe that he is absolutely brilliant. His opponents such as Judy Brown of the American Life League state: "Bill is the intellectual giant of the movement". TV talk host, Mort Downey states 'If Bill Baird were on our side we would have won a long time ago." As recently as January 1996, CNBC power talk host, Alan Colmes, said Bill Baird is "the best spokesman on abortion in America." He is a recipient of over 50 awards from various groups across the nation.
Getting back to Baird vs. Eisenstadt, Baird held on to the vision that he could still get the laws changed in spite of Planned Parenthood's hostility. October 17, 1967, Bill Baird was convicted. Judge Donald McCauley would not sentence Baird because he was waiting for the Massachusetts Supreme Court to review the case. May 1, 1968 the Massachusetts court agreed with Baird in part that it was legal to exhibit devices but in a 43 decision it was illegal to give away the condom and EMKO foam.
Detractors told Baird "We told you so....now you are going to get what you deserve. Off to jail you go."
The New York Times on May 19, 1969 stated: ".. .before the sentencing, both Judge Macauley and Joseph Balliro, counsel for Mr. Baird, mentioned that they had received more mail on this case than on any other. They said letters had come from throughout the world and that most had urged leniency for the defendant."
Everyone knew that Baird had challenged the law in an effort to help poor people. His supporters were expecting a $100 fine. The Superior Court Judge ruled that Baird was a menace to society and sentenced him to three months in the dreaded Charles Street jail. Years later, the Charles Street jail was ordered closed by the courts because it represented "cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners."
On February 20, 1979, Bill Baird was thrown into a 4x8 foot cage. He was forced to pick bugs from his food. (He went from a solid 172 pounds -- still his current weight down to 148 lbs). He was repeatedly bitten by lice that lived in his filthy blood stained mattress. The guards repeatedly stripped him naked. It is well known that rape, a sign of power, is a common nightmare in prison. Baird will not discuss this but has stated he repeatedly endured the threats of rape, beatings, etc. On one occasion, a fire broke out in the jail bunting an inmate to death. Baird states "he'll never forget the screams and smells of burning flesh."
Bill would not give up his quest for reproductive freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court added to Bill's woes by initially refusing to hear his case. Bill kept hearing the warnings that 98% of all cases submitted to the court are rejected.
perhaps it was U.S. Supreme Justice William O. Douglas who encouraged a
re-appraisal for he would later write ". . .the teaching of Bill Baird and
Galileo might be of a different order but the suppression of either is equally
repugnant." When the High Court finally heard Baird vs. Eisenstadt, it
looked into the original intent of the Massachusetts law. The justices found
that the actual objective of the law had been to discourage premarital sex and
in the words of the Massachusetts Supreme
Fortunately on March 22, 1972 the Court agreed with Baird and the right to privacy was clearly established for unmarried people. Baird vs. Eisenstadt was quoted six times in the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationally as well in his two other U.S. Supreme Court victories, Baird vs. Bellotti I, 1976 and Baird vs. Bellotti II, 1979 which gave minors the right to abortion without parental veto.
Law text books such as "Abortion and the Protection of the Human Fetus" by Professors Frenkowski and Cole state ". . . some analysts speculate that Baird vs. Eisenstadt's innovative rational was invented with Roe vs. Wade in view and claimed that the case was in reality Roe's only true precedent. This language establishes a constitutional basis for a woman's right to abortion..." Anti abortion leader, former Congressman William Dannemyer wrote in his book "Shadow In the Land" . .. "Baird vs. Eisenstadt was the real ground breaker for the sexual revolution."
Years later, Planned Parenthood sued Bill Baird so they could argue Baird's next case, Baird vs. Bellotti before the U.S. Supreme Court. They alleged that their lawyers were more competent than Baird's and that they had more concern about minor's rights than Baird did. Planned Parenthood was allowed to participate and was eventually awarded $111,438.10 dollars for their participation in Baird vs. Bellotti. Baird's lawyers, because of a technicality (filed for legal fees later than the court wanted) were awarded zero dollars.
March 22,1996, three Governors VA, MA, and MO have proclaimed Right to Privacy Day in honor of Baird vs. Eisenstadt. Vermont Governor Dean's proclamation states. ". . .whereas recognition of the right of privacy has freed millions of men and women from the oppression of unwilling parenthood and whereas the right of privacy is in increasing jeopardy by those who seek to limit its expression, I proclaim March 22 as Right to Privacy Day..." Baird has made a national appeal for the public to contact their governors as well as President Clinton to proclaim March 22, 1997, and thereafter as an annual national Right to Privacy Day.
In these 34 years, Baird's non-profit clinic had been firebombed, chemically bombed and flooded. He has been shot at, punched, kicked in the name of God many times. Public masses have been held for his soul. The Catholic Wanderer headlined "Bill Baird the Devil".
In contrast, Boston University editorial writer Joseph Pilati wrote May 15, 1967. "...You have personally been an inspiration to all of us...I would concur with one faculty member who wrote this is a great man only once in a lifetime does someone come along with the wisdom and selfless dedication of a Bill Baird. . ."
When Baird was arrested in Wisconsin for teaching birth control to students, the prestigious Ripon College senate passed a resolution on January 23, 1970 declaring "...we marvel and admire Bill Baird's rare courage and dedication. He serves as an inspiration to us and a moral beacon. . .as other great men have faced imprisonment for good causes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Ghandi and Thoreau, we place Bill Baird in the same category."
World renowned sex educator, Dr. Sol Gordon wrote in Humanist magazine, July 1991 "...no single person alive today has done more to advance the cause of reproductive rights for women- more specifically, the right to choose abortion. And no one (woman or man) has given more, suffered more, and in return received so little recognition or support than Bill Baird..."
Bill needs your help. His income last year was at poverty level - under $15,000. What a disgrace that he is the only lay person in the history of the U.S. to have won three U.S. Supreme Court victories that have benefited millions of people and he has an income so low. He needs help in obtaining lecture dates. He is a powerful and entertaining speaker. His tax exempt Pro Choice League has returned the mobile Plan Van to the streets in poor areas. He needs donations to help continue his important work.
I'll go back to what I originally said -- what would your life had been like if Bill Baird had lost Baird vs. Eisenstadt and you had not had access to legal birth control all these years? What has it been worth to you that you are able to receive this help?
Remember. Freedom is not free!