Birth control turns thirty-five.

Author:Baird, Joni

Ask most unmarried people how they attained their right to use birth control and, if you aren't given blank looks, you'll receive a host of responses rarely resembling the truth.

In fact it was just thirty-five years ago that humanist and reproductive rights pioneer Bill Baird's tenacious challenge in Baird v. Eisenstadt ended victoriously on March 22, 1972. In that decision Associate Justice William Brennan wrote:

If the right of privacy means anything it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision to bear or beget a child. The case began when Baird responded to a petition signed by nearly 700 Boston University students asking him to challenge the 1879 Massachusetts law that denied unmarried individuals access to birth control. On April 6, 1967, he lectured at Boston University to more than 2,500 people and, in a prearranged move, handed a nineteen-year-old unmarried woman a free condom and a package of contraceptive foam. The police thereupon made the necessary arrest and his case was launched.

Unfortunately, all wasn't well among Baird's supporters. The prearranged representation by the American Civil Liberties Union fell through two weeks after his arrest when the organization began questioning the constitutional merits of Baird's case.

Another setback came when Jackie Ceballos of the newly formed National Organization for Women declined to support his efforts, stating that if his name were "Wilhelmina Baird" they would have backed him. NOW never did file a "friend of the court" brief in support of the case at any point during its five-year climb through the courts. Betty Friedan called Baird's work "irrelevant" and even launched a rumor, initiated in the New York Post in 1971, that Baird was a CIA agent.

Probably the biggest shock was Planned Parenthoods response. The director of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts wrote that their lawyers had found no violation of constitutional rights in the law that was being challenged. Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher called Baird "overly enthusiastic." Another organizational representative added, "The League feels it can live with the present law and Baird's efforts are an embarrassment to our group."

Despite this mixture of apathy and hostility from leading allies in the larger struggle for reproductive freedom, Baird pressed on, serving three months...

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