Thursday, December 08, 2011

Bill Baird, Unsung Hero

by Edd Doerr

While I gave Bill Baird a mention in my Nov 9, 2011, post I did not follow up with a longer piece. Let me remedy that by quoting in its entirety Bill's wife Joni's letter to the editor in the Dec 12, 2011, New Yorker ---

"Jill Lepore, in her article on Planned Parenthood, mentions that the Griswold v Connecticut case 'placed contraception under the protection of a constitutional right to privacy' ("Birthright." Nov 14). She also says that the case meant that the 'last legal obstacles to contraception were overcome.' It is important to note, however, that the Griswold decision, rendered in 1965, legalized birth control for married couples only; it was illegal for unmarried people to use contraception until 1972, when my husband, Bill Baird, helped win the Supreme Court case Eisenstadt v Baird. That case supplanted Griswold and legalized birth control for all citizens. In 1965, my husband was arrested in New York under the same statute that Margaret Sanger was arrested under in 1916. Two years later, he was charged with a felony for giving contraceptives to an unmarried young woman after a speech to Boston University students - a violation of the Massachusetts laws covering Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Good Order. He spent 37 days in the Charles Street Jail before he was released on appeal. Over the years, my husband has been arrested eight times in five states and has been involved in five US Supreme Court victories on behalf of reproductive freedom. He picked up where Sanger left off.

"Joni Baird, Huntington, NY"

Joni left out the fact that Eisenstadt v Baird actually made an indispensable contribution to the Roe v Wade ruling, allowing Justice William Brennan to expand the ruling well beyond merely the freedom of physicians to perform abortions to include the privacy right of women to follow their consciences.

I first heard Bill speak at Trinity College, a Catholic women's college in Washington, about 40 years ago. He had the large audience of young Catholic women agreeing with him. When one student got up to disagree with him, the other students told her to sit down and shut up. When a male student got up and threatened to beat Bill up, Bill just reamed him out verbally until he turned around amd slunk away.

Bill Baird has always been a fearless champion of women's reproductive choice. He never backs down. He is a hero.

No comments: