In 1967 Baird set out to challenge a Massachusetts law prohibiting “Crimes Against Decency, Morality, and Good Order.” He spoke to a crowd of more than a thousand Boston University students, on the topics of birth control, abortion, and overpopulation. As you may remember from an earlier post in this series, “overpopulation” is code for “too many of the wrong people, with the wrong genes, producing too many offspring”.
During that demonstration Baird publicly handed a condom and sample of contraceptive foam to a 19 year old girl, as she was then considered. Most states had the age of majority set at 21 in the 1960s. Baird was arrested, convicted as a felon, and sentenced to three months imprisonment. He was incarcerated for 36 days before being released, pending the appeal.
His case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. There he argued that allowing birth control education and distribution to married couples the Massachusetts law discriminated against single people, making them second class citizens. Six of the seven justices who heard the case sided with Baird. They reasoned the law could serve no public health rationale, thanks to its inconsistent application.
In the 1972 case known as Eisenstadt v. Baird the Supreme Court ruled that birth control was the right of everyone, not just married couples. This is one of the most important cases in Court history. It has been cited by every state supreme court, every federal circuit court, and the highest courts of DC and Puerto Rico, as well as being invoked in 52 other Supreme Court cases in its first thirty years.
Baird would go on to open the first illegal abortion clinic and to win two more Supreme Court cases which granted minors the right to abortion without parental consent, Baird v. Bellotti I and Baird v. Bellotti II. He also published the first self defense training manual for abortion providers, after his clinic was firebombed. His training drills meant everyone survived. Today he is 83 years old and still engaging in attention getting tactics which make him radioactive to mainstream organizations: like standing outside churches with picket signs commanding them to free women from the “cross of oppression”.