Reproductive Justice Pioneer Sheds Light on His Battle Against Anti-Abortion Extremists


Invoice Baird is a reproductive rights pioneer, known as by some media the “father” of the contraception and abortion-rights motion. (Picture by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket through Getty Pictures)

He’s been known as “the daddy of the abortion motion” by the Los Angeles Instances and a “promoter of filth” by Catholic and evangelical conservatives, however as reproductive justice pioneer Bill Baird readies himself for his ninetieth birthday on June twentieth, he isn’t interested by his status. As an alternative, he’s as impassioned about assaults on abortion and contraception as he has ever been and stays a fierce critic of those that need to limit entry.

Baird’s profession started to take form in 1963 when he grew to become the medical director at EMKO Prescription drugs. His job included the promotion and advertising and marketing of contraceptive foam and he took it upon himself to supply public displays concerning the product. At the moment, contraceptives had been unlawful in additional than 25 states.

Arrests adopted and between 1965 and 1972 Baird was incarcerated in 5 states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin.  

His most in depth imprisonment adopted a speech at Boston College. He had been invited to publicly problem the Massachusetts Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Good Order regulation that made talking, publishing, or exhibiting details about contraception or abortion a felony. As anticipated, his speak led to apprehension. He was finally convicted and spent 36 days within the Charles Avenue Jail. 

Not surprisingly, incarceration didn’t discourage Baird. Actually, it did the alternative. In response to the Supreme Court docket’s 1965 choice in Griswold v. Connecticut, which allowed married {couples} entry to contraception, Baird sued. His purpose? To increase this proper to single individuals. 

He gained. 

The bulk opinion in Baird v. Eisenstadt was ground-breaking: “If the proper to privateness means something, it’s the proper of the person, married or single, to be free from undesirable authorities intrusion into issues so basically affecting an individual as the choice whether or not to bear or beget a toddler,” it learn. The choice was foundational for each authorized abortion and marriage equality.

However Baird was removed from glad and returned to the Supreme Court docket twice extra to problem parental consent necessities for minors who wished to have an abortion. He was once more victorious. 

Baird just lately spoke to Ms. reporter Eleanor J. Bader about his profession in addition to the continued battle for reproductive freedom.

Eleanor Bader: I’m certain you weren’t stunned by the leaked Supreme Court docket choice in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. What was your preliminary response?

Invoice Baird: I’m outraged. On the identical time, a lot of our allies didn’t start to arrange in opposition to our opponents as early as they need to have. I bear in mind Deliberate Parenthood’s Dr. Alan Guttmacher telling the New York Instances that the Roe choice meant we may put our ft up on our desks as a result of the combat was over. 

I knew that this was not true. I had been going to the annual conference of the Nationwide Proper to Life Committee because the early Nineteen Seventies and noticed that members had been organizing inside each the Catholic church and evangelical neighborhood. They had been utilizing phrases like ‘homicide’ and arguing that life begins at conception. Over time, these phrases and concepts have gained traction. The professional-choice motion may have spared the nation lots of ache and struggling if we’d taken these individuals severely earlier. We must always have realized that our widespread enemy was dogmatic faith and fundamentalist perception techniques.

Bader: What different errors do you assume the reproductive justice motion has made? 

Baird: Ladies within the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties didn’t assume there was a task within the motion for males; we had been actually informed that we had been undesirable. Betty Friedan, writer of The Female Mystique, denounced me. Individuals known as me a spy regardless that I used to be imprisoned eight instances in 5 states for pushing for reproductive justice. 

Deliberate Parenthood didn’t even help me once I introduced Baird v. Eisenstadt to the Supreme Court docket; once I was arrested at Boston College, the American Civil Liberties Union backed off its promise to characterize me once I was arrested. 

I ended up with Joseph Balliro, a distinguished Boston legal protection lawyer who had made a reputation for himself representing individuals accused of being a part of organized crime. He was the one lawyer who would defend me. 

Because the case wound by way of numerous lower-to-higher courts, I ultimately obtained a name from Senator Ernest Gruening, who represented Alaska from 1959 till 1969. He was a robust determine on the time and he needed me to fireside Balliro and as an alternative let Joseph Tydings, a Maryland Senator, argue the case on the Supreme Court docket. I felt horrible about firing Balliro however my friendship and respect for him had been much less vital than the problem, so I let Tydings grow to be my lawyer. Had Deliberate Parenthood and the ACLU stood with me, this may not have occurred. 

The professional-choice motion may have spared the nation lots of ache and struggling if we’d taken these individuals severely earlier. We must always have realized that our widespread enemy was dogmatic faith and fundamentalist perception techniques.

Bader: Do you will have different strategic variations in how the fightback has been organized?

Baird: I’ve a number of. For instance, the Vatican is its personal authorities, however it doesn’t disclose its lobbying work as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act that oversees different non-US influencers. The Catholic church oppresses girls and the LGBTQIA+ neighborhood by lobbying in opposition to abortion, contraception, and homosexual rights. Moreover, I consider that the church’s companies ought to pay taxes, whether or not it’s Monk’s Bread, Trappist Preserves, or the Brotherhood Vineyard. In the event that they needed to pay taxes, they’d have much less cash for political campaigns.

Most reproductive rights activists will not be on board with this. Possibly they’re afraid of being seen as sacrilegious.  However I’m blissful that there was some pushback in opposition to hospital mergers that put services beneath Catholic management. After all, I help this however I don’t perceive why so many individuals are deferential to the church. Jehovah’s Witnesses oppose blood transfusions however they don’t dictate that different individuals can’t have them. Observant Jews don’t eat pork however they don’t impose their dietary restrictions on others. Why do Catholics get to push their beliefs about contraception, abortion, and queer relationships on everybody else?

I additionally had a unique technique at my clinics. Many activists consider that it’s best to keep away from partaking the antis. After I had my clinics, I helped many youngsters whose mother and father had been anti-abortion and the one factor I requested was that they inform me when the antis had been going to disrupt at our services. We then known as our supporters, asking them to point out up at 7:00 AM, an hour or so earlier than the antis. This protected the sufferers. 

Lastly, I went to each Proper to Life conference from the Nineteen Seventies till 2014.  Why weren’t different pro-choice teams and people there? You will need to know what the antis are saying and planning. Proper to Life payments itself as reasonable, however it’s not.  They’ve pushed the argument {that a} fertilized egg is an individual. They name abortion genocide. They’ve all the time posed a menace to sexual company. However most reproductive well being activists refused to see or acknowledge this. It is mindless. 

Sadly, I’ve had some well being challenges which is why I needed to cease attending these conferences however the antis nonetheless fill me with fury. Now we have to combat these individuals.      

Baird pickets the Nationwide Proper to Life Conference in June 2012. (Wikimedia Commons)

Bader: Didn’t you additionally arrange clinics in each Massachusetts and New York, the place you had been then residing? 

Baird: Sure. In 1964, I arrange the primary above-ground abortion and contraception facility in Hempstead, New York, on Lengthy Island. It doesn’t matter what the regulation mentioned, I knew this was the proper factor to do. I used to be a highly regarded speaker through the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies and used the charges I collected to fund the clinic. We heard such horror tales from our sufferers. They used Lysol, bleach, and turpentine douches to finish undesirable pregnancies. Some days we labored till 3 AM as a result of that’s how lengthy it took to see the sufferers who got here to our doorways.  

I bear in mind one case, a 12-year-old lady who had been raped by her father. She got here in holding a teddy bear. I’m nonetheless in contact together with her; she known as me about six months in the past.

Along with the clinic, I bought a car in 1964 that I known as the Plan Van. We used it to disseminate details about contraception.

However I need to clarify that our work was all the time contentious and tough. Considered one of my Lengthy Island clinics—at one level I had one in Hauppauge and one other in Hempstead—was firebombed. This occurred in 1979 and 50 sufferers and workers had been inside. Fortunately, there have been no fatalities and we had been capable of rebuild. I had a 3rd clinic in Boston however I needed to shut all of them within the mid-Nineties as a result of I couldn’t afford to maintain them going. I helped a lot of individuals without spending a dime however I used to be unable to get grants or different monetary help to subsidize this. It merely grew to become inconceivable to maintain going.

I bear in mind one case, a 12-year-old lady who had been raped by her father. She got here in holding a teddy bear. I’m nonetheless in contact together with her; she known as me about six months in the past.

Bader: Do you will have any regrets?  

Baird: After I used to be arrested on a morals cost for holding up a diaphragm, IUD, and packet of contraception capsules at a chat, I misplaced my household. My 4 youngsters bought hate mail from all around the nation denouncing me. My spouse on the time needed to transfer herself and the youngsters to a safer location. My youngsters nonetheless fault me for this. They’ve suffered. Proper now, my solely revenue for my retirement is Social Safety. After I look again, I misplaced lots. I’ve a legal file and have been informed many times that I’m a foul individual.

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