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Controversial crusader comes to WNEC

Bill Baird shows the placard he used during his pro-choice campaigns. Reminder photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD March 22, 2007 will mark the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Baird v. Eisenstadt that allowed single people to have access to contraceptives, and Bill Baird is still fighting for that right.

Baird, who made newspaper headlines throughout the 1960s and '70s with his controversial crusade to support birth control and access to abortion, spoke last week to a standing room only audience of students and faculty at the Western New England College School of Law.

Speaking of the composition of today's Supreme Court, Baird told the audience "You're in such danger, you don't even know."

Baird said that with the Bush Administration's emphasis on teaching abstinence, questions still remain about birth control.

"Who should make decisions over your body?" he asked the audience.

In an hour-long talk that was equal parts of history, law and biology, Baird frequently engaged students by asking them questions about birth control and legal history.

Baird said this was his first invitation to speak at a college in Massachusetts in over 20 years, that, he explained, was the state in which many of his activities to over-turn existing state laws on birth control and to set legal precedents took place.

He now makes western Massachusetts his home.

Baird was a doctor working as the clinical director for a company that manufactured a birth control foam. He became engaged in the issue of access to birth control information when he learned of a New York mother of nine who died after she attempted to scratch her uterus with a clothes hanger to in order justify a legal abortion.

This led Baird on an odyssey in which he was jailed, reviled, and, ultimately, lost his family.

In 1964 Baird established the nation's first abortion referral center. A year later he opened the first birth control and abortion center on a college campus. He was imprisoned in 1965 and 1966 for breaking state laws in New York and New Jersey that forbade the distribution of information on birth control and abortion.

He recounted how a group of Boston University students asked him in 1967 to come to Massachusetts to try to change the current state laws. To challenge the law, Baird had to publicly display and discuss birth control in order to provoke an arrest that would lead to a court case.

The Massachusetts statue prohibited any publication or discussion of birth control, so Baird displayed a copy of "Time" available on Massachusetts newsstands with a cover story on birth control and then a copy of a booklet on the "rhythm method" published by the Catholic Church. His goal was to show that the subject of birth control was already being discussed publicly in the state.

Finally, the act of handing a 19-year-old girl a can of contraceptive foam which he bought without a prescription at a Zayre department store prompted his arrest and "began a journey so full of hate."

He spent time in jail in Boston, but was finally vindicated in 1972 when the Supreme Court decision struck down the Massachusetts law.

Baird said he has received no help from Planned Parenthood during his career and the American Civil Liberties Union reneged on a promise represent him for his Massachusetts arrest.

Baird said that he was never advocating abortion, but he was fighting for the right for people to have a safe abortion, if they chose that option.

He noted that, at age 74, he is still active with his non-profit organization, thePro-Choice League (www.prochoice He said that Planned Parenthood still boycotts what he does.

He said he recently spoke at celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the National Association of Women in Albany, N.Y., and only 100 people attended.

Baird said that people think, "their [reproductive] rights are secure," but "the Christian right takes no prisoners."