1967 April 6

Bill Baird Arrested for Giving Contraceptive to Unmarried Woman


Birth control and abortion rights activist Bill Baird on this day delivered a lecture on birth control at Boston University, attended by 2,500 people. In a prearranged event, he handed a condom and a package of contraceptive foam to an unmarried 19-year-old woman. He was arrested by Boston police for distributing contraceptives to an unmarried woman, in violation of Massachusetts law. The arrest led to the Supreme Court decision Eisenstadt v. Baird, on March 22, 1972, which invalidated the law. Baird served 3 months in jail following his arrest.

Bill Baird brought another case to the Supreme Court, Bellotti v. Baird, decided on July 2, 1979, which held that teenagers do not need parental approval to obtain an abortion. (State laws have since imposed parental notification requirements regarding minors and abortions.)

The Massachusetts law: “ . . . [a] registered physician may administer to or prescribe for any married person drugs or articles intended for the prevention of pregnancy or conception. [And a] registered pharmacist actually engaged in the business of pharmacy may furnish such drugs or articles to any married person presenting a prescription from a registered physician.”

Learn more about Bill Baird and the Pro Choice League here.

Justice William Brennan for the Court: “We hold that by providing dissimilar treatment for married and unmarried persons who are similarly situated, Massachusetts [laws] violate the Equal Protection Clause.”

Watch a documentary on the case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFcMNLyzaD8

Read: Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 3rd ed. (2007)

See a timeline on the history of birth control: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52188

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