Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reproductive-Rights Crusader Bill Baird

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New World Notes News
Vol. 3, No. 15 -- April 10, 2010

This Week in New World Notes, radio program #110, April 13:

Reproductive-Rights Crusader
Bill Baird

Moments before the bust: Baird tests Massachusetts' crimes-against-chastity
law at Boston University, April 6, 1967. Most graphics: Click to enlarge.

In (not overly) brief:

What John Brown was to Abolition, Bill Baird was and is to reproductive rights, including the right to abortion and the right to purchase contraceptives. The latter was still illegal in Massachusetts (and elsewhere) in the 1960s! Seeing a woman die from an attempted coat-hanger abortion changed his life. He determined to change the law.

One way to do this is to break the law, get convicted, appeal the conviction, and invite the Supreme Court to declare the law you broke unconstitutional. This method is probaby easier than persuading the Massachusetts legislature to vote in favor of any bill that even hints at encouraging "sin." So, in a talk at Boston University in 1967, Baird methodically broke just about every provision of the law that prohibited transfer, possession, display, or even discussion of contraceptives.

For reasons unknown, the authorities had neglected to bust Cardinal Cushing--even though the Archdiocese of Boston had been flagrantly violating the law for years by distributing a pamphlet titled "The Rhythm Method." They didn't neglect to bust Baird for displaying a contraceptive diaphragm and giving a can of Emko Foam to an undergraduate.

Baird had to explain to the arresting officers what a diaphragm was. None had ever seen one. One guessed that it was a large rolled condom.

Top: IUDs make great tie clips. I won't spoil the story by retelling it here.
Hear it from Baird at about 25:30 [min:sec] into the show. Actually, the
now-notorious Dalkon Shield (left) made a better tie clip than
contraceptive device.
Bottom: Fellow-traveller Michael Luckman at Saint Patrick's Cathedral,
in 1968, protesting yet another anti-birth-control encyclical from the
Vatican (Pope Paul VI).

It worked. After a fashion. Baird v. Eisenstadt became a milestone in the struggles for reproductive rights and privacy rights. Roe v. Wade cites the decision five or six times.

Baird also founded the nation's first abortion clinic.

He survived assassination attempts, 8 criminal convictions, prison brutality, the firebombing of his clinic, the breakup of his family, and the absence of any help from Planned Parenthood, NOW, ACLU, & other potential allies.

A scary, stunning, and often very funny story, well-told by Baird himself.

Notes and credits

Baird's words were recorded at a panel discussion on civil liberties--titled Courageous Convictions--held at the University of Hartford on February 16, 2010. Edited for radio by moi.

Baird's Web site:

New World Notes is produced under the auspices (Latin for "imprimatur") of WWUH-FM, a community service of that beacon of light in darkest Connecticut, the University of Hartford. Feedback to kdowst at hotmail period com.

Top: The Massachusetts jury agreed with Baird, convicting anti-abortion
terrorist John Salvi of murder in 1996.
Bottom: Reproductive-rights rally at Union Square, September 2009.
Women's-health-care pioneer Merle Hoffman stands at the mic (left).

Coming Soon -- Tuesday debut date shown:

  • April 20 -- The Unheard Voice of the Majority

Catch New World Notes (all times Eastern):

Except in Massachusetts (and other states) in the 1960s--where
education was considered a "crime against chastity." The "chastity-
through-ignorance" movement flourished again in the W. Bush
years with the preposterous & discredited
(but that never stopped
'em!) "abstinence-only sex education." When it comes to anti-sex
lunkheadedness, the Evangelical Protestants have reached parity
with the Catholic hierarchy. (In my experience, the Catholic
congregants are a good deal saner than the Pope, Cardinal Cushing,
Jerry Falwell, Joe Biden, & the entire Bush Administration, combined--
including former Postmaster-General John C. Potter!)

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