The 75 year-old man stood before
a philosophy class and warned them that today's government is
trying to strip away their rights -- passing laws to restrict
abortions and funding abstinence-only sex education programs.
William Baird told the students he is concerned that today's
youth takes the right to access birth control for granted.
"Along comes President Bush, who is stacking the Supreme Court
with strictly conservative judges," Baird said. "I'm here
because I want you to know of one man's sacrifices."
isn't free," Baird exclaimed. "The next time you have sex using
birth control, I want you to think about why you're able to have
When it comes
to birth control and the rights of the unmarried, William Baird
knows the legal landscape all too well.
Baird, a pro-choice advocate for more than 40 years, has had
many bouts with the law. His crusade to secure birth
control rights for single people resulted in his being arrested
eight times in the 1960s.
His quest to
gain privacy rights for the unmarried started in
in 1963 when he was the clinical director of EMKO, a spermicidal
foam pharmaceutical company.
lecture to the philosophy students,
Baird recalled the story of a woman who had tried to perform her
"I was in a New York hospital coordinating research when I heard
a scream. I went out in the hallway, and a woman, covered in
blood from the waist down, fell into my arms. She died in front
of me. I think anyone who loses their life like that has a right
explained to the students about the case he won in the United
States Supreme Court in 1972 -- Eisenstadt v. Baird -- in which
the court declared that the constitution protects the
reproductive rights of the unmarried.
Baird had been convicted of
exhibiting contraceptive materials in the course of delivering a
lecture on contraception to students at Boston University and
for giving a young woman a package of vaginal foam at the close
of his address. The case eventually went all the way to
the nation's highest court.
The court ruled that sexually
active adults, whether married or unmarried, have a
constitutional right to use contraceptives as a means of
The court rested its conclusion
on an earlier ruling -- Griswold v. Connecticut -- in which it
had struck down a law prohibiting the distribution of
contraceptives to anyone, including married couples.
Since the distribution of
contraceptives to married persons could no longer be prohibited,
the court said that a ban on distribution to unmarried persons
would be equally impermissible, since the constitutionally
protected right of privacy rests in the individual, not the
Although it happened more than 30
years after this landmark decision was handed down, the Supreme
Court relied on the Baird precedent to declare that state laws
criminalizing private sexual behavior of consenting adults are
The case of Lawrence v. Texas,
which was decided in 2003, concluded that consenting adults --
whether married or unmarried -- may not be arrested or
prosecuted for private sexual behavior.
In more recent years, state
courts have been invalidating criminal laws prohibiting
unmarried heterosexual couples from engaging in sexual
intercourse or from cohabiting outside of wedlock. These
decisions have rested on Lawrence v. Texas which rests on
Eisenstadt v. Baird.
So the pioneering efforts that
William Baird engaged in 40 years ago to secure birth control
rights for the unmarried has expanded into a broader principle
of sexual freedom for the unmarried.
But Baird has paid a price in terms
of ridicule from some segments of American society.
"I have been called the devil, a menace to the nation — a sexual
pied piper — and accused of corrupting youth," he told the
philosophy students during his recent lecture. "I'm a
That's an understatement.
I think he is a hero for having the courage, so many years ago,
to stand up for the rights of single people.
Baird's pebble of advocacy has
created major constitutional ripples lasting several decades.
His leadership is certainly a testament to the power of the
individual -- how one person committed to a cause can change
To read other editions of
Column One, click here.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and