Analysis Contraception

Eisenstadt v. Baird: The 41st Anniversary of Legal Contraception for Single People

Bridgette Dunlap

On the eve of the anniversary, Rewire spoke with William Baird, from the landmark Eisenstadt v. Baird case, about his reproductive health efforts past and present.

March 22 marks the 41st anniversary of Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Supreme Court decision that established the right of single individuals to possess contraception. That’s right: As recently as 1972, you could go to jail for giving contraception to an unmarried person. And William Baird did. Eight times. In five different states.

On the eve of the anniversary, Rewire spoke with Baird about his reproductive health efforts past and present.

Bill Baird attributes his birth control crusade to having seen a 29-year-old mother who already had numerous children die in a Harlem hospital after she tried to self-abort with a coat hanger. She didn’t have the right to a legal abortion, and she didn’t have the right to contraception, or even information about it. Baird dedicated his life to providing contraception and abortion care to women, particularly poor women, and to challenging the laws that denied these things to them.

In 1965, Baird was arrested for distributing contraceptives in New York; in 1966 he was arrested in New Jersey. The trials that resulted led to the reformation of those state’s laws.

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In Massachusetts in 1967, it was illegal to both exhibit contraceptives and distribute them to unmarried persons. Seeking to challenge the law by breaking it once again, Baird gave a lecture to approximately 2,000 students at Boston University. He displayed contraceptives during the lecture and closed by giving contraceptive foam and a condom to a young woman. He was arrested and subsequently convicted of both crimes.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously set aside the conviction for exhibiting contraceptives as a violation of Baird’s First Amendment rights but sustained the conviction for giving away the foam. In Massachusetts, fornication was a misdemeanor punishable by a $30 fine or three months in jail; distributing contraceptives was a felony punishable by five years in prison. Baird spent 36 days in Boston’s Charles Street Jail, where the conditions where so bad that a court later found them unconstitutional: “It scarred me to this day,” Baird told Rewire, “but I endured it.”

In 1965, the Supreme Court had held that Connecticut’s prohibition against the use of contraceptives was an unconstitutional infringement of the right to marital privacy. But that decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, wasn’t much help to single people or people like Baird willing to help them. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. wrote, “the marital couple is not an independent entity with a mind and heart of its own, but an association of two individuals each with a separate intellectual and emotional makeup.” That is not how the law treated marriage historically. Married women were once considered the property of their husbands, rather than separate persons. In holding that prohibiting contraception only for unmarried people denied them the equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the court recognized the individual autonomy of women. The case was important to the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade the following year.

Baird continued to fight openly and aggressively for reproductive rights, and Eisenstadt wasn’t his last trip to the Supreme Court. But his fight came at great personal cost. Many of the women’s rights leaders of the time rejected him. His clinic was attacked. He became estranged from his wife and children, who endured threats and vilification. Today he is “eighty and going blind and broke,” as he says. Because he is blind in one eye and losing sight in the other, his second wife, Joni, reads him his email and news of the fight for reproductive and sexual equality. He said it amazes him “how the body wears out but the mind fights on.” He continues to lecture on college campuses. Of a recent talk, he said, “These kids could not believe I faced a ten-year jail term for their right to have sex protected.” He said that his granddaughter thinks he “murders babies,” but his stepsons know what he does and has done and love him for it.

Baird is as fiery and eager to talk about the struggle as ever. He continues to be dismayed by individuals who would infringe on the right of women to make their own decisions. When I spoke to him yesterday, he recited a section of Eisenstadt v. Baird from memory: “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” That right is young—and still under attack.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.