The Right to Birth Control

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Category:Birth Control
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According to the National Health Statistics Reports, in the United States as of 2013, 99 percent of sexually active women aged 15-44 have used at least one contraceptive method (Contraceptive Use in the United States). This means that of the large population of women having sexual intercourse, almost all of them use or have used contraception of some sort in their lives. The accessibility and high rates of usage were not always that high. Previous to 1972, women had substantial difficulty obtaining contraception unless they were married and already had children, thanks to Margaret Sanger.

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She developed “the pill”, which became fully approved in 1960, and became legal nationwide in 1965 to only married couples (The Birth Control Pill). This was, until the Supreme Court case Eisenstadt v. Baird.

This Supreme Court case, of Eisenstadt v. Baird, forced the issue of accessibility for birth control into public spotlight, highlighting the notion that women’s bodies have reproductive and anatomical functions and that the right to privacy under the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth amendment extends to these reproductive choices whether they are married or not. The catalyst for this supreme court case was William Baird being arrested and charged with a felony for distributing contraception and lecturing on birth control at Boston University. Under Massachusetts law on Crimes against chastity, contraceptives were only allowed to be distributed to married persons, and only by registered physicians (The Real History of Your Right to Birth Control). After being convicted, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court partially overturned Baird’s case due to the lectures being covered by the First Amendment. Baird filled an appeal, to have the partial charges dismissed, reasoning that the Massachusetts law infringed on fundamental human rights for unmarried couples.

The appellee, William “Bill” Baird, currently 86, is a reproductive rights pioneer and often called “the father” of birth control and abortion-rights movement. He also is believed to be the first and only non-lawyer in American history with three Supreme Court victories. In 1963, Baird was working as the youngest clinical director of EMKO, a birth control manufacturer when he witnessed something traumatic. He heard a scream and saw a young woman covered in blood with a wire coat hanger imbedded in her uterus. This outraged him that she and many others were unable to access birth control and had to resort to making dangerous and life-threatening choices (The Real History of Your Right to Birth Control). This began Baird handing out some of EMKO’s products to women after his lectures, eventually leading to his arrest.

It took five years for Eisenstadt v. Baird to succeed in legalizing the right to birth control nationwide, with a 6-1 ruling in favor of overturning the law. “If the right of privacy means anything,” wrote Justice William J. Brennan Jr. for the majority, “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” (Cline). This phrase “bear or beget” became a foundation in the women’s sexual and reproductive rights movement, being quoted in many cases to follow.

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The Right to Birth Control. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from