Eisenstadt v. Baird: Contraceptive Access for All Toolkit

A 1965 Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, legalized contraception for married couples, but it wasn’t until Eisenstadt v. Baird, seven years later, that the Supreme Court made clear that unmarried individuals have the same rights. NFPRHA works to make the holdings in both Supreme Court cases a reality for individuals and families across the country by advocating for access to a full range of family planning services and working with its members to ensure people at all income levels can receive high-quality sexual and reproductive health services in their communities.  

Case History

In 1967, at the urging of Boston University students, William Baird, the clinical director at a contraceptive manufacturer, gave a lecture at the university regarding contraceptives and distributed samples of contraceptive foam. Both acts violated Massachusetts state code, which barred anyone from providing contraceptives to unmarried people, even though married people could get contraceptives with a prescription from a doctor or pharmacist.

  Excerpt from SCOTUS Opinion
 

“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,” Justice William Brennan, writing for the US Supreme Court in Eisenstadt v. Baird

The lecture at Boston University was designed to trigger a test case to overturn the law. As expected, Baird was arrested and convicted for both exhibiting and distributing contraceptives. In 1969, the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned his conviction for the display but upheld the conviction for distribution.

Baird then filed a federal court lawsuit, which ultimately made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court overturned the remaining conviction on equal protection grounds. Namely, the Court held that there was no rational basis on which to treat married and unmarried people differently when it came to access to contraceptives. And, since Griswold v. Connecticut required all states to allow married people to access contraceptives, the Court held that they must do the same for unmarried people.

Eisenstadt, together with Griswold, laid the groundwork for key Supreme Court holdings on abortion, the rights of minors to access reproductive health care, and the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals to intimate relationships, marriage, and parenthood.

Impact on Title X and other Safety Net Providers

While the Title X family planning program became law in 1970, and first funded in 1971, Eisenstadt laid the groundwork for access to affordable, high quality family planning services for all. Today, more than four million people rely on Title X for access to contraceptive services and supplies, along with other basic reproductive and sexual health care services. Without Eisenstadt, millions of those patients could have limited to no access to this preventive health care, as states could decide to limit access to contraceptives to only married people.

Eisenstadt is particularly important for young people, who are less likely to be married and more likely to need confidential access to sensitive health care services. Eisenstadt ensures that these patients can legally access these services, and Title X and other safety net providers make that right a reality by providing low- or no-cost care in young people’s communities. In 2016, Title X service sites saw more than 700,000 patients under the age of 20.

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