The First Amendment; Bill Baird
The eastern Public Radio Network in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University now presents the First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s the host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Rubin.
On this edition My guest is Bill Baird the United Press International referred to Bill Baird as the father of the abortion movement all of the abortion rights movement. He first got into this.
Interest of working on the right of women in this regard. Because he saw something terrible happen while he was working in a related field as a clinical director for a drug company. He happened to see a woman who was very much maimed by a self-imposed abortion with a coathanger bill. Why don't you start there and tell us about the incipience of your interest in this work.
I'm sure well person I want I'm very happy to share today with you because the issue is an important one. And what had occurred several years back 15 years to be exact. I had heard the screams of a woman who was pregnant for the ninth time woman was on welfare. And resounds the whole way. And she literally collapsed in my arms and one of the HOS was I've been teaching it and she had taken an eight inch piece of wire coat hanger and wrapped the end where hes of tape. And in those days the idea was if you can insert a coathanger into the uterus and just scratch the wall to induce bleeding. A physician to quote save the life of the woman would perform the abortion however. The tragedy of this case Bernie is that she slipped and went through the wall into her bow and she hammers to death and it angered me. Here was a citizen who would deny not only the right to an abortion but by the Lord the state of New York at that time. She could not even have access to birth control. So way back in 1965 I challenge the New York law. I bought a movie a clinic and I drove from Holland to bedsides and different poorer areas. When I came to Hempstead Long Island I suddenly was surrounded by police dragged out of the van handcuffed charged with indecent exposure of obscene objects namely birth control and abortion devices. And I think a one year prison term and I ultimately got the law changed. The following year 1966 the city of Freehold New Jersey. Jailed me for 20 days for teaching birth control to poor people again with the idea of showing devices. But the thing that probably angered me more than anything else was in your ghetto the community of Boston University. I was arrested before 2000 young people for publicly showing birth control and abortion devices but also giving out one package of foam to an unmarried woman and I was ultimately convicted and given a three month prison term as a throne and I served as you well know over a month in the Charles Street Prison where I chased rats out of my cell and picked bugs out of my food. But my dream was that if by some miracle I could get this case before the U.S. Supreme Court they agreed with me it would overturn every law on birth control ultimately change the laws on what you did get it before the United States Supreme Court perhaps you want to go on with that and say what happened how in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court said a very famous statement they said of the right of privacy means anything it is a right of the individual to be free in the keyword was the individual to be free to make this decision. And that did indeed legalize birth control and 1073 it was quoted six times in overturning the abortion law. So I was tremendously thrilled with that and more recently we've been battling for the rights of teenagers to have abortions because many people still believe that teenagers are chattel property owned by the parent.
Now before we get into that Bill let me ask you about your most recent. Adventure you want to put it that way in Chicago.
Well Chicago's a fair city as they call it but it's certainly got some backward thinking police officers. Last year I was on the air in June taken in the anti-abortion group. And I've always believed that the streets belong to we the people. And I've never sought a permanent all my years of picketing nor will I ever because I maintain the streets belong to we the people. However the Chicago Police and agree with me they said since 1988 no one's going to allow to picket there because of the so-called violence of the anti-war demonstrators and they threaten me physically and they also threaten me with arrest if I do not move. So I left. I went to the American Civil Liberties Union and they were gracious enough to agree with me. And they took the case and they went to a court room and we got a restraining order. And yet the police again harassed us and the next day when we picketed and we ultimately did go to court and just a few weeks ago I was very happy to find out that the Chicago police now said we publicly apologize that people can now peacefully picket in the city of Chicago and Bill Baird Here's a check for two thousand five hundred dollars for damages. And I made a public promise as much as I personally the money I gave back into our movement for poor poor people to have abortions so the Chicago Police financed the very thing they were trying to stop which was the right of people to hear and learn why abortion should be made legal.
Now let me ask you a couple of questions based upon a couple of presumptions that I'm going to present to you.
First in regard to freedom of speech the abortion fight and the anti abortion fight is perhaps one of the most sensitive in that it sensitizes more people than any other thing I can think of. People feel very deeply about it in terms of their emotion some people think very deeply about it in terms of morals some people think very deeply about it in terms of religion. And I think that we are talking about both sides of the issue. For every one of those criteria.
You feel very very much concerned about the right of women to have these abortions.
You have been dealing for the last 15 years trying to get this message across. How free Have you found the mass media or how responsive have you found the mass media to your message and to the story that you're trying to get over.
Well I can tell you in stages at the beginning when I was sort of pioneering this work there are many TV shows and network shows that I did because nobody else would talk about it nobody else was really actively fighting to legalize abortion. However in the last several years I found the media's done a strange thing. They now see women such as Betty for Dan and others to speak out on abortion as they will build their dear a man. And I always angers me because forgetting a man for a moment I don't have to be gay to speak out for gay rights. I certainly don't have to be black to speak out for black people's rights and I certainly don't have to be a woman to speak out for women's rights. All these issues to me are under the banner of human liberation. So concerning some of the media I would say that they're got their own sexist hang ups I got to work through but in this particular state since it only occurred the other day. Finding the so-called liberal press even like the Globe columnist after columnist has decided to have open season on Bill there and either I am the devil or evil. And what really troubles me is that sparing us that they want to attack me which is something perhaps I can live with.
But what they're really trying to do is by discrediting me in their own eyes in the eyes of the public that they think can you discredit the movement and there's no way they're going to do it suppose I suppose I throw that back at you and say well you know work is we're well recognized recognize one of the achievements perhaps has been that it has become something on the table for many many leaders and the Right to Life movement so-called has created many leaders. Your right to abortion movement has created many leaders. Now you are one of many. Does this make it more difficult for you when somebody says Well perhaps Bill Baird was all right in the early days or perhaps a man might speak on it but after all in an age of women's liberation who should we get now but perhaps women but who do I fight the most.
Women give you for instance who ran for president United States on the issue of making abortion a crime. Ellen McCormick a woman who heads a National Right to Life Group a woman but in a Mildred Jefferson. Anita Bryant Phyllis Schlafly I can name you host after host of people many of whom I've debated personally but the vast majority of them are indeed.
I want to have you encourage any men to leadership roles in this area.
I can encourage anybody to a leadership role I'm saying I'm saying by by the activities that you have been engaged in in the last 15 years all I can do is say that people perceive me whatever way they do and those who agree with me will stand up and fight and those who don't won't or else the others will just sit and watch and tragically that's what most of us are doing. Most of us are watchers most of us in fact if I challenge this audience how many of you honestly in the last year have even written one letter one postcard to a legislator and said I backed bill Baird I think abortion is a woman's right. I don't most bet my life the vast majority have not done it. In contrast the anti-abortion people who are out there by the thousands because they have an organized force essentially the Roman Catholic Church is a political arm. When we talk to you about the dangers at least as I view it the First Amendment we talk about freedom of speech we also talk about the issue of religion. One of most frightening things happen in this nation and most of us are asleep on us is that there's an effort to amend the Constitution. Thirteen states have passed this so-called Right to Life Amendment that says this from the moment of conception a person exists. Now that's a religious dogma that's essentially the Roman Catholic church's philosophy.
Well but you say essentially religious dogma you wouldn't circumscribe the right of people to to maintain their faith as they see it. Roman Catholics already use Protestants or anyone else.
I have no battle with anybody who wants to their privacy their home their church wherever say look I as a Roman Catholic believe abortion is murder and a pencil died a guess a person or if you're home a witness is that blood transfusions are immoral and I would sooner die than have a blood transfusion. Where I would fight to the death is a moment that somebody says I'm now going to amend the Constitution and say that all blood transfusions are now immoral and therefore illegal or the Orthodox Jew said all eating pork is now immoral and illegal. Well the church says all abortions even if your right are immoral therefore illegal. I debated a man when their father John Keane on a TV show not too long ago and I asked him if the church considers abortion murder What penalty would he impose. And he said based on the fact that it's murder he would call for the death penalty.
But he's one he is one individual I presume he would not be entitled to speak for the Catholic Church by any means but here's what's very important.
You assume many times the Catholic Church say abortion is murder. I follow this logic. If we pass a constitutional amendment then an egg is a person and a woman indeed has an abortion in regards to what the law says an illegal abortion. One must ponder what penalties are we going to give in the church already is classified as murder and has to logically follow. She would be charged with the crime of murder if she is charged with the crime of murder you must charge a physician a boyfriend or a husband whoever else is with her as coconspirators. Where in the world would you get enough prisons to prison these people in prison these people or if you're going to give them the death penalty. The rather ludicrous to say one respects life and then turn around and say we would execute people you see yourself as in effect being ganged up upon by an organized group. I don't see myself mean I'll never get pregnant I see women being ganged up upon by conservative right wing backward forces in this nation who still want to follow the philosophy keep women at home barefoot and pregnant.
I think that's the essence of the now all right let me let me just cut out a part of a little bit. Is this a right wing movement or is this a religious movement that you're fighting.
I think important both together. I think it's the right wing element of the religious movement.
Well they're not a great many people of other faiths Protestants of all denominations who feel the same as say Catholics or Orthodox Jews on this issue and oppose birth control for those reasons.
Let me. Birth control most people willing now I'm going to agree I'm eligible to accept. The issue of abortion is such so that the Protestant Council of Churches supports abortion of various church groups do. Poll after poll showed Catholics support abortion. There's been only one organized religion to publicly state and I say U.S. Catholic bishops conference that we will set up in every parish an anti-abortion group. You certainly can remember the presidential race when Ford and Carter ran for office do you remember they had to jump through hoops to explain their position on abortion to one religion namely the Catholic Church not to the Jews and not to the Protestants.
Well this is rather typical of not only the abortion question on both sides but it was typical of the busing issue going all the way back to Eisenhower leading politicians often display very little courage on both sides.
Is this something about abortion which is very much like other issues perhaps even more sensitive that makes it difficult to drag it out into the ordinary political battlefield.
Well it's already out in a political battle for my ideas it doesn't belong in a political battlefield. So both here you and I are men. How would you and I feel if women organize and said OK Bernie Ruben and there will BAIRD You are now going to turn around and be forced to have a vasectomy because we think there are too many people in the world. All men over 30 years of age must have a second.
I'm sure you know I mean self-respecting people we would fight back in a in a way this in a version this happened in India and one of the key things that knocked off Indira Gandhi's government toppled Indira Gandhi's government. But my definition of politics may be a little different than yours. I think almost everything that concerns the public welfare should be in the public forum. The area of political discussion.
Do you think sex should be in the area. I'm talking about relationships between people such as you know they have laws dealing with oral sex and anal intercourse.
How well I didn't I didn't say that it should be the subject of laws on the subject or you know men with sex but it is the subject for discussion for freedom of exchange of ideas for commentary in the newspapers. What I do you want to do in my bedroom is nobody else's business. Would you forbid someone from writing an article about that. Now what I did in my bedroom you better believe not not as an individual but we have novel after novel talking about what people do in their bedrooms and about so if I might call it that but when somebody passes a law called crimes against chastity in the state of Massachusetts.
That States in effect that if a woman or a man were engaged in oral sex it's punishable by five years in prison or one now turns around and says homosexuals should be prosecuted after a 25 year prison term that blows my mind that people can be involved in politics as to how people make love.
How people make love is an individual concern of the individual not the business of government.
You've noticed that and I'm more interested in your First Amendment interests than I am in going through the Bill Bennett story for our purposes on this program. Therefore I am not expressing any any views personal or otherwise but I am saying that this is a an argument which on one day is in the political arena another day should not be in the political arena on a third day the constitutional amendment.
People don't know how to handle this argument. Are you able to handle it in such a way that your listeners understand. Or do you find it necessary to be contentious or in confrontations in order to get media attention in order to get them to understand.
When I have an opportunity like today I'm thrilled to do this kind of a broadcast because this is Bill Baird speaking where as if this were now being covered by a reporter it would then be determined what they wanted to hear what they thought I said. And very often I could say as your tires blew somebody would say I said it was polka dot.
So a lot of my views unfortunately are distorted by certain members of the media which is why I always love this kind of way of exchanging thoughts what is the fairest aspect of the BDO so far as you are concerned on radio or TV you can't alter too much what I say that way but you sure can in a printed word and the print people are notoriously one sided against you or I do have elements of the press that that give the message as you think it ought to be given.
Unlike in New York it's much different here in Boston I've got for instance Boston Globe three columnists in the last year have torn me up one side and down the other. And what I dislike about that is the fact I would love equal time. See I honestly feel I don't know quite how to put this the way I'd like it to be but like if somebody does this on the air you are allowed equal time to respond. Newspapers a whole column can be written and tearing you up when a lot of it could be false. With luck you might be able to get a letter to the editor and I think that somebody will be Bill Baird or you or anybody else that we should have a right to defend our integrity and our honor and any other values we have by the printed word that does not exist.
Well we've had a Supreme Court case on that in which they said it in effect it ought not to exist in that particular form you ought not be able to walk into an editor's office and say I demand the right to respond because then almost everybody would have that opportunity and the newspaper would no longer be able to to operate as an independent viable organ if that logic follows in how can it follow that on radio or television that you're allowed under the fair doctrine that people can because there isn't there is tremendous argument over the fairness doctrine as some people say it is restrictive in the effort to be fair.
Others say that it is not fair as they see fairness. I believe personally that the Fairness Doctrine or any doctrine that separates the electronic press from the print press is silly and that the electronic media ought to operate under the First Amendment. Under no other rules just as the print press does I cannot see news being discussed or news being presented on radio or television under FCC rulings. The only extension of that would be illogical and that would be to have some sort of an FCC unit supervising the process. The print press now the Supreme Court just the other day in late may have 978 came to the conclusion that newspaper offices can be searched without previous warning so long as there is a warrant. That's very very scary scary to me.
But again you know there's many types of fears one of the fears we have now is trying to appear on high school campuses where young people really want to hear lectures on birth control only about that you've had some trouble on specific high school you know some high school students invited me said there will be a police come ahead of the school not a fit topic Newton High School the principal I was supposed to show a film of an abortion. They said Well that shows a vagina. It will offend the community. You can't show vaginas to 17 18 year old students like they could possibly never have seen a vagina before. We had to go into court before they finally agreed we could speak. The frightening concept is that the school administrators bury their head in the sand as many of the parents perhaps listen to this broadcast. They are not aware that teenagers are people. Teenagers are not chattel. They are sexual beings. Many of them engage in intercourse. What in the world are we going to grow up as a people to recognize they do have the right intercourse. They do have the right to the knowledge at least of birth control and abortion.
It will cause a lot of the listeners will stick with you on the second phrase is there the right to knowledge and on the first phrase that their arms will be up they may be reaching to change the dial and saying I don't think I feel bad saying this now.
Yes this man well.
Well I asked him to do is think of what I just had the other night a father had beaten up a boy from actually beaten up 16 year old kid who made his daughter pregnant and I ask the Father what you do that for. And he said well he had intercourse with my daughter. And I asked the fathers about my age I said OK man I said Did you have intercourse before you got married. He says Sure but that's different and that's a concept that we have that we men when we were growing up we were told we could get sexually experienced so our otes know what we're doing. We watch on TV a Burt Reynolds a super stud or a ladies man. Joan AMOS But if a woman has intercourse and she's single. Often she's given the title of a tramp or a who're or whatever name you want to give her. And we still use the term bastard or illegitimate for a baby born out of couple not being married. I think it's time that we recognize that the day of the Virgin is almost gone. And it may shock a lot of people but it's time since I recognize I never invented sex. It goes on whether you're hearing this in Minnesota or whatever part of United States you're hearing this. Intercourse is here to stay.
Let me ask you a question now based upon what you've said many people think that what you do is good bad or indifferent that covers about everybody else but they some of them may think that you are in the aster will say of what de Gaulle would call coup detat or the theatrical cool that you you are a civic You are blunt you come crashing head on. Is it possible that some of the.
Editorial writers that you're getting opposition from may be commenting because they just don't like Bill Baird or not not because they're against what you have to say but this tendency that you have to be first and foremost on the street getting arrested saying things like you just said which is which is not. Not in any way moderated it is flat out kind of statement.
Well first of all I believe in integrity and honesty and I would challenge anyone listen to this broadcast to dispute the integrity honesty of the statements I've just given granted. But I'm just saying is the style one of the things that one of my to do favorite quote was in a recent editorial about mean another paper somewhere and it said these words what Ralph Nader is to consumerism and Dr. King is to civil rights. There are barriers to abortion freedom. Yeah somebody's got to be on our front line. I would love to see. After 15 years of fighting. Yes I would like to see somebody else get arrested to challenge a law somebody else pay $50000 in debt for the state of Massachusetts where I don't even live in the state since I live in New York. I would love to see someone do that but I don't. In fact if you are a student of this movement it was only Margaret Sanger in a nine hundred twenty years who founded Planned Parenthood who was arrested seven times in challenging these laws. And 50 years later there was nobody but the man sitting opposite this desk. OK. The law that legalized birth control no one can deny it. It is called Bayard versus Eisenstadt. The challenge for minors rights I waited three months hoping that somebody else would challenge the law. Three months went by. Nobody gave a damn enough to reach into their pocket and say OK I'll go into dad or I'll bottom my freedom to help these young people until I went in and I'm not saying egotistically but a matter of history a matter of fact. So when you say to me about being on the front line being first you know sometimes I'd rather be last and say Hey Bernie you take the next great next risk for the people of New York or some other state and I'll tell you a very funny thing once somebody has been inside a 4 by 8 cage. And you're suddenly in a very dangerous environment. You not too eager to challenge these laws. And yet I still am because I think it must be in if tonight were to be my last broadcast my last breath on this earth. I would still fight to that last breath and people must be free.
Well I gather that that you see oh work then in the media and using the media on this issue as a moral crusade that's the feeling that I get from the words that you are on a moral crusade in the U.S would like integrity and independence and straightforwardness is a moral crusade you see this as the the centerpiece of your life at the moment.
Morality is an interesting word because it can mean one thing to one person and something else to someone else but a word that's reasonably consistent to me. If I can use this word is a morality of freedom. I believe very much that you and I the people have a right to be free to do with our bodies as we see fit and we certainly have a right to discuss it openly. And when we've been banned from TV appearances or our views are being distorted in some of the media or been banned from high schools or colleges I think freedom suffers and therefore I think all of us suffer.
Do you get any accolades along the lines that are unexpected in the midst of all the turmoil.
I get lots of accolades from the beautiful people who come to me as patient to hug me in fact when I was waiting in a studio to see you today. Woman came over and shook my hand she said thank you for all you're doing. But does it appear publicly. No I'd be very hard pressed to see anywhere in the United States and editorial that said hey man we like your style you got out there and you fought the good battle you took on a power merchant to the church you took on the establishment and you won.
But we the people thanks in the last couple of minutes we have left. What is your activity consist of now I know that you have clinics just where are they and what do they do.
Well where I spend a lot of time is right here in Boston at the builder's Center in Boston and then in Hempstead Long Island. But what I'm trying to do now is appear nationally at high schools and colleges and so if anyone would like to hear me I'd love to come to their campus and speak with them about the very real dangers of losing our freedoms and I predict. You say this tape that we will lose the abortion lawyer within a couple of years by a constitutional amendment. Unless the American people wake up to this threat of these First Amendment rights which are freedom of assembly speech as well as freedom from religion.
So you see yourself as a protector of the First Amendment directly directly and also protector of human rights to have access to do with their bodies as they see fit.
Have you learned to respect the oppositions that you face or do you. Do you feel that they're just off on a tangent that is unwarranted.
It's very hard to respect an oppressor. They really are all your opponents oppressors you or anyone that says to a woman you must go through a pregnancy against your will is oh no presser and my bitter enemy and I will fight to the death to the little death to the death.
OK I think that qualifies you as a person in the vanguard. All people in the eye Vanguard do face controversy and contention it becomes part of your way of life does it not.
It's frightening. Mother's Day I was under police guard I've each week. There are death threats name to me as you know eight clinics have been fire bombed this past year alone. There's not a week goes by that somebody doesn't write or call me to say they would take my life. Frightening thought.
Well Bill bad let me say this it has been a pleasure having you and I'm delighted that you've been so open on the subject of the background involving the First Amendment and your right to expression and the opponents that you face in regard to the abortion battles that you've been in for the last 15 years.
I appreciate your you're coming for this edition Brenda driven.
The eastern Public Radio Network in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University has presented the First Amendment as a free people weekly examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s the program was produced in the studios of WGBH Boston.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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