The self-proclaimed “Father of the Abortion Rights Movement.”
On April 6, 1967, before an overflow audience in excess of 2,000 people, he spoke at Boston University about the public’s right to privacy in matters of sexuality, including the right to birth control and abortion. At the end of the lecture he was promptly arrested by members of the Boston police department’s vice squad and charged with publicly exhibiting birth control and abortion devices and giving away a single condom and package of contraceptive foam to a nineteen-year-old, unmarried female student. The event made headlines nationwide. He spent months in jail. As far as I know, he is the only private person to have two Supreme Court cases in his name, both dealing with the right to privacy.
Now, Bill Baird is close to 80 years old and is barely making it on his social security payments. In addition, he has been a pariah within the pro-choice community for decades.
Things started going downhill for Bill years ago when charges of womanizing started spreading throughout the feminist community. Who knows if the allegations were true or not? All I know is that Bill would tell me stories about how women practically attacked him, but it didn’t matter. The stories were already out there and could not be roped in. Contributing to his fall from grace was his constant self-promotion. Whenever he went to a pro-choice convention or if he just had the ear of one person, the conversation was all about him, all about his Supreme Court cases, all about his press releases (which he literally carried around with him). He was clearly yearning for attention. It was both obnoxious and pathetic at the same time.
When I joined the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I ran into
him at some event and he told me he needed money to attend the annual “Right to Life” convention. I asked him why he would even go to their meeting and he said he thought it was important to protest outside their hotel. He bragged about how his protests would get “lots of media attention.” At one point, he even told me that the anti-abortion folks were very interested in paying him money if he came over to their side. I always suspected that was a bunch of crap and that he was telling me this in the hopes that our side would give him money instead. It was just an exhausting and very sad occasion whenever I saw him.
Then, in 1993 NCAP decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Roe
vWade with a formal, black-tie dinner dance at the elegant Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was the first of its kind and we invited a number of pro-choice “celebrities” to join us. As much as I knew how Bill rubbed folks the wrong way, I felt he should be invited to the event because of how much he had done for our cause.
So, I called him and told him we’d like him to join us as one of our “dignitaries.” He started crying. He said through his tears that he hadn’t been invited to a pro-choice function in decades and he thanked me profusely. Then he added “but, Pat, I can’t afford to rent a tuxedo.”
“Okay, let me work on that Bill.”
Within hours, I was talking to Susan Hill, one of the original founders of NCAP and not one of Bill’s fans, but she still offered to pay for his tuxedo. I called him back and told him to make plans to come to Washington. We paid for his hotel room as well. For the first time, Bill Baird was speechless.
The day of the dinner dance, I gave Bill the opportunity to talk to our
membership to give them a historical perspective of his work. He was getting a great reaction until he said at one point that he felt the pro-choice community had an “obligation” to pay him money for all the work he had done for them over the years. In the audience were other leaders of the movement who had sacrificed just as much. His comments were incredibly obnoxious – and it was textbook Bill Baird. Always making trouble. Always approaching things with a sense of entitlement.
Of course, he was oblivious to the fact that he had once again pissed everyone off. So, that night he came to the dinner party, all dressed up in his rented tuxedo. He took the opportunity to catch up with some old friends, if they could actually be called “friends.” I even saw him dancing later on in the evening with Susan. He was beaming all night. As he was leaving, he came up and gave me a big hug and said “I’ll never forget what you did for me.”
The next day, on the front page of the “Style” section of the Washington Post, there was a big photograph of Bill Baird, surrounded by the press, holding court. He was in his element. He had yet another press article for his collection.
After that night, Bill went back to New York. When Susan Hill died, I called him and I could hear him sobbing. When he got composed, he told me how he needed money to go to the next Right to Life convention. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, Pat” he said before he hung up.
Go get ‘em, Bill.