Eisenstadt v. Baird
405 U.S. 438, 92 S.Ct. 1029, 31 L.Ed.2d 349 (1972)

  • Baird was giving a lecture on contraception at Boston University. He also gave one person (an unmarried woman!) a sample contraceptive. He was arrested and charged under Massachusetts law that prohibited ‘exhibiting contraceptive materials’ and ‘giving away contraceptives to unmarried people.
  • The Trial Court convicted Baird on both counts. He appealed.
  • The Massachusetts Supreme Court threw out the first charge based on the 1st Amendment, but upheld the conviction for giving away contraceptives. Baird appealed to Federal Court on a writ of habeus corpus.
  • The Federal Trial Court upheld the conviction. Baird appealed.
  • The Federal Appellate Court overturned the conviction. The prosecutor appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the law was an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment because it denied equal protection to unmarried people (who couldn’t get contraceptives).
      • Massachusetts argued that the law was meant to discourage ‘fornication’, which was illegal under Massachusetts law, but the Court found that the criminal penalty for the fornication (3 months in jail), was far less than the 5 year sentence for giving away contraception.
      • Massachusetts argued that they were simply regulating potentially harmful materials. But the Court found that if that were true, then the fact that married couples could get it, and unmarried couples could not made no sense from a public health standpoint.
    • The Court looked to Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965)), which held that you couldn’t deny contraception to married couples because what went on in the bedroom was a zone of privacy that was not subject to government intrusion. The Court found that it would be discriminatory to not give unmarried couples the same protections.
      • “If the right to privacy means anything, it means 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.”
  • In this case, the Court did not find Massachusetts’ stated reason (to deter fornication) to be a rational basis for treating single people from married people.