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Eisenstadt v. Baird


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405 U.S. 438 (1972), argued 17–18 Nov. 1971, decided 22 Mar. 1972 by vote of 6 to 1; Brennan for the Court, Burger in dissent, Powell and Rehnquist not participating. This case expanded the right of privacy articulated in *Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). Griswold had invalidated a Connecticut law banning the use of contraceptives by married couples. Eisenstadt held that a Massachusetts ban on the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried individuals was equally unper-missible. “If the right of privacy means anything,” Justice William Brennan wrote, “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” (p. 453).

Massachusetts law made it a felony for anyone to distribute contraceptives to unmarried persons. The law allowed contraceptives to be distributed only to married couples and only by registered doctors and pharmacists. The Court held that the distinction between married and unmarried persons violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that the statute was not a legitimate health measure since it was both discriminatory and overbroad and since other laws already regulated the distribution of unsafe drugs.

At issue was William Baird's conviction for giving away Emko Vaginal Foam to a woman after a lecture on birth control and overpopulation at Boston University. Baird was not an authorized distributor of contraceptives. Justice Byron White concurred, arguing that a legitimate health interest would have been raised if Baird had not distributed a form of contraception requiring a prescription. Chief Justice Warren Burger dissented, saying that a legitimate health interest already existed.

John Anthony Maltese

Subjects: Law.


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