Afternoon session, April 2
The next speaker for the Convention was abortion rights activist Bill Baird, who spoke on “The Politics of God, Government and Sex.”
Known as “The Father of the Abortion Rights Movement,” he returns to the Convention on the 27th anniversary of the historic BAIRD v. EISENSTADT, the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that liberalized birth control laws in the United States and helped to establish the cornerstone of ROE v. WADE. The BAIRD case was quoted six times in the ROE decision. He established the nation’s first birth control and abortion center on a college campus in 1965. Part of that time he spent in jail for teaching about birth control in New York. In 1967, he was sentenced to three months in prison for “crimes against chastity,” that is, for exhibiting birth control and abortion devices to an audience of two thousand individuals at Boston University and giving a non-prescriptive contraception to a nineteen-year-old college student.
Baird described the contemporary abortion battle as “a holy war,” and noted that there have been over 200 firebombs and acts of vandalism against abortion providers. He then discussed indicators of the intensity of the present abortion-rights fight, and noted how anti-choice zealots often “demonize” and objectify those they disagree with. One example was a lurid posted used by Catholics anti-abortion activists which depicted Jesus re-crucified over the heads of aborted fetuses, with an American flag at half-mast as a distress signal.. Another item was a pamphlet, “Who Killed Junior?”, which included a picture of a knife stabbing into the depiction of an infant. Another illustration depicted a fetus writhing in pain with the legend: “Aborted babies at 13 weeks old will struggle for life after an abortion from 2 to 3 hours.” On the back page, text read: “No woman has a right over her baby’s body -- the baby is another person, a separate human being.”
Another example of extreme anti-choice rhetoric involved a 1990 incident where Brooklyn Bishop Francis Mugavero who compared then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to Adolph Hitler because of his support for abortion rights. The Roman Catholic prelate also suggested that Cuomo was ‘in danger of going to hell,” as a result.
Baird also recalled his encounter with anti-choice terrorist Paul Hill; Baird debated Hill on media in Boston, Mass. Hill, of course, was later involved in the murder of a physician who worked at an abortion clinic. Hill maintained that murder of people who work in abortion clinics or perform abortions would be justifiable killing. He also presented the poster board which he had displayed in his famous Boston University speech, which showed a variety of birth control devices. Baird was also arrested in Freehold, New Jersey in October, 1966 and sentenced to a 20-day jail term for showing a diaphragm in public.
Baird told the audience that his fight was not limited to simply to abortion, but for the right of people to control their own lives and destiny; he also admitted to being “critical of religion,” and saw religion as an underpinning of the anti-choice movement. “The church is the enemy of free thinking people,” said Baird. He added that the Roman Catholic Church should be compelled to register as a foreign lobbying group.
In April, 1998, Mr. Baird accepted an award from the Brown University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for his 35-year long labor on behalf of abortion rights. In denouncing “religious fanaticism,” he also risked violating Rhode Island’s antiquated blasphemy law, which carried a penalty of up to two months in jail, or a fine of $200. The 1896 statute falls just after a similar law setting a $5 fine for “profanity and swearing.”
Prior to coming to the 25th National Convention, Bill Baird was in Albany, New York picketing the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in his ongoing campaign to expose the role of the Roman Catholic Church in promoting violence and intimidation at reproductive clinics. Baird charges that inflammatory church rhetoric has contributed to the growing climate of violence and intolerance, which led, he says, to the murder of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian. “I’ve asked the bishops to stop this holy war, stop the hate speech that causes emotionally crippled people to kill good people like Dr. Slepian...”
“I ask you to realize that we’re at war over the abortion issue,” Mr. Baird told the convention. “Write a letter to the newspaper, picket a church, get involved.”
© 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.