Eisenstadt v. Baird: State Statute Prohibiting Distribution of Contraceptives to Single Persons Void on Equal Protection Grounds


In the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut, which involved a Connecticut law prohibiting married couples from using contraceptives, the United States Supreme Court established a constitutionally protected marital right to privacy extending to the use of contraceptives. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court refused to expand the right of privacy articulated in Griswold in order to encompass the right of individuals, married or single, to have access to contraceptives. Instead, the Court relied on an equal protection analysis to find that the Massachusetts statute forbidding distribution of contraceptives to single persons, except to prevent disease, was violative of the fourteenth amendment. The complex equal protection analysis employed by the Court and the references in dicta to Griswold indicate both the conflicting attitudes about the right to privacy existing among the participating Justices and the Court’s desire tofashion a flexible equal protection test.

At issue in Eisenstadt was a Massachusetts statute which made it a felony for anyone to give away a drug, medicine, instrument or article for the prevention of conception, except in the case of (1) a registered physician administering or prescribing it for a married person or (2) an active registered pharmacist furnishing it to married persons presenting a registered physician’s prescription. The appellee, William Baird, was convicted of violating this statute after he gave a woman contraceptive foam at the close of a lecture on contraception. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, by a four-to-three vote, sustained the conviction. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was dismissed in the federal district court in Massachusetts, but the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the dismissal and remanded the action with directions to grant the writ discharging Baird. On appeal by the Sheriff of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court upheld the First Circuit and granted the writ.

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