Veteran Feminists of America 





Called by some media the father of the abortion-rights movement, Bill Baird’s crusade began when he was thirty-one years old. In 1963 he was Clinical Director for EMKO, a birth control company, and was doing research at a NYC hospital. While there he heard screaming in the corridor and saw an African American single mother of nine covered in blood from the waist down with an eight-inch piece of wire coat hanger protruding from her uterus. She died in his arms.

That year, he distributed birth control foam to women at New York area drug stores and malls, and in 1964 established the nation’s first nonprofit birth control/abortion facility in Hempstead, NY, staffed by doctors providing free reproductive health care.

He also got in touch with Cindy Cisler, then head of NOW’s Abortion Rights Committee, and for the next few years he and Cindy headed many abortion rights demonstrations on the East Coast.

In 1971, two firebombs struck the Jewish Community Center in New Bedford, MA, just minutes before Bill was scheduled to speak. With his clinic under constant threat, he wrote and distributed the nation’s first clinic self-defense manual to combat terrorism (1978).

 In 1979, Bill's clinic, with 50 people inside, was firebombed; in 1980 he sued the FBI, claiming it had failed to investigate anti-abortion terrorists. Later in 1985 he pioneered a 50-foot demilitarized zone and a 500- foot quiet zone to protect clinics.

Despite appeals for an end to violence, Bill's clinic was forced to close temporarily due to chemical bombs in 1992. In 1993, it was closed again because of flooding with fire hoses.

Believing that there was a clear connection between inflammatory rhetoric and violence, Bill and his co-director of the Pro Choice League, Joni Scott, worked with Father Frank Pavone, co-founder and director of Priests for Life, to create a document calling for an end to anti-abortion hate speech and violence. In 2002, the agreement between pro-choice and anti-abortion sides was signed, and copies sent by Fr. Pavone to hundreds of diocese and anti-abortion groups nationally.

Bill has also worked through the courts to secure women’s right to choose. He is the first and only non-lawyer in American history with three Supreme Court victories. In 1972, Baird v. Eisenstadt legalized birth control for individuals – the 1965 Griswold ruling was for married couples only. And in the 1976 and 1979 decisions Baird v. Bellotti I and II, minors were empowered to obtain abortions without parental veto.

Bill was central to three U.S. Supreme Court cases that helped legalize birth control and abortion. In spite of all he has done he has not been embraced by some major groups fighting for the same cause. It may be that he has not been able to convince them that he is sincerely interested in helping women, and some feminists have derided him as an outcast and a self-promoter.

Anti-choice activists have shot at him, bombed his clinic—and even offered to pray for him. He was jailed eight times in five states in the 1960s for merely lecturing on abortion and birth control.

The founder and director of the Pro-Choice League, Bill earned his B.S. from Brooklyn College in 1955, and received its Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. He used his own money to fight for a woman’s right to choose, and today he lives on Social Security.

In the words of Past NOW-NYS President Marilyn Fitterman "Bill Baird is a national treasure. I've known him since 1967 when he helped pass the 1970 abortion rights laws in New York State."


Feminist singer/songwriter Sandy Rapp saluted Bill with the bio/song: "Ballad Of Billy Baird," performed at many feminist events around the country.  Free listen or download at:


Comments: Jacqui Ceballos