Kathleen Gilbert

My conversation with a 1960s birth control and abortion hero

Kathleen Gilbert
Kathleen Gilbert
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ARLINGTON, Virginia, July 7, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - I had heard of Bill Baird before, thanks to a Huffington Post article describing the legacy of the birth control crusader after he had issued a letter of sympathy to Georgetown Law’s Sarah Fluke in April. But, since I hadn’t encountered mention of him before or since, I no longer matched the name to the figure by the time I met a sandy-haired elderly man standing across the street from the National Right to Life Convention last week.

The 80-year-old Baird was standing defiantly in the sun, baking in 100-degree heat, holding a sign for his Pro-Choice League alongside a life-sized wooden “Cross of Oppression.” One other protester was there, presumably his wife, although she refused to give her name. I couldn’t resist crossing the asphalt to strike up a conversation.

“Do you know who I am, first of all?” Baird asked me, to which I responded in the negative. This elicited one of the major themes of the conversation: that I didn’t know anything. “See, now that tells me how your movement doesn’t educate you,” he said. “One of the things that your side fights is the right of a person to make their own decision.”

I’m not sure that not knowing the details of Eisenstadt v. Baird makes me a victim of repression. But it’s true I’m shamefully ignorant of the history of birth control in America. So Baird filled me in with the story of his work decades ago challenging bans on birth control to unmarried people in several states, suffering years of jailtime, all culminating in the 1972 Supreme Court ruling that established a universal right to the drugs.

Describing his five years in a squalid prison for deliberately breaking such a law, he paused. “I want that to sink in,” he said. “You’re facing five years in prison for showing a diaphragm. Does that impact on you at all? Do you see how stupid that could be?”

I asked if he was there to defend abortion, as well as other forms of birth control? “My crusade has been for you,” he replied. “Even though you may disagree with me…if you elect to have an abortion, you should be able to make that decision.” I found myself irresistibly drawn to debate that point.

“If I elect to commit suicide, do you support that right?” I asked. “If I could prevent you in the sense of talking to you,” said Baird. I interrupted, “So you don’t support that choice?”

“What you gotta do, is—you asked a question. You have to be professional enough to let the person answer. If you want to debate, that’s different,” Baird said, at which point his female companion intervened to end the discussion.

“I think respectfulness right off the bat is important in an interview,” she said, noting my facial expression gave off a disrespectful “vibe” (in my defense, I was wearing sunglasses). “Right off the bat [you’re] like oh, you’re evil, you’re the enemy, and I can just see by your questions,” she said.

I apologized, and took off the glasses. I actually didn’t consider either of them to be evil. I did think they would have expected a less-than-softball conversation with a pro-life journalist; however, I was willing to err on the side of decorum. Things went better after that, and Baird, with a paternal if still somewhat offended air, explained the level of respect I should be paying my elder in the culture wars.

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“Be respectful of somebody who at the age of 80 has done something you’ve never done in your life, which was appear five times before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Baird, whose piercing light-blue eyes never once wavered in our conversation. “When somebody fights their whole life, lays down their life ...”

One day, he said, I may find myself in a situation where I discover, “you know what, Bill Baird was right. I should be the one to make that choice.”

“Or you may not. My own clinic, we helped three nuns get abortions,” he said offhandedly, “so we help lots of people.”

But that help is little appreciated: my clinic has been firebombed, he said. He’d been shot at twice. “No one on your side have been shot to death” (I thought of Jim Pouillon) “eight of us have been. None of your offices have been firebombed ... remember Dr. George Tiller? ... You call yourself Christian!”

Meanwhile, he says, he’s worried his own side will start making up for all the apparent imbalance of violence by attacking us. He said he expressed that concern to Fr. Frank Pavone, a “close friend.”

Baird indulged me when I asked him to tell me about the large cross he bore, which he said showed how Christians use the cross to oppress women into carrying unwanted pregnancies, causing them to seek coathanger abortions, to drink bleach, to throw themselves down the stairs.

“You are young, you have no idea. I’ve seen it,” he said. “Your side says that never happened.”

“I don’t know what it takes to reach younger people like you ... who have such a strong conviction,” he lamented. “You think you’re so right, and you don’t even have any life experience. All you’re really doing is giving what you have been taught by somebody else. You’re going to tell me a fertilized egg is a person, that’s what you’re going to tell me?”

I didn’t resist mentioning how pregnant women have the curious habit of referring to their children in the womb as babies. “Some pregnant women,” he interrupted. Eventually the fact was mentioned that, by the time most abortions happen between 7-12 weeks, the baby has legs, arms, a heartbeat. He responded by challenging my ignorance about hydatidiform moles, a growth that can occur when an egg without genetic material is fertilized, which he said proved the foolishness of believing human life begins at conception.

The conversation then returned to Baird’s legacy. “All the friends you have - you have many - who use birth control, could not use it except for the man you’re talking to. Think of the power of that statement,” he said. It was more difficult to do so than he thought, since none of my friends use birth control.

Again he asked: how many people have I ever met in my life who would go to jail for a cause as he did? I said I knew of those who have spent years in prison for defending the unborn. Why do they do that, he asked? Because they want to save lives, I answered. I think the reaction that followed taught me the most about Bill Baird.

“No, ma’am!” he said. “Be honest with yourself. ‘Bill, I’m going to Heaven! You’re going to Hell. I’m going to be rewarded by Jesus Christ.’”

“Do you know how arrogant you sound to me,” he told a former interlocutor, “that only you could be right, that only your religion could be right? That’s what holy wars are made of.”

As we parted, he offered me one last bit of advice: “All I ask is that you think on your own.”

I learned a lot in this conversation. Listening to the recording just now, I learned at least one more thing: I’m not as good a debater as I thought I was. Speaking to such a dedicated pro-choice crusader did, in fact, unsettle me at first. Sorry, Bill.

In conclusion, I expect that Bill is reading this. At least, I hope so. I want to make sure you know that, at the end of our conversation, when I said I would pray for you, it really was because I love you.

It seemed like you recoiled when I said that - and maybe I gave you reason to, if I really did come off as “snarky” - I can only hope not, sadly. But believe it or not, many people pray for others, not out of some crazy savior-complex that relishes the thought of their targets heading for Hell, but because they like them and want them to be happy. I, at least, pray for my friends constantly, so if I only did it because I thought someone was evil, that would be a bit strange. Obviously we met from two sides of the aisle, so saying I’d pray for you was my attempt to show my esteem despite the disagreement.

I’m sorry that you think all pro-life zeal is a Pharisaical sham, or else the product of Biblical spoon-feeding. I don’t expect that I could convince you otherwise; I will probably have to leave that to Fr. Pavone. But I wish you well.


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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