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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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

Thank you so much for your support. 

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