Facts: William Baird was charged with a felony for distributing contraceptive foams during lectures on population control at Boston University. Under Massachusetts law, contraceptives could be distributed only by registered doctors or pharmacists, and only to married persons. Baird filed an appeal which resulted in a partial overturn by the MA Supreme Court. The MA Court concluded that the lectures were covered by First Amendment protections. However, the court affirmed the conviction under contraceptive distribution laws.
Issue: Do unmarried couples have the right to obtain contraception and to engage in sexual activity without the purpose of procreation? Can this notion be referred to as one's "right to privacy?"
Holding: In a 6-1 decision , the Court upheld both Baird's standing to appeal to the First Circuit. The Court struck down MA's ban prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people on the grounds that the ban violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Reasoning: The majority opinion was written by Justice William J. Brennan, who reasoned that, since Massachusetts did not enforce its law against married couples, the law worked irrational discrimination by denying the right to possess contraceptives by unmarried couples. He found that Massachusetts' law was not designed to protect public health and lacked a rational basis. Brennan held that the right of privacy recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut extended to procreative decisions made by unmarried couples, as well as married couples. In doing so, he extended the right announced in Griswold to any procreative sexual intercourse.
Justice Douglas concurred, argued that since Baird was engaged in speech while distributing vaginal foam, his arrest was prohibited by the First Amendment.
Chief Justice Burger dissented, arguing that there were no conclusive findings available to the Court on the health risks of vaginal foam since that issue had not been presented to the lower courts, and thus no basis for the Court's finding that the Massachusetts statute served no public health interest.
Significance: The ruling exemplifies the path taken by the Court on matters of privacy, specifically sexual and marital privacy, which would later be exemplified in Roe v. Wade.