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Bill to Repeal Birth-Control Law Sparks Debate in Public Hearing

By Marion E. Mccollom

Room 480 of the State House overflowed with witnesses and spectators yesterday as the Massachusetts Legislative Committee on Social Welfare held public hearings on a bill which would repeal the current laws on birth control.

House bill 520, introduced by Representative. Mary Newman (R-Cambridge), calls for total repeal of all laws dealing with birth control. "This is a moral decision for the individual to make, which the state should have no control over," Mrs. Newman said.

During the three hours of testimony for and against the bill, speakers-including William R. Baird-argued that present laws prohibiting the distribution of birth-control devices and information to unmarried people are selectively enforced and discriminatory against the poor.

"The middle-class unmarried young woman has no trouble getting the pill and birth-control information." Herbert Hoffman, a psychologist from Brandeis, said. "The poor do not have access to this information under the present system-they can't find birth-control devices and often don't have the money to buy them."

Under current Massachusetts law, only public health agencies, registered nurses, and maternity health clinics may distribute birth-control information. Hoffman said that if the current laws were repealed, information on birth control and family planning could become available to more lower-class people through public clinics.

Proponents of the bill also argued that the present laws are selectively enforced. "Drug stores and department stores violate these laws every day without punishment, while individuals such as Bill Baird must serve prison terms," said Debby Wollmer, a member of Worcester Women's Liberation.

She held up a package of contraceptive foam she had bought in a drug store on Tremont Street. "And the state collects a sales tax of seven cents on each purchase," she said.

Opponents of the bill said that repeal of the laws on birth control would encourage sexual immorality in Massachusetts. "God never intended people to have sex-outside of marriage," Representative William Carey (R-Suffolk) said. "Young people today believe that God put them on earth for the purpose of enjoying each other sexually. If we don't stop this, this country will go straight to hell."

Baird, recently sentenced to three months in jail for giving a package of contraceptive foam to a 22-year-old unmarried woman, said that the legislature was fooling itself if it thought it was protecting the morality of the citizens of Massachusetts by upholding the present law.

"If you let this law continue, you are enhancing immorality," he said, showing the committee a display of several instruments of illegal abortion. "If you could see the crippled children, the children born of heroin-addicted mothers, you would understand."

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