22 March 1972

In Eisenstadt v. Baird, the United States Supreme Court decides that unmarried persons have the right to have contraceptives.

Recent controversy over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate has served as a reminder of how shaky our rights to contraception can be. Although 99 percent of women have used contraception at some point in their lives, access to contraception is still subject to challenges. Section 2713 of the Affordable Care Act mandated that employers’ health plans include coverage for contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles. Critics attacked the law as unfair to religious institutions that oppose the use of contraceptives. Responding to pressure, the Obama White House offered a compromise that shifted the responsibility for coverage from any religious institution opposed to the mandate to the employees’ health insurance.

Our rights to contraception are not only shaky at times, but also not long established. When people think of celebrities like Marlon Wayans, Cameron Diaz, or Maya Rudolph, old age is probably not what comes to mind. However, what they have in common is that they were each born in 1972, the year the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case Eisenstadt v. Baird, a landmark decision that guaranteed unmarried couples the same access to birth control as married couples. March 22 of this year marks the 40th anniversary of this court victory for reproductive rights activist Bill Baird, and for the reproductive freedoms he defended in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bill Baird has championed reproductive rights in many ways throughout much of his lifetime, from founding an organization called the Parents Aid Society to distributing contraceptives in a converted delivery truck he called the “Plan Van.” However, he is best known for a legal fight that began when hundreds of students at Boston University petitioned him to challenge a 19th-century Massachusetts law that prohibited the provision of contraceptives to unmarried individuals. At the time of Baird’s challenge to the law, unmarried people were able to buy condoms, since they could be sold on the grounds that they prevented sexually transmitted diseases, but other contraceptives were prohibited.

Baird responded to the petition by committing a prearranged violation of the law on April 6, 1967. At a lecture he gave that day, Baird handed a condom and a package of contraceptive foam to an unmarried 19-year-old woman. Baird was promptly arrested and given a prison sentence. His appeal launched a court battle that took him to the Massachusetts Superior Court and later to the Supreme Court.

Eisenstadt v. Baird established that all people, on the grounds of their right to privacy, should be free from government interference in their reproductive decisions, regardless of whether they are married or unmarried. The significance of the decision was apparent a year later when it was quoted six times in the Roe v. Wade judgment, the landmark decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Baird’s was a remarkable victory for the precedent it set, but Baird wasn’t finished. Baird returned to the Supreme Court for two more legal challenges, in 1976 and 1979, both against restrictions on the reproductive rights of minors.

In a span of less than a decade, Baird’s three Supreme Court cases and Roe v. Wade established many of the reproductive freedoms we have now. We’re fortunate that those freedoms were established in so short a time, but many will doubtless find it sobering, and perhaps surprising, that at least one of them, the right of unmarried people to obtain contraceptives, was established so recently.

22 March 1995

The cosmonaut, Valeri Polyakov, returns to earth after setting a record of 438 days in space.

Valeri Vladimirovich Polyakov was born on April 27, 1942 in Tula, USSR. His original name was Valeri Ivanovich Korshunov; but he changed it after being adopted by his step-father in 1957. He graduated from Tula Secondary School No. 4 in 1959 then entered the I M Sechenov First Moscow Medical Institute, earning a doctorate degree. He later specialised in astronautics medicine at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, Ministry of Public Health, Moscow. In 1964, after the first physician entered space, Polyakov decided to specialize in space medicine.

On March 22, 1972, Dr. Valeri Polyakov was selected to join the Russian cosmonaut team and to train as a physician who could render any kind of assistance in orbit, including surgical assistance. He underwent spaceflight training as well as taking part in medical support work for the crews of Soyuz spacecraft and the Salyut space station.

His first spaceflight was as a research-cosmonaut onboard Soyuz TM-6, launched on August 29, 1988. The Soyuz linked up with the Mir space station where Polyakov spent 240 days in space, studying the effects of microgravity on humans, before returning to Earth on April 29, 1989. Later that year Polyakov became head of the IBMP project to refine the strategy of the executive medical support of Mir missions, serving as the Medical Deputy of the Flight Director.

On January 8, 1994, as a doctor-cosmonaut on the Soyuz TM -18 flight, he returned to Mir. Polyakov spent the next 437.7 consecutive days in space, a world record that still stands. He orbited the earth 7,075 times and traveled 186,887,000 miles before landing safely on March 22, 1995. During his stay on the Mir, Polyakov conducted medical, physiological and sanitary-hygienic researches, some of which were components of international space medicine projects.

Dr. Polyakov left the Russian space service on June 1, 1995 after accumulating a then record 678.69 days in space. As of 2007, he held the third longest total time in space, bested only by cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Sergei Avdeyev. Valeri Polyakov is currently the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Public Health in Moscow, overseeing programs of medical care during long-term space flights.

Dr. Polyakov is also active in fostering international cooperation, and contributes to the medical safety of international space programs. He was a cosmonaut-investigator on the Austrian, German, French, and the U.S. space science missions to Mir.

Valeri Polyakov is a member of the International Space Researchers’ Association, the International Academy of Astronauts, and the Russian Chief Medical Commission on cosmonauts’ certification. He holds the title of “Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR,” and has earned the Gold Medals of the Hero of the USSR and the Russian Federation, Order of Lenin, Order of the Legion of Honor, and the Highest Kazakhstan Award, Parasat. He has more than 50 publications dealing with the space life sciences, medical support to space missions, and the results of research and experiments conducted during long-term space flights.