Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control or Abortion?," Dec 1918.
Published article. Source: The Birth Control Review, Dec. 1918, 3-4 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S70:809 .
Family limitation will be practiced. No law has yet been framed that can prevent it. The church has been powerless and the champions of wornout moral creeds find themselves trying in vain to force all women to become mothers against their wills.
Abundant evidence of the futility of seeking to impose involuntary motherhood upon women is found in the size of the families of the rich, of the well-to-do and of the wage workers of larger earning capacity. The women of these classes long ago refused to be mere brood animals–-usually they prefer to be voluntary mothers, determining for themselves the number of children they shall have and when they shall have them. Family limitation for them is an accomplished fact.
It is also an accomplished fact with many of the wives of the less highly paid workers. But with the latter, as well as with some of their more fortunate sisters, family limitation takes a far more drastic and too often a terribly dangerous course. The awakened woman of today will not bear unwanted children. She will not bear more children than she can care for. And if she is denied the knowledge of the safe, harmless, scientific methods of Birth Control, she limits her family by means of abortion.
In the very nature of the case, it is impossible to get accurate figures upon the number of abortions performed annually in the United States. It is often said, however, that one in five pregnancies end in abortion. One estimate is that 150,000 occur in the United States each year and that 25,000 women die of the effects of such operations in every twelve months. Dr. William J. Robinson asserts that there are 1,000,000 abortions every year in this country and adds that the estimate is conservative. He quotes Justice John Proctor Clark as saying that there are at least 100,000 in the same length of time in New York City alone.
Dr. Max Hirsch, a famous authority quotes an opinion that there are 2,000,000 abortions in the United States every year!
"I believe" declares Dr. Hirsch, "that I may say without exaggeration that absolutely spontaneous or unprovoked abortions are extremely rare, that a vast majority--I should estimate it at 80 per cent--have a criminal origin."
"Our examinations have informed us that the largest number of abortions are performed on married women. This fact brings us to the conclusion that contraceptive measures among the upper classes and the practice of abortion among the lower class, are the real means employed to regulate the number of offspring."
The question, then, is not whether family limitation should be practised. It is being practised; it has long been practised and it will always be practised. The question now is whether it is to be attained by normal, scientific Birth Control methods or by the abnormal, often dangerous, surgical operation.
That is the question which the church, the state, the moralist and most of all, the woman herself, must face.
The knowledge of Birth Control methods may for a time be denied to the woman of the working class, but those who are responsible for denying it to her, and she herself, should understand clearly the dangers to which she is exposed by the dark age laws which force her into the hands of the abortionist. To understand the more clearly what these dangers are, and to realize the more fully how much better it would be to avoid them, it is first necessary that women should know something of the processes of conception, the prevention of which frees them of all risk of having to resort to abortion.
In every woman's ovaries there are imbedded millions of ovules or eggs. They are there in every female at birth and as the girl grows into womanhood, these ovules or eggs develop also. At a certain period or age, the ripest ovule leaves the nest or ovary and comes on down one of the tubes into the womb and passes out of the body. When this takes place, it is said that the girl is at the age of puberty, for the ovule is now ready for fertilization (or conception) by the male sperm.
About the same time that the ovule is ripening or developing, the womb is preparing to receive the fertilized ovum by a reinforced blood supply brought to its lining. To this lining the ovum will cling and gather its nourishment after fertilization takes place. If fertilization (conception) does not take place, the ovum passes on out of the body and the uterus throws off its surplus blood supply. This is called the menstrual period and occurs once a month or about every twenty-eight days.
In the male sexual organs, there are glands (testes) which secrete a fluid called the semen. In the semen is the lifegiving principle, the sperm.
When intercourse takes place (if no preventative is used) the semen is deposited in the woman's vagina. The ovule is not in the vagina, but is in the womb, further up, in safety, or perhaps in the tube on its way to the womb. As steel is attracted to the magnet, the sperm of the male starts on its way to seek the ovum. Several of these sperm cells start, but only one enters the ovum and is absorbed into it. This process is called fertilization, conception or impregnation. If no children are desired, the meeting of the male sperm and the ovum must be prevented. When scientific means are used to prevent this meeting, and thereby to limit families, one is said to practise Birth Control.
But if preventive means are not used and the sperm meets the ovum and development thus begins, any attempt at removing it or stopping its further growth is called abortion.
There is no doubt that women are apt to look upon abortion as of little consequence and to treat it accordingly. An abortion is as important a matter as a confinement and requires as much attention as the birth of a child at its full term.
"The immediate dangers of abortion," says Dr. J. Clifton Edgar, in his book "The Practice of Obstetrics," "are hemhorrage, retention of an adherent placenta, sepsis, tetanus, perforation of the uterus. They also cause sterility, anemia, malignant diseases, displacements, neurosis, and endometritis."
In plain, everyday language, in an abortion there is always a very serious risk to the health and often to the life of the patient.
It is only the women of wealth who can afford to give an abortion proper care and treatment both at the time of the operation and afterwards. These women often escape any serious consequences from its occurrence.
The women whose incomes are limited and who must continue at work before they have recovered from the effects of an abortion are the great army of sufferers. It is among such that the deaths due to abortion usually ensue. It is these, too, who are most often forced to resort to such operations.
If death does not result, the woman who has undergone an abortion is not therefore safe. The womb may not return to its natural size but remain large and heavy, tending to fall away from its natural position. Abortion often leaves the uterus in a condition to conceive easily again and unless prevention is strictly followed another pregnancy will surely occur. Frequent abortions tend to cause barrenness and serious, painful pelvic ailments. These and other conditions arising from such operations are quite likely to ruin a woman's general health.
While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.
I also assert that the responsibility for these abortions and the illness, misery and deaths that come in their train lies at the door of a government whose authority has been stretched beyond the limits of the people's intention and which, in its puritanical blindness, insists upon suffering and death from ignorance, rather than life and happiness from knowledge and prevention.
It needs no assertion of mine to call attention to the grim fact that the laws prohibiting the imparting of information concerning the preventing of conception are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year in this country and an untold amount of sickness and sorrow. The suffering and the death of these women is squarely upon the heads of the lawmakers and the puritanical, masculine-minded persons, who insist upon retaining the abominable legal restrictions.
Try as they will they cannot escape the truth, nor hide it under the cloak of stupid hypocrisy. If the laws against imparting knowledge of scientific Birth Control were repealed, the 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 women who undergo abortions in the United States each year would escape the agony of the surgeon's instruments and the long trail of disease, suffering and death which so often follows.
"He who would combat abortion" says Dr. Hirsch, "and at the same time combat contraceptive measures may be likened to the person who would fight contagious diseases and forbid disinfection. For contraceptive measures are important weapons in the fight against abortion.
"America has a law since 1873 *** which prohibits by criminal statute, the distribution and regulation of contraceptive measures. It follows, therefore *** that America stands at the head of all nations in the huge number of abortions."
There is the case in a nutshell. Family limitation will always be practised as it is now being practised–-either by Birth Control or by abortion. We know that. The one means health and happiness–-a stronger, better race. The other means disease, suffering, death.
When all is said and done, it is not the advocates of Birth Control, but the bitter, unthinkable conditions brought about by the blindness of church, state and society that puts up to all three the question: Birth Control or Abortion–-which shall it be?
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project