Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control Advances: A Reply to the Pope," 1931.

Typed article. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, S71:243. .

Sanger issued this article in response to the Dec. 30, 1930 "Casti Connubi" of Pope Pius XI. For an earlier draft, see a BCCRB press release, Jan. 13, 1931, Margaret Sanger Microfilm S6:399.For a related more measured response, see "The Pope's Position on Birth Control" The Nation Jan. 27, 1932, pp. 102-104.


BIRTH CONTROL ADVANCES

A Reply to the Pope

by Margaret Sanger

The steady advance of the birth control movement can only receive fresh impetus from the new interest which has been aroused by the attack of Pope Pius XI.

His encyclical letter, “Of Chaste Marriage,” made public in January, 1931, aims to regulate the conjugal affairs of Catholic men and women, without the benefit of science, and according to theories written by St. Augustine, also a bachelor, who died fifteen centuries ago. The Pope makes it perfectly plain that Catholics are expected to give up health, happiness, and life itself while making every other conceivable sacrifice rather than to have dominion over nature’s processes of procreation. His letter denies that any claims of poverty, sickness, or other hindrances to proper rearing of children are valid reasons for the scientific limitation of offspring. As for the breeding of criminal, diseased, feeble-minded, and insane classes, the Pope opposes every method of control except that of suggesting to these unfortunate people to please not do it any more.

One must deplore the fact that Pope Pius should have chosen this time of the world’s distress from unemployment, poverty, and economic maladjustment to advertise doctrines and advise conduct which can only tend to aggravate that distress. But the reason for his outburst is no secret.

The Fear of Progress

The Pope is alarmed. He admits that a new and, as he thinks, “utterly perverse” morality is “gradually gaining ground.” This “has begun to spread even among the faithful.” We need not wonder what he means. He makes specific and repeated references to birth control by contraceptive measures as a main object of his attack. He admits that there are growing multitudes who either hold or harken to ideas on marriage opposed to his, for he stresses the world-wide expression of such ideas through novels, plays, movies, radio broadcasting and, as he puts its, through “all the inventions of modern science.” We who favor scientific birth control may take new courage from the tribute to our progress paid by such high authority. And I hope that he charitably includes us when he concedes that “not all the sponsors of these new doctrines are carried to the extremes of unbridled lust.”

Since it is not the purpose of this reply to enter upon theological discussion-- for I believe people have a right to worship in their own way, providing they do not impose their doctrines upon me-- I shall merely mention in passing that Pope Pius alludes to himself as one “whom the Father has appointed over His field,” and holds that the Catholic Church is the only authorized guardian and interpreter of a “Divine law” applying to marriage. We consider it highly significant in this connection that there are Catholic women among the very human mortals who come to the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, in New York, to seek information about contraceptive measures. In fact, the records of the Bureau show that Catholics are as eager for help as persons of either Jewish or Protestant confessions, the distribution being about one-third for each of the three religious groups.

Converts to Scientific Control

The intense growing demand for scientific knowledge of how to control the size of families is a phenomenon that has so impressed non-Catholic social and religious leaders who were formerly opposed to the movement that they have been taking thought individually and in groups. As a result they have been changing their conduct to fit the new needs. Witness the Church of England. The Lambeth Conference of 320 Anglican Bishops, from every quarter of the world, held during the summer of 1930, gave sanction to the use of contraceptives under circumstances determined by moral and medical advisers in the interests both of the individual and the community. Writing about this Conference, the Very Reverend W. R. Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, says in an article published last year in the Atlantic Monthly:

“I shall take the position of the bishops, that control of conception cannot be condemned absolutely, without regard to the motives which lead men and women to adopt it. There is no doubt that the movement has, in popular phrase, ‘come to stay.’”

Other religious and social groups that have expressed themselves, with more or less reservation, as sanctioning scientific birth control are: the Conference of Congregational Churches of Connecticut; the the Conference of Methodist Episcopal Churches (New York East); the 55th Southern California Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church; the Universalist General Convention; ↑the ↓ American Unitarian Association; ↑the↓ Community Church, New York,; the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Baltimore); the Legislative Committee of the Ethical Culture Society; ↑the↓ City Federation of Women’s Clubs, New York; ↑the ↓ League of Women Voters, New York City; the New York League of Women Workers; the Junior League of New York; ↑the ↓ New Jersey Women’s Republican Club; the Legislative Committee of the Federation for Child Study. Numerous medical societies, notably the British Medical Association, have endorsed the birth control movement.

Thinking Backward to the Dark Ages

The world moves, but the Pope sits still. He declares that he is “looking with paternal eye...as from a watch-tower.” But what is he looking at? Mostly old books, the musty writings of ancient busy-bodies who took a neurotic delight in telling folks what they must not do, arguing theories characteristic of the Dark Ages. The habit of thinking backward may have its uses, but not as a substitute for thinking forward. If I were in the mood for biography, I might enjoy reading about St. Augustine, who had his sexual experience without benefit of clergy and then became a celebrated churchman fifteen hundred years ago. He may indeed have said some pleasant things, as, for example, that children “should be begotten lovingly,” which I applaud; but, since the good Saint refrained from telling what he knew about contraception, his story would not give much relief to the poor women who come to our birth control clinics.

Weakness in the Pope’s Argument

Turning to specific points discussed in the Pope’s encyclical, I think I can show that he has made certain admissions which weaken, if they do not refute, his whole argument against contraception. I find a vague reference to the old Catholic theory that sexual desire is itself a taint of original sin. This is the passage:

“. . . although the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death, by which original sin is passed on to posterity. . .”

If this does not mean that the sexual urge is sin, then the Catholic Church has made a concession; if it does mean that the sexual urge is sin then the meaning is so deeply hidden behind words that the vagueness of language is itself a concession. It is conceded in another part of the encyclical that the sexual impulse is in itself something that can at least claim respectful consideration. The passage reads:

“For in matrimony . . . there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”

Since “the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children,” we understand that when husband and wife experience the sexual urge, they may act in the natural way, providing the aim is to make the women pregnant.

Exceptions Point the Way Out

Now comes the question whether the Pope permits intercourse in cases where pregnancy is impossible, as, for instance, after a woman has passed beyond the age of child bearing. He does not dare to say No. He says Yes. The passage reads:

“Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth.”

Thus we see that even good Catholics are not always forbidden to perform the sexual act for other purposes than procreation. The demand of sexual nature may be satisfied, according to the passage quoted, in cases of barrenness, sterility, after the woman has already become pregnant, or after the “change of life.”

It would be interesting to know whether or not the Pope thinks that husband and wife under other circumstances than those above listed ought to limit their sexual life to a single act for each pregnancy on the theory that the act is only for procreation. In other words, must a couple, during the child-bearing years, limit themselves to one act (assuming fruitfulness) and one child every year or two? Evidently the Pope has enough sense of humor not to tackle this phase of his moral problem. Common sense, however, tells us that here again the Catholics themselves permit a vast disproportion between the comparatively great number of “quietings of concupiscence” and the comparatively small number of resulting pregnancies.

The Separation of Purposes

Familiar experience proves that the wish for a child is frequently felt by men and women at moments when they are not aware of any sexual longing whatever. On the other hand, the spontaneous physical and emotional urge for intercourse is nearly always unaccompanied by a wish that this particular act be the begetting of a child. We declare, therefore, that there is nothing whatsoever unnatural in the conduct of married couples who deliberately respond to the sexual urge on some occasions for the “cultivating of mutual love” and on other occasions for the same purpose plus the intention of begetting children.

What the Pope has admitted negatively under certain circumstances, we, the advocates of scientific birth control, proclaim to husbands and wives for any circumstances which they themselves may choose. I shall take up the question of contraception later on.

How Many Children?

Now comes the question of how many children there should be in a family. There is a Biblical story of how God told the creatures of the sea to “increase and multiply and fill the waters,” and how He told Adam and Eve to “increase and multiply and fill the earth.” The population movement which then started got a terrific setback in God’s Great Flood, but we are told that He gave exactly the same command to Noah and his family group-- “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” The Pope quotes the Adam and Eve part of this story together with the endorsement of the good St. Augustine, who died a thousand years before America was discovered. It strikes me that St. Augustine, however, is not a true believer in the doctrine, for I understand that he had only one son (illegitimate) and that he said, “No fruitfulness of the flesh can be compared to holy virginity.” The Pope declares further:

“But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshipers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the saints and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and our Savior may daily increase.”

Repeating these two points in everyday language, the Pope commands married women to bear numerous children, a. To fill the earth, and, b. To increase the membership in the Catholic Church.

Assuming for the sake of argument that God does want an increasing number of worshippers of the Catholic faith, does he want the throng to include an increasing number of feeble-minded, insane, criminal, and diseased worshipers? That is unavoidable, if the Pope is obeyed, because he forbids every single method of birth control except continence, a method which the feeble-minded, insane and criminal people will not use.

If God is interested in numbers rather than in quality of people, if He wants what business men call a “rapid turnover,” and if he prefers children to adults in the Heavenly choir of praise, then indiscriminate breeding of human beings is indicated. It is a well known fact that those races or groups of people which have the greatest number of births per mother also have the greatest infant mortality. And as for the character of those who survive, remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. . .”

The Pope’s argument, if taken literally, is absurd. But perhaps he wants his followers to consider the spirit, rather than the letter, of what he says. I am reminded of a statement by Mr. G. K. Chesterton, who is a Catholic convert, during a recent debate in New York, when Mr. Clarence Darrow challenged him regarding the truth of certain Bible stories. Mr. Chesterton declared: “Protestants hold that what the Bible says is true; Catholics hold that what the Bible means is true.”

“Fill the earth,” indeed! The Bible probably does not mean what it says. Probably we are not commanded to fill the Sahara Desert with young folks. Perhaps we may go easy on crowding our heirs into Death Valley and other arid patches in the United States. Perhaps, in fact, the earth is already full within any reasonable meaning of the term. “Fill the earth,” was the order. Very well, we have filled it. It does not have to be pressed down, heaped up, and running over with people.

Suppose that a couple want to have children, but only a few. Suppose that they wish to space the births so that one baby can get well started in life before the other one comes. Suppose that the mother’s physical condition makes it dangerous, and possibly fatal, for her to bear another child. Suppose that poverty makes limitation desirable. What can they do about it?

The Nature of Conception

A word about nature is necessary here. Conception takes place through the combination of an ovum with a sperm. Sperms are miscroscropic seeds introduced from the man’s body by the millions in a single sexual act. Nature herself wastes almost all of these millions of sperms. But if a single sperm joins up with an ovum, one of the millions of microscopic seeds which come from the woman’s ovaries, the result is conception. From this beginning grows the embryo which in time becomes a child.

No new life begins unless there is conception. Keep the sperm away from the ovum and there will be no conception. The Pope admits that it is all right to prevent conception by keeping men and women apart, which means that it is not wrong for ova and sperms to grow and die by the millions without producing new life.

Dangers of Continence

The Pope even permits married couples to prevent sperms from meeting ova, by refraining from intercourse. He calls this “virtuous continence,” and he adds, “which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent.”

Just think of that! If the husband does not consent to continence, the wife has to keep on getting pregnant unless she disobeys the Pope by using contraceptives. Incidentally, American wives in certain states can be divorced by their husbands if they refuse conjugal intimacy. In other states the husband may refuse support of his wife for the same cause.

Continence is one of the surest ways of breaking up marriage. It is the denial of love, the frustration of nature. Furthermore, in many cases, according to medical science, continence is positively harmful to health if practiced for any length of time. It can bring on serious nervous derangement. Although it may be acceptable to certain individuals as a method of birth control, it cannot wisely be recommended for general use.

The Meaning of Contraception

Contraception means keeping the sperms away from the ova during and after the sexual act and thus preventing conception, but without preventing the natural enjoyment of the conjugal relation. Various methods of contraception have been widely and successfully used all over the civilized world for a long time by Catholics, Protestants, and Jews alike-- but they are all condemned by the Pope. He says in the encyclical:

“Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.

In another paragraph he calls contraception a “sin against nature.” He even tries to frighten Catholics by declaring that God sometimes kills people for practicing contraception. Reference is made to a Biblical character named Onan. The Pope says, “. . . when the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this, and the Lord killed him for it.” It is unfortunate for the Pope that he did not cite a better example, if he had one. Read the story in Genesis XXXVIII, and you will see that God killed Onan because he refused to have a child by the widow of his brother, whom God had also killed. If Onan had tried continence instead of contraception he would have been slain just as promptly.

Man and Nature

The contention that it is sin to interrupt nature in her processes is simple nonsense. The Pope frustrates nature when he gets shaved, or has his hair cut. Whenever we catch a fish or shoot a wolf or a lamb, whenever we pull a weed or prune a fruit tree, we frustrate nature. Disease germs are perfectly natural little fellows which must be frustrated before we can get well. But need we go on with illustrations? Nature frustrates her own processes by the most astounding wastage, as we have already seen in the case of the ova and sperms, which she produces for the man and the woman by the millions only to let them perish without having a chance to combine.

When the Pope speaks about nature he seems to forget that the human mind is also part of nature. The thoughts we think and the emotions we feel are the work of nature. Whatever theory a man may hold regarding souls he must admit that our brains are as much a part of nature as our stomachs are. The Pope does not seem to realize that the enjoyment in sexual intercourse is largely psychical. It is a mental and spiritual as well as physical enjoyment. The stronger the love and the finer the characters of the married pair, the greater is this psychical enjoyment during intercourse. To impose continence is to prevent the finest union of love, to frustrate mental and spiritual nature in its urge toward the perfect moment of experience. Contraception in no way interferes with that enjoyment which is most necessary-- even though the Pope calls it a secondary end-- to the preservation of married happiness.

Authority vs. Reasoning

But the Pope has no respect for the mental powers of the individual. He writes:

“Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to every one bearing the name of Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature. . . . . . a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals of the holy Church of God, through its supreme pastor, the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What Did Jesus Say?

That is what the Pope says. Now let us see what Jesus says. St. Matthew quotes Him thus: “Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” St. Mark quotes the same statement. But did Jesus say that every wife had to bear children as fast as they would come? Did He ever advocate rearing large families as a duty toward God? Did He ever say anything against the limitation of offspring? Did He ever say anything that by any twist of argument can be interpreted to mean the He disapproved of contraception? If He did, please cite me the chapter and verse.

Summary of Reply to the Encyclical

Before going farther let us summarize the main points already made. The Pope is alarmed by the rapid advance of the birth control movement. Statistics of birth control clinics show that Catholic women seeking information about contraceptives are as numerous as the women of Protestant or Jewish faiths. Leading religious and cultured groups all over the world are adding their support to the cause of scientific control. Yet the Pope refuses to abandon the ancient and moth-eaten arguments of the Catholic Church against the limitation of offspring. He tries to add force to his objections by claiming that God has appointed him for his job, which includes meddling with the intimate conduct of husbands and wives; and he claims, furthermore, that Christ is directly advising him. The Pope, however, does not quote any passage from the Bible to indicate that Christ ever objected to birth control.

The breeding of children, even of defective children, is a very great human obligation to God, according to the Pope. Yet he seems to agree that it is no sin for men and women to remain unmarried and to make no effort toward having children. He even admits that it is no sin for married people to refrain from sexual intercourse and thus to limit offspring.

The Pope tries to make a case that since the sexual act is the natural preliminary to conception it is sin to take precautions which prevent the male seed from forming a combination with the female seed. Yet he grants that sexual enjoyment has other purposes than procreation, and says that this enjoyment is permissible when nature herself prevents conception. The Pope seems unaware of nature’s astounding waste of male and female seeds, a waste which goes on even when sexual powers are not exercised. He does not seem to realize that if he has a complaint on the score of wastage, that complaint should be directed against nature for her habitual and spontaneous methods, regardless of human deliberation.

The strange Old Testament legend of Onan does not prove that God disapproved his choice of method. If Onan had chosen continence he would just as completely have defeated God’s wish, according to the story.

The Pope in permitting continence as the only method of birth control tries to set up a rule that repeated pregnancy is the price which must be paid for the enjoyment of conjugal intimacy, and that the avoidance of pregnancy may be only at the cost of self-denial. He ignores the fact that the mental and emotional suffering often involved in the continence of married persons is a frustration of nature.

The Pope Looks Away from Life

Having answered, point by point, those parts of the Pope’s encyclical which refer to birth control, I want to say that his attitude in general is characterized by disapproval of human enjoyment and an apparent relishing of the theory that suffering is good for our souls. He speaks of himself as “looking. . . . . . . from a watch tower.” It is a tower set in splendor, surrounded by walls that shut out the world of broken homes, of sick and sorrow-laden mothers, poverty-stricken fathers, and pathetic, unwanted children. In that remote tower he sits comfortably, takes counsel from a pile of old books and from bachelor advisers and then writes angry words about the difficult problems of married folks. I wish he could come down into real life for a few weeks. If he could sit in the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, at 17 West Sixteenth Street, New York, for even one week, he would hear stories from Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish women, which I should think would be enough to make any man sensible about birth control.

Coming Down To Real Cases

Let me refer to a few typical patients in the concise language of the latest annual report of the Clinical Research Bureau. They are samples of nearly 19,000 cases handled last year in this clinic alone. It should be remembered that in the State of New York instruction and assistance regarding contraceptives are illegal except for the prevention and cure of disease.

“Patient 30 years. Married 8 years. Has 5 living children, all high forceps cases. One six months premature. One still birth. One tubal pregnancy. Husband had been out of work 4 months at time of wife’s first visit. She supports family on part time job of $6 a week.”

“Patient 40 years. Married 10 years. 4 living children. Oldest diabetic. 4 accidental miscarriages; each time curettage in hospital. One child died at age of 3 weeks. Husband ex-soldier, gassed in war. Earns $75 a month.”

“Patient 34 years. Married 12 years. Bad cardiac. 4 living children. 2 miscarriages. 1 still birth. 2 instrument cases. Husband has lost one eye and the other is bad. Earns $10 a week.”

“Patient 32 years. Married 10 years. 2 living children. One has a club foot and is frail. One child died after 9 hours; abnormal. 15 accidental miscarriages. Whole family syphilitic.”

Think of the terrible suffering in such lives. Think of the miserable existence of the children and the dismal outlook for their future. And then think of the tragedy of bringing still more babies into such families.

The million and more letters that I have received during the last seventeen years from women imploring me for help make up a monstrous history of disease and suffering and fear of still worse to come. Read some of these letters in my book, “Motherhood in Bondage,” and you will see how disastrous has been the ignorance regarding methods of birth control and how desperate is the case of those who have begged in vain for information.

Contraception Can Prevent Tragedy

It is a damaging commentary on our civilization that the rich, with their knowledge of scientific birth control, should have received so little encouragement to make that knowledge available to the poor, that the educated should have been prevented by superstitious and narrow-minded law-makers from providing information to the ignorant. Although the birth control movement has recently made remarkable progress in our country, as will be shown later, there are too many states in which doctors are forbidden to tell their patients about contraception; and the federal laws still prohibit the sending of information and contraceptive materials through the mails. This stand on the part of organized society is both a cruel and a short-sighted policy, because the race is vitiated by the breeding of diseased, defective, badly nourished children.

The most urgent need of birth control, therefore, is for the prevention of conception in those cases where the production of new lives can mean only the production of new misery even unto death. Scientific limitation of the offspring in such cases not only prevents the creation of new tragedy, but it conserves the health and often the life of the mother, and on both these counts alleviates the situation of the father and permits the better care of the children already in the family.

The Right to Be Well Born

President Hoover has said: “There should be no child in America that has not the complete birthright of a sound mind in a sound body, and that has not been born under proper conditions.” But if this high ideal is to be achieved for the race, America cannot limit her scientific birth control to the diseased, mentally defective, and poverty-stricken families. Even parents with sound bodies and minds, with education and means and comfortable homes, find that nature most not be allowed to follow her own blind way in breeding.

Births must be spaced properly in order to safeguard the health of the mother and to favor the health of the child. Furthermore, they must be spaced properly if the children are to have, each in turn, the complete loving care of the parents; if, in other words, they are to be treated as individuals and not as broods. Then, too, the events of child birth need to be fitted into the pattern of the family’s career, a pattern which varies with the changing circumstances of occupation, residence, travel, and the numerous other factors in the complex lives of people who count in the work of the world.

The Rights of Marriage

While healthy, well-nourished, well cared-for children are a blessing to the home, it is not alone by the possession of children that the happiness of a home can be created and preserved. Husbands and wives have other duties and privileges quite as important as those of parentage. They have a natural right to the full companionship of each other with the rich physical and spiritual stimulation of conjugal intimacy. For this additional reason, as I have already argued, they may wisely choose to prevent repeated conception, not through the suffering and injury of continence, but by scientific control which does not prevent the mutual enjoyment and benefit of intercourse.

The Better Mother

There is still another right to be considered. It is the right of the individual. Just as the child has a right to be properly reared and educated, so the wife has a right to the full development of her powers as a woman. No enlightened society thinks of a woman merely as a child-bearing animal. It thinks of her as capable of developing the finest accomplishments and powers of culture and character, thus becoming a better mother and a better wife. It not only grants her the capacity of self-development but it encourages, and well-nigh demands of her, development in the fullest degree possible.

For all these reasons, therefore, for the welfare of the children, for the happiness of husbands and wives, and for the full realization of women’s rights, birth control by scientific methods of contraception may properly and wisely be exercised. The growing acceptance of this doctrine is a feature of a new civilization which is gradually escaping the clutches of ignorance, superstition and tyranny.

Birth Control Does Not Mean Abortion

“The real alternative to birth control is abortion,” wrote Dean Inge, in his article already quoted. It is an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn. Although abortion may be resorted to in order to save the life of the mother, the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious. I bring up the subject here only because some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not. Abortion destroys the already fertilized ovum or the embryo; contraception, as I have carefully explained, prevents the fertilizing of the ovum by keeping the male cells away. Thus it prevents the beginning of life.

Pioneering in America

While the birth control movement in the United States has already made notable progress, in spite of terrific handicaps, we are still lagging far behind England, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other enlightened countries. On October 16, 1916, I opened, in Brooklyn, the first birth control clinic in this country. An account of how the closing of this clinic by the police, with my arrest and imprisonment, led to a trial and a decision favorable to birth control is given in the last chapter of my book “Woman and the New Race.” Suffice it to say here that the decision of the New York State Court of Appeals in 1918 made it legal for doctors to direct the use of contraceptives for “the cure or prevention of disease.” In 1923 I opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, to which reference has already been made. This was raided by the police in April, 1930, but the case was dismissed when testimony showed that the Bureau had been operating within the law.

Birth Control Clinics

Today there are in this country fifty-five birth control clinics. They are distributed over twelve difference states. Somewhat more than half of these clinics are open to the public, while the others are connected with hospitals and admit only patients of the hospitals concerned. Already the American clinics have become tremendously important factors in the reduction both of maternal and infant mortality, in checking the breeding of diseased and defective types, and in relieving unhappiness and misery in thousands upon thousands of homes. But fifty-five clinics for a nation of 120,000,000 people are tragically inadequate in number.

Handicaps in Old Laws

One of the great obstacles in the way of progress is to be found in the laws of at least twenty-two states and in a federal law regarding the use of the mails. Even a doctor mailing a letter to another doctor with information on how to prevent conception is called a criminal under the federal law. The sending of contraceptives through the mails is also forbidden. The sending of contraceptives through the mails is also forbidden. The sending of information or contraceptives from one state to another by express companies and common carriers is also illegal. Thus the medical profession is faced with the alternatives of bootlegging a health service or of withholding from patients the knowledge and materials which they need. Readers who wish specific information regarding the federal and state laws that apply to birth control will find it in a special pamphlet published by the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, 17 West Sixteenth Street, New York I shall not take the space necessary to summarize those laws here.

Obscene Laws

But I do want to protest that the wording of many of the statutes are an insult to American intelligence and character. USCC of the U.S. Penal Law begins: “Every obscene. . . or other publication of an indecent character, and every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use,” etc. The bracketing of abortion with contraception is grossly misleading to persons who may have heard little about either abortion or contraception and may not know the vast difference between them. But a still more vicious thing is the direct implication that discussions of contraception are obscene. This must have taken its origin from the perverse notion of certain churchmen in the Dark Ages that sexual intercourse itself is obscene. No sane person believes such a doctrine. To declare it is to be obscene. To perpetuate it is to vilify all the mothers of the world.

The Right Use of Power

As for the argument that sweeping laws are necessary in order to keep contraceptive information away from those who might make wrong use of it, I take the liberty of quoting the answer of the Reverend Doctor Harry Emerson Fosdick, Pastor of the Riverside Church (Baptist), in New York. Dr. Fosdick said in an article published recently in The Outlook and Independent:

“For one thing, the constructive social service to be rendered in the right use of birth control is immense in extent and importance. This should be made a matter of wide-spread public education. . . Suppression will do no good, for it is suppressing nothing but knowledge, light, and candid thought. After all, chastity has been guarded more by modesty and common sense than by fear. . . Children of this new generation who have been trained in a code of honor involving the existence and the right use of birth control will be less likely even than their mid-Victorian parents to treat the matter lightly or to be beguiled by fools. . . Meanwhile, the conservatively shocked and troubled souls who find relief in attacking birth control and applauding assault of the police upon it, may as well make up their minds that contraceptive information is here, that it is being used and will increasingly be used. . . that a right employment of it can be of profound personal, marital, and racial benefit.”

The Bill to Amend the Federal Laws

An important step in the direction of more favorable legislation was the introduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate, on [one or two words ] , by Senator Frederick H. Gillett, of Massachusetts. This bill proposed amendments which would legalize the mailing of information on contraception if published by “any governmental agency, medical society, medical school, or medical journal, or if reprinted after such publication,” or if sent by licensed physicians, hospitals, or clinics to patients or to each other, and the mailing of names and addresses of such individuals and institutions. It would also permit the sending of contraceptive materials and articles to bona fide dealers in medical supplies, to physicians, hospitals, and clinics, and from physicians to their patients.

The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, before which public hearings were held on February 13 and 14. The supporters of the measure, as was to be expected, met with stubborn opposition, particularly on the part of religious interests.

(State in a brief passage what the outcome was) [a quarter of a page. ]

Looking Ahead

The Committee’s failure to recommend the bill simply means that another bill will have to be introduced. If the Catholic Church cannot force its members to obey the Pope’s commands regarding birth control without the help of the United States government that is a good omen for our cause. The birth control movement grows in strength and wisdom despite religious objections and legal handicaps. It advances because it supplies a human need and it cannot stop, because that need never ceases.

The extension of the movement depends more than ever upon an energetic cooperation of its adherents. There must be constant encouragement by word and deed. There must be generous help from those who can contribute funds both for the support of the clinics and for the educational work which will be necessary before the obnoxious laws can be amended. No philanthropic cause today offers the benefactor a finer opportunity for service which will at the same time relieve individual suffering, promote social welfare, and tend to improve the race in America.


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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project


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