Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control: Yes or No?," [20 Sept 1919] .
Published Article. Source: Fairplay, [20 Sept. 1919] , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, C16: 125 .
Portions of this text are missing. This is Sanger's third article in a seven-part series on "Prudence and Purity in Sex Matters." Her other two articles were published on Aug. 23, 1919 and Oct. 4, 1919. Other articles were written by different authors. The article was introduced by an editorial paragraph referencing the August 23 article and obtaining back issues of the journal.
Yes, but how about the unfit,--the mental defectives who ought most of all to avoid offspring,--would they know enough to use the knowledge if it were given to them?
The great majority of mental defectives are not in institutions, but are at large in the community. No defective can produce normal offspring. These people are therefore a serious menace to community health. Experts such as Dr. H. H. Goddard of the Vineland Training School for the Feeble Minded, have expressed the very definite opinion that large numbers of defective people are capable of understanding and acting upon contraceptive information, and that they should be taught. The institutions for feeble-mindedness and insanity are increasingly overflowing. The supply of defectives should be cut off at the source. Mere governmental economy demands this,--even if there were no other reasons. To use public funds needlessly for the care of the unfit instead of for education and opportunity for the normal is criminal stupidity.
The same reasoning applies to the vast sums given with such warm hearted emotion by the rich to charities every year. A substantial part of charitable relief could be eliminated if the poor were taught how to avoid over-population in their own families, how not to be submerged by their mere numbers. Which is more sensible,--for the charity-givers to contribute $50,000 to our League for the repeal of the wretched laws forbidding the knowledge by which the poor can help themselves and control their own destinies,--or to spend a thousand times that amount in trying endlessly to patch up the wreckage of humanity after the misery has been needlessly produced?
Yes, but Abraham Lincoln was one of many children. Suppose his parents had practised family limitation and left him out?
True, many great men beside Lincoln have been born in large families, and likewise many great people have been born in small families. It proves nothing. Notice that we never heard anything of Abraham Lincoln's brothers and sisters, for they, not he, were the natural product of hardship and ignorance. They were the rule, he the exception.
Any country is grateful when a few great souls develop and hold ideals aloft for others to follow, but the real test of a country's greatness is whether it will provide conditions which will produce many instead of a few great souls,--whether it will increase health, education and opportunity so that the average person can be a fine specimen.
If anyone sincerely believed that poverty and hardship produced the best results, he would deliberately choose them for himself and his children. But no one does. Health, happiness and opportunity are unquestionably a benefit to humanity, otherwise we should not be justified in struggling for them.
If we look after the well-being of the average children, the Lincolns will look after themselves and there will be more of them for us to admire.
Yes, but ought not the country to encourage births now, to make up for the loss of life in the war?
The deliberate speeding up of the birth rate without regard to economic conditions and health is nothing but disastrous. All efforts of this sort have failed.
A notable instance occurred in France shortly before the war. In response to public action against the decreasing birth-rate, various rewards were offered to parents of large families and bonuses were given to those who had children in rapid succession. This did increase births, but alas! it also increases the baby death rate, so the number of survivors was less and the parents were needlessly depleted.
If the war loss of life could be replaced by an increase of births in the families of those who have remained prosperous in spite of the war, or those who have become prosperous because of the war, it might, perhaps, be a good thing. And yet, to enlarge profiteering families might not be a real asset to the country!
At any rate, to ask the mass of people to repopulate when the cost of living is still high, wages going down and unemployment increasing, is simply to invite disaster. The war-industry worker who has lost his job or the returned soldier who has not yet found his job, is not the man who ought to undertake parenthood. He will be a better "patriot" if he postpones his family till times are more propitious.
It must never be inferred that advocates of family limitation are necessarily urging small families as such. It is true that relatively few parents can give successful care to large families, but all who can ought surely to have as many as they want.[unknown ]
two years, it could mean ten children! So as a method of family regulation that sort of self-control is hardly useful.
If by self-control you mean entire abstinence from the marital relation, that is not considered ideal by most normal people. They do not find it conducive to health or happiness. The old idea, born of certain religious tenets, that sex relations are a concession to weakness and at best a compromise with the lower nature, is giving way to the newer idealism, fostered by some of the best sex psychologists that there is a dual function for the human sex-relation, unknown to the lower orders of life,–namely, that it is to produce children and also to increase well-being, and that both functions, under right conditions, can be superlatively fine; both are essential parts of the richness and beauty of life. Enlightened people are coming to understand that the sex impulse, instead of being a thing to be repressed and disciplined out of existence, is something which should produce invaluable reactions,–physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
As to abstinence, please note that for two reasons, it has no place at all, in the eyes of the law. First, according to the precedent of common law, a wife is supposed to give her "services" in exchange for her "necessaries." Services are interpreted to mean household services and sex relations. If she withholds her services, it is in some states, a cause for divorce on the ground that she has "deserted" her husband. Second, abstinence is a method of preventing conception, and therefore those who advocate it are literally breaking the law, quite as much as those who advocate other methods.
The law therefore does not sanction abstinence, except among the unmarried. Oddly enough, however, there are not prosecutions of the "purists" who commend abstinence, but in view of the common law provision, they should be prosecuted,–if the law is to be enforced.
Yes, But How About Abortion?
Contraceptive knowledge will do more than anything else to lessen the shocking number of abortions. No one can give accurate statistics as to the number of abortions, as most of them are illegal and secret, but Dr. William J. Robinson estimates that there may be a million annually in the United States. It is well known that they are fearfully frequent among the rich, who can command the services of skillful operators and have the leisure to devote to safe recovery; also that the desperate poor resort to bungling, dangerous, amateur operations with terribly fatal results. Mere preaching can not correct this appalling situation but the perfection and simplification of contraceptive science will go farther than anything else to improve it.
Yes, but how about the Opposition of the Catholics? Don't they consider contraception as wicked as abortion?
Yes, the general influence of the church is against contraception, and on the ground that it destroys life. But there is no rule of the church against it. There is merely precedent. And many Catholics are slipping away from church influence in this particular, because they realize [last page(s) missing ]
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