Margaret Sanger, "The Pros and Cons of Birth Control," 14 Jan 1932.
Typed draft article. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress , Library of Congress Microfilm 130:526 .
This draft was sent for publication to an F.W. Rogers in San Diego, California, on January 14, 1932, but no published version was found.
How many people know that nearly sixty years ago Congress passed a law which made it a Penitentiary offence for anyone (even a doctor) to send through the United States Mails the address of another physician, or a clinic where one could obtain information to prevent conception?
At that time, it is true, that very little was known about the controversial subject, now known as Birth Control. The instigator of that law, Anthony Comstock, was a religious bigot, ignorant as he was fanatical. His idea was ↑He seemed imbued with the complex↓ that everything relating to sex was obscene. He made ↑allowed↓ no exceptions to scientific or medical needs or facts. All was classed in his mind as obscene. Though over two generations have passed since the time that law was enacted, women have gained suffrage; colleges and universities teach scientific biological facts of life to students; social hygiene is part of our educational programme; yet nothing has been done by women’s clubs, colleges or the medical profession to dignify their stand by cleaning up these archaic laws.
Some of us in the Birth Control Movement have attempted to amend these Federal Laws and are now working in Washington, D.C.
The first obstacle in the removal of any bad law is ↑to attack↓ the ignorance regarding its effect ↑surrounding it↓ . While Congressmen’s families are notoriously small, as are doctors and ministers, and the professional and artisan classes, they seem unable to concede that Birth Control knowledge should be given ↑to others especially↓ to the poor people who ↑need and↓ want it ↑most↓ .
The essential facts of birth control are, First, that it is prevention of conception, not interruption of a pregnancy after conception has taken place. Second, that it is control, not ↑necessarily↓ limitation; to control the birth rate is to control the size of the family; it means the spacing of births in the family with some regard to the mother’s health; to the inheritance both husband and wife are able or likely to pass on to children; to the health of the children already born; to the father’s earning power; to the standards of living the parents wish to maintain.
These considerations should be regarded in planning marriage, and ↑for↓ it is a well-known fact that couples who can space the arrival of babies, from three to four years, are ↑better↓ able to care for a good sized family of four children on the average wage of a skilled worker.
No wage earner can possibly care for all the children nature can bestow upon a healthy normal couple. On an average there are thirty years of possible fertility in a woman’s life during which time should could produce twenty to twenty-five children. Not all of them would live, of course, but funerals and doctors bills are heavy burdens on a working man’s already meager income.
The history of labor has been an age long battle to bring man’s earning power up to his needs for a growing and increasing family. It’s been a losing battle all the way for by increasing his numbers he has brought about hunger and want, ignorance and strife; He goes on strike to increase his wage, while a mob of hungry workers stand ready and willing to take his place at the factory gates. It is the man with a large family who is tied down by fear of losing his job. He is the last to fight for higher wages when a strike comes, and the first to crawl back at any price. The plain truth of the labor problem is that the workers have produced too many children--too many for their own good; too many for the health of the mother, too many for the health, development and happiness of their own children and too many for their own class. ↑our civilization in its present state of evolution.↓
By rapid multiplication of themselves they have deepened their evil conditions, intensified their miseries and made impotent their power as a class.
Men at forty-five are thrown out of work for younger ones. Their children are forced into factories at an early age which could be avoided if the size of the family was controlled to meet the conditions of the father’s earning power.
It’s the working man who has the burden of the unproductive members of his family on his back. He blames the capitalist for his ills, but before there was a capitalist there was his ↑own↓ uncontrolled power to reproduce ↑his numbers↓ .
It has been labor’s crime against civilization that his increasing numbers has goaded mankind into exploitation, into frenzied industry, into child labor and into wars. To this cause we can trace immigration as well as most of colonization leading into warfare of conquest. Labor saving machinery has thrown thousands of able bodied men out of work. This [illegible one word] ↑intolerable condition↓ was known to labor unions and economists as far back as the beginning of this century. All predictions were on the side of more machinery increasing production while decreasing the need for men or man power; yet they did nothing to meet this condition.
They organized themselves into trade unions on the principle of limitation of numbers in a given trade, while the principle of limitation of numbers in the family was ignored.
To-day there is a scramble for jobs. Too many men--too few jobs. Machinery has taken his ↑man’s↓ place and will continue to do his work as long as man seeks comfort and leisure, wealth, education and happiness.
The increase of Japan’s population has caused an explosion in the far-east with Manchuria the prize as a feeding ground for Japan’s growing needs.
There are so many and so various aspects to this question of Birth Control, such as the aspect of health, economy, race, international war and peace, that it has created a literature within the past fifteen years which has by no means yet been exhausted.
Ignorance of Birth Control has become an acknowledged factor in infant and maternal mortality, unemployment, child labor, the creation of slums, overcrowding, illiteracy, feeblemindedness and the general lowering intelligence of our population ↑which is↓ now on the increase.
It is also a recognized factor in the increasing needs of charities and philanthropies. Huge fortunes are spent each year to meet the increasing costs of disease, dependency and crime.
We find more and better ↑individual↓ care given by Society to the defective and delinquent population than to the normal children of normal parents.
Few, if any, known moron children go hungry, but ↑while↓ thousands of normal children are undernourished and suffering from malnutrition. If some of the money now spent on keeping alive the insane, the feeble-minded and defective was divided and directed into constructive planning for race betterment we could soon see our way out. I’d like to see the U.S. Government pension, and offer life pensions, to every man and woman with a known transmissible disease who would consent to sterilization. By such a method we would within one generation decrease the defectives and decrease the vast sums now derived from taxation for their maintenance.
Thus would the normal family have better opportunities for education and development and gradually increase their own numbers and strength.
To me this need of checking the defective increase of our population is so imperative that immediate action is necessary and sterilization is the answer. This is one of the methods of birth control, but a permanent method advised only where voluntary and temporary methods of contraception will not be applied.
If the Government could control its vast population of morons, imbeciles, paupers, prostitutes, criminals, feebleminded and insane, and be made to answer to the people for their increase, we would soon become a leading nation in civilization. Already these undesirable types have been banned and excluded from entrance into the country by the Immigration Laws of 1924, but no check has been placed on those already here from increasing and multiplying their numbers at will.
The cost to the present government of maintaining the above mentioned population runs into millions, even billions, and that is not all, for as these types multiply fast, being nearly three times more prolific than our normal women, we are piling up huge debts for unborn generations to pay.
So much for the subject regarding its racial or eugenic aspect. Now let us see what are the objections raised by our opponents.
Their first cry is that it is against the laws of God. They refer to the biblical command of “increase and multiply and replenish the earth.” This command has already been fulfilled. “To replenish” means to “stock abundantly.” “Abundant” means “plenty”. “Plenty” means “enough”--“a sufficiency”--So there we see that as far as that command goes to the individual working man and woman their job has been done. There were only eight people on the earth when the command was last given. ↑Today there are approximately 2 thousand million.↓
But the other half of that command is seldom quoted. It should read “Increase and multiply and replenish the earth that ye shall have dominion over all things.” “Dominion” means “authority”, “rule”, “control” over one’s own powers including fertility or the powers of reproduction.
The next objection raised by the opposition is that Birth Control is against the laws of nature. Here is the most inconsistent and unreasoning assertion that any group living in the year 1932 can make. The laws of nature! Poor old nature! What exactly are her laws? The opposition assumes that certain organs like the stomach and sex organs make certain demands and these demands must be fulfilled, but these two organs are not the limit of nature’s demands. We have another organ--a brain. To use this brain, to use our intelligence, mind, reason, judgment, powers of choice and criticism, it just as important a part of nature’s machinery as to use the stomach and generative organs for nature’s needs.
The very instinct of self-preservation and defense in applying Birth Control to protect health and family happiness is nature’s own weapon.
The inconsistencies of objecting to birth control on the claim that it is against the laws of nature, are obvious when we see the very group making the strongest objections are bachelors who have never followed nature’s best law of mating, nor God’s law to increase and multiply. In every way of modern life these same people have violated nature’s laws for their own personal advantage and comfort and selfish purpose. They shave, they wear glasses, when necessary, they go to dentists, they call doctors and surgeons, they ride in motor cars, cook food; they wear long, clumsy, ugly gowns; they protect themselves against nature by all the artificial means of our modern civilization. By refraining from marriage they thwart one of nature’s oldest laws, mating. Their right to sublimate this force for their religious development is no more natural than to sublimate it in the interest of love and for one’s cultural development, as is done by the practice of birth control in family life.
When the opposition’s logic is challenged regarding Gods and Nature’s Laws and the self-control argument met squarely, there is the usual shifting over to morals.
“Yes, but what about the morals of our young people”, they query. If knowledge of birth control is made legal what will prevent boys and girls from getting it and using such knowledge for promiscuous sex relations?
The assumption in this remark is that fear of pregnancy is the one ↑only↓ thing that keeps young men and women from cohabiting to-day. That ignorance and fear are the ↑safeguards↓ to morality. Is this the case? I do not believe it is true in the lives of the majority of women, though it may be true in certain cases where there is already a tendency to looseness in character.
There is nothing in ↑birth control↓ knowledge itself that can be called immoral. It is the use or misuse of knowledge which classes it as good or bad, like the use or misuse of ↑any power or invention↓ razor’s, knives, guns, drugs or alcohol.
But lack of the use or abuse of knowledge and power is the person. That is where we must begin to work if we would avoid abuses.
If the Christian Church after 2000 years of teaching morals through fear of punishment and hell fire has not succeeded in keeping people moral, then I suggest they keep out of legislative, congressional halls, and give common sense, education and science a chance for a while. Eliminate fear and ignorance in youth. Increase ↑scientific↓ knowledge, ↑develop↓ , confidence and self-respect and morality will take care of itself.
Along with this inconsistent claim of nature comes a partial acquiescence in the practice of birth control by the opponents. It is one of their most astounding statements of ignorance and inconsistency. Birth Control? Yes, of course, but only by “self-control” they say. Now let us inquire what “self-control” can mean in relation to marriage. We are then told that there is a period of several days in a woman’s sex rhythm ↑cycle↓ when it is not possible for her to conceive, but during that period it is not sinful for her to have sexual union. In other words, nature aims to ↑temporarily↓ close the gates of life by woman’s diminishing sex desire. In the first place it is by no means a fact that all women have a so-called “safe period.” It is generally agreed that less than one per cent of women can claim a “safe period.” In the second place, this is likely to be the period when there is no desire on the part of the woman for sex communion. It is the period when she should not be encouraged to have intercourse at all, for should she become pregnant at this period when her sex curve is low, she has less vitality to give to the child she may conceive and thereby violates one of nature’s obvious laws to protect weakened offspring from being born into the world.
If sex union is limited to the purpose of reproduction only then a healthy married couple must consider the number of children they may properly rear and decently educate and confine sexual behavior to rigid rules as the stock breeder controls his cattle. If a loving young couple decide to marry at the age of 23-25 with prospects of earning a good wage of $50. a week, they count the cost of living and decide that they will be generous to the race by bringing four children into the world and making decent citizens of them.
The first year brings the baby into their home and if they are true to the command that intercourse should only be indulged in for reproduction, all ↑affectionate↓ sexual behavior should cease after the first recognition that the woman is pregnant, (or after the first month of marriage). Absolute continence should then be the rule in that household if they accept that principle and furthermore there should be strict rules adhered to concerning sex behavior on the part of either husband or wife which would incline either to weaken in their discipline.
Thus, they would abstain not only from intercourse, but from all demonstration of passion or affection. No kissing, no hugging, no cuddling. Separate rooms, separate beds, separate baths. No tender compliments, no lingering affectionate looks, no holding of hands; nothing shall be done in act or word to arouse sex love or the sex emotions in that continent home until such time as they know they can welcome another pregnancy and care for another baby!
Thus, over a period of twenty-two years, when both are full of vigor, when life and love and passion are at its height, these two persons may be allowed ↑are forbidden↓ to commune in body and soul through sexual intercourse not more than four or five times throughout their twenty-five reproductive years. “Dost thou like the picture?”
The colossal arrogance of any religious group to demand such conduct within marriage is beyond my understanding. The rules of the monastery and nunneries may be very well for single persons dedicating all their forces to religious fervor, but to lay down the same rules for married lovers within the home is so absurd and futile that one wonders how it can be countenanced by so-called intelligent people.
I take issue with those who claim that sex mating is for the sole ↑ly for↓ purpose of reproduction.
It is a result, as we all know, but I am yet to be convinced that it is the cause. If one analyzes the facts a little one must concede that sex attraction is almost never accompanied by the wish to be a parent. Nor during the sex act itself seldom is there any desire to conceive. It’s the exception, rather than the rule, even among most primitive tribes. Barren women, pregnant women, sterile men ↑& women↓ have sex desires. The sex urge is as old as life itself. It is a tremendous thing. It is a wonderful, beautiful thing if we ↑well but↓ make it so. It is a force which can not be swept back nor crushed down without damage to the individual. It should be accepted with reverence and pride, not defiled ↑connected↓ with shame. Upon it we should build a race beautiful of body, sound of mind, and conscious of its power and responsibility.
The new day is dawning.
A new civilization is in the making. Ignorance of sex force-- creative energy has already given way to knowledge and enlightenment. Parenthood--conscious, enlightened and responsible, shall become a proud commission to carry on the torch of illumination to the new race. Birth Control information should be the right of every adult man and woman. It should be their privilege to go to the medical profession to obtain the proper suitable methods for prevention of conception. It should be the woman’s right to have knowledge, not because she is sick, diseased, or poor, but because as a woman whose body must be used in the creating and incubating of the new life, she should be given the right of choice, and time, consistent with her desires.
The laws as they stand today insult our intelligence and our morals. and ↑They↓ debase love. Poor women are Conscripted to child-bearing, in ignorance and fear, by the ↑laws of↓ U.S. Government. They have no choice. All avenues of knowledge are closed to them. They must bear, regardless of consequences to their own health, to the welfare of the children, or to the husbands’ ability to provide for them.
Wasted lives of woman--tortured and broken in child-bearing. Twelve children born--three alive, twenty pregnancies with five children to show for the waste. It’s barbarous, it’s inhuman, it’s a waste of woman power and child life. Who gains by this? Does the church which opposes knowledge gain power thus? Who pays for it? The women pay for it, my friends. They pay personally and directly for this, Brutality, which coarsens every fibre of a Society which should be humane. in infant and maternal mortality, in child labor, in wasted bodies, futile pregnancies, still born babies, and abortions. In ignorance she brings forth her children and is enslaved as the black race never was enslaved. Where is another Abraham Lincoln to free her?
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project