Margaret Sanger, "The Case for Birth Control," Jun 1934.
Published article. Source: The Crisis, June 1934, pp. 176-77 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S71:659. .
How many people know that nearly sixty years ago Congress passed a law which made it a penitentiary offense 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?
Though over two generations have passed since the time that law was enacted, and women have gained suffrage; colleges and universities teach 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 take a dignified stand on cleaning up these archaic laws. It was as a challenge to these laws that the birth control movement arose and it is to amend these laws that the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control was organized.
The essential facts of Birth Control are, first, that it is prevention of conception, not interruption of pregnancy after conception has taken place. Secondly, 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, 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.
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.
Relief authorities are alarmed by the rapid increase in population among the destitute families of the nation. The high birth rate among the unemployed boosts our relief burdens. We find parents who cannot feed two or three children continuing to bring into the world more children regardless of the effect upon the mother’s health and regardless of the future of the child.
Huge fortunes are spent each year to meet the increasing costs of disease, dependency and crime. We find more individual care given by society to the defective and delinquent population than to the normal children of normal parents. Few, if any, moronic children go hungry, while thousands of normal children are undernourished and suffering from malnutrition. If some of the money now spent on keeping alive the insane, the feebleminded and defective were directed into constructive planning for race betterment we could soon see our way out. I'd like to see the Federal Government 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.
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 two thousand millions.
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 of 1934 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, is 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.
When the opposition’s logic is challenged regarding God’s 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 only thing that keeps young men and women from cohabiting today; 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 toward 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: razors, knives, guns, drugs or alcohol.
But back 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 2,000 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 cycle when it is not possible for her to conceive, but during that period it is not sinful 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 certain 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.
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 educate decently, 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 they will do their duty 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 their height, these two persons are forbidden to commune in body and soul through sexual intercourse 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 solely for the 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 is there often any desire to conceive. It’s the exception, rather than the rule even among the most primitive tribes. Barren women, pregnant women, sterile men and 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 will but make it so. It is a force which cannot be swept back nor crushed down without damage to the individual. It should be accepted with reverence and pride, not connected with shame. Upon it we should build a race beautiful of body, sound of mind, and conscious of its power and responsibility.
A new day is dawning. A new civilization is in the making. Ignorance of sex force--creative energy--already has given way to knowledge and enlightenment. Parenthood, when it is responsible, can be a proud commission, an honored assignment. 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. They debase love. Poor women are conscripted to child-bearing, in ignorance and fear, by the laws of the United States Government. They have no choice. All avenues of knowledge are closed to them. They must bear, regardless of consequence to their own health, to the welfare of the children, or to the husbands’ ability to provide for them.
Wasted lives of women--tortured and broken in child-bearing. Twelve children born--three alive. Or 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. They pay personally and directly for this 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