Margaret Sanger, "What Birth Control Can Do For India," 30 Nov 1935.
Typed speech. Source: Edith How Martyn Papers, Eileen Palmer Collections, Wellcome Institute , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:384 .
I want to talk to the mothers of India this evening about birth control and what it can do for your health and happiness in this great land of yours.
By birth control I mean control, not limitation of the family, and in order to do this it involves family planning. By family planning I do not mean the kind of planning that each one of you does every day to provide food, clothing and comforts in your households. I mean a kind of planning that is even more important for the happiness of your homes. I mean planning for the number of children you will have and for the spacing of their births in accordance with the health of the mother and the earning power of the father. Of course every normal man and woman wants children. The joys of parenthood are joys which every married couple want to experience. But there is a great difference between a woman wanting three or four children whom she can take care of and a woman dreading having a family of ten or twelve children whom she knows she can neither provide with sufficient food and clothing nor give adequate care.
Every father enjoys having children if he can support them. But he has a right to the knowledge that will permit him to have only the number he can support. A father who can adequately provide for three children, keep them well clothed and well fed, becomes torn with worry and heart-break when four, then five, then six or seven children come into the home and he cannot give them even the necessities of life.
Your great philosopher-poet, Rabindranath Tagore, has wisely said, "In a hunger-stricken country like India it is a cruel crime thoughtlessly to bring more children into existence than can properly be taken care of, causing endless suffering to them and imposing a degrading condition upon the whole family. ”
And Mr. Tagore agrees with me that birth control or family planning is the answer to the problem, an answer that in the classes of the western world where it has been known and practiced for the last half century, has brought health to mothers and children and relief from worry to fathers, and a higher way of life to the entire family. I have come to India to learn a few of the many things that you have to teach the western world, and in exchange, I offer you my life-time of experience, in studying the problem of too frequent pregnancies which so vitally affect family life and happiness.
Remember, birth control means to prevent, not to destroy. It does not mean to interfere with life after it has begun. This is not necessary when proper means of birth control are used.
There are many conditions, both physical and economic, when parents should postpone the arrival of the baby until these conditions are changed.
The first and most important is whenever there is a transmissible disease which affects either the man or woman, such as insanity, feeble-mindedness, epilepsy or venereal diseases. It is unfair to children to be born of parents where these diseases can be passed on to the unborn child.
The second is where the mother has tuberculosis or a disease of the heart or kidneys. Her health is directly affected when pregnancy takes place, and women often die of these diseases because of the complications which pregnancy causes. She should wait until she is cured of these ailments before she brings a child into the world.
The third is that even a healthy mother should space the births of her children at intervals of not less than two years, preferably three. Only in this way can she fully regain her strength and be a fit mother to the children already born.
And the fourth condition is the question of how many children the father can support.
I am asked, “But if we only have three or four children perhaps they will die off and we will have no sons to carry on after us. If we have many children some are sure to be left.” My answer is that if you have three or four healthy children, each one born when the mother is in good health, these children will be healthy because upon them you can lavish affectionate care, to them you can give adequate food and training. Would you not rather have four healthy, happy children to carry on your name and traditions than a number of undernourished, sickly children whose lives may be snuffed out by the first illness?
Again I am asked, “Will not birth control injure the mother’s health?”. My answer is that far from injuring the mother’s health, it has been definitely proven that women who have planned their families and space the birth of their children are far happier and healthier than those who have become old beyond their years and had their health and strength sapped by constant child bearing.
Some of my opponents say, “Will not birth control tend to lower the moral standards of our great land by permitting unmarried persons easy access to such knowledge?”. My answer is that first, birth control knowledge is intended only for married people and for those about to be married. It is to protect health and to be applied and given out only through qualified and responsible persons such as doctors, social workers, nurses and midwives. In the second place it is my firm belief that knowledge does not cause immorality for the cause of immorality and morality lies much deeper than external things. Morality and immorality, all things good and bad, come from a source within and not from without. We are not honest because a policeman stands on the street corner. We are not truthful because there are jails and other methods of punishment. We are not moral because of the fear of venereal diseases or of pregnancy. Morality, truth and honesty come from the depth of our being, from character and integrity. Moreover, we have definite proof that knowledge of birth control does not lead to impurity because those people of the western world who for 50 years have known and practiced birth control are the men and women with the highest moral standards in the community. They are our doctors, our ministers, our scientists, our teachers and the parents of the best that our civilization has produced. Far from lowering morals, birth control has raised them.
You, like many others, may ask, “Is the practice of birth control against the law of nature?”. Self-preservation is the first law of nature. You men and women of India know that from the beginning of time, nature has used ruthless methods of population control by killing off the sick and feeble, by famine, pestilence, floods and wars. Progress means that we are applying knowledge to combat these brutal methods of nature. Nature produces intelligence and expects us to apply scientific knowledge to our problems. The application of birth control knowledge is a control of nature and a great step in human accomplishment and achievement.
Another question frequently put to me is, “Are any of the present methods one hundred per cent efficacious?”. The answer is yes, although the most certain methods are as individual as a prescription for eyeglasses and must be carefully followed.
Again I am asked if the cost of birth control appliances is not far beyond the means of the people of India. It is not. We have a method to offer which will cost less than 14 annas a year. The convenience of this method is that it becomes a practical household utility, lasting over a long period of time.
I bring you this message at a critical time in the history of your land. You are trying to prepare yourselves in every way to guide the destiny of your country so that she shall have a major place in the world, so that peace, happiness and relief from dire poverty can be the lot of even the most humble of your people. If you would do this, your first consideration must be the primary one of what kind of people you are going to have in the future. You need as never before the finest men and women possible, the strongest spiritually, intellectually and physically. This means that you must give consideration to what kind of children you are now bringing into the world to take up the responsibilities of your nation in the future. I am absolutely convinced that birth control at the present time is one of the most important subjects to which India can give her attention, the practical application of which can and will enable her to raise her general standards of living and equip her people physically, mentally and spiritually for the great role which India will play in influencing the spiritual development of the nations of the world.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project