Margaret Sanger, "Asia Discovers Birth Control," [Jul 1956] .

Published Article. Source: Reader's Digest, July 1956, pp. 36-38. , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:490 .

For draft version, see Library of Congress Microfilm 128:344.

Asia Discovers Birth Control

by Margaret Sanger

When, in 1922, I lectured in Japan as a guest of the Kaizo publishing house, the Imperial Government forbade me to advocate birth control publicly. To do so was a violation of the Dangerous Thoughts Law. But 32 years later, in 1954, I was invited to address the upper Upper House Welfare Committee on efficient methods of combating overpopulation, and last year the Fifth Conference of the International Planned Parenthood Federation was held in Tokyo. As president of the Federation, I was presented to the Emperor as a benefactor of humanity!

These personal experiences show how Japan has faced up to the challenge of overpopulation. And there is encouraging evidence of similar concern in the rest of Asia, where more than half of the human race is crowded upon about one sixth of its land area and the yearly increase is about 34 million. Dr. E. Stuart Kirby of Hong Kong University, an authority on the demography of the Eastern Hemisphere, has said: “The P-bomb (population bomb) is a greater threat to the world than is the A-bomb or the H-bomb.”

In 1922 the population of Japan was estimated at 61 million. By 1945, despite the war, it had grown to 72 million, and today it is estimated at 89 million. So desperate had the population problem become by 1948 that a Eugenic Protection Law was enacted, permitting the termination of any pregnancy which could “seriously injure the health of the mother owing to physical or economic conditions.” As a result, the Ministry of Health and Welfare estimates that there are now over one million abortions a year--about one induced abortion for every live birth.

I have always condemned abortion as dangerous and inhuman. But what better method could I offer to curb overpopulation, Japanese officials asked me in 1954. I replied that Japan could train its 20,000 midwives to instruct married couples in practical and hygienic methods of contraception; for this service they should receive the same compensation as they do to deliver an infant. With this group as the nucleus for a policy of sex education, I pointed out. Japan in a generation or two might well lead the world in creating a fit population based upon parenthood by choice and not by chance.

Apparently this advice was not without influence. Shortly thereafter the advisory council on population problems of the Ministry of Health and Welfare made a series of recommendations to the government. Among other things it proposed that the official health services provide birth-control facilities: that medical schools include family planning in their curriculum; that doctors be called upon to induce an abortion be required to give the woman information about birth control for the future; and that national wage and taxation policies should avoid “encouraging large families.”

Gradually but surely the abhorrent abortion policy will thus be replaced by hygienic contraceptive techniques. The trend will meet with little opposition, since almost no Japanese religious groups are opposed to birth control.

In China and India the situation is also acute. China’s population of some 600 million exceeds that of Europe (including European Russia), Africa, Australia and a large section of the Western Hemisphere put together. Though not officially proclaimed, the importance of birth control is recognized even in communist China. Instructions on contraceptive methods are today being published in the Communist press.

India, whose population grows by five million annually; has assumed a position of world leadership in the movement for planned parenthood. Its five-year plan of 1951 included provisions for the reduction of the rate of population growth through contraception. Under the plan, family limitation has now become an integral part of the government health services, with eight million dollars currently allocated to the work. More than 165 clinics or family planning centers have already been started, in addition to several hundred centers under army auspices. The Health Minister, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, is supporting family-planning work wholeheartedly, and has agreed to supply contraceptives free to the poor.

India is also engaged in ambitious efforts to increase food production to meet the needs of its growing population. But there as elsewhere such efforts will be doomed to failure unless there is population control.

Already one half of the inhabitants of our planet subsist on a woefully inadequate diet. To insure bare adequacy, available foodstuffs would have to be increased 25 percent. Recently a population expert asserted that "efforts to increase the production of food cannot alone suffice to achieve any steady or rapid rise in nutrition levels. A firm control of the number of births is indisputably necessary.”

It seems unbelievable that in an age when we have harnessed the atom we still have not perfected a simple method for the control of human fertility. But research now under way in many parts of the world will surely result in important discoveries. These may provide the menas not only of curbing the quantity of the world’s population but of changing its quality to give an upward and onward lift to human dignity and freedom.

It may be the East, which has most to gain from such a development, will lead the way.

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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project