Margaret Sanger, pro-contraceptive activist of early 20th

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at email.state.ut.us
Mon Oct 16 19:29:32 MDT 1995


------------------- SANGER follows --------------------
Rakesh asked:
Lisa, wasn't Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, a eugenicist?
Along with the great American economist Irving Fisher and others.  I'll have to
get Allan Chase's The Legacy of Malthus out.  But I am pretty sure that I am
right about this one.  In fact, I think at least one book has just been written on
Sanger's reactionary goals.

Lisa replies, Holy Shit, I never heard of such a thing!  Except in the sense that
those who oppose all contraception [and anti-abortion-choicers and such] have
used / still use that as a demonizing tactic.  There have been real abuses by
gov-sponsored "family planning" efforts such as encouraging "permanent
contraception" i.e. sterilization of indigenous women, which has a genocidal /
eugenics effect.

But Sanger was a major activist for people's rights to know about and use
contraception as _they_ saw fit.  She never had money or coercive power, and
my "knowledge" of her behavior says that it was only progressive/radical.  If
she had some hideous eugenic philosophy or desire, it must have been left out
of the history I've read.  Which is possible, but even if true, I'll just have to
hold my nose, because I cannot fault her activism in a liberatory cause that I
do support.

Sanger was a nurse, her husband a medical doctor.  They worked with the
poorest of women, in the slums of NYC around the turn of the century.  She
was appalled at the high infant mortality rates, the malnutrition, the numbers of
children per woman, because of the unnecessary ill health and suffering.  It
was legally established that women had no right to say no to sex with
husbands, and it was also illegal to provide any contraception.  Women had no
legal claim on husbands' incomes, and he sometimes spent it on whatever
instead of feeding his family, if he had any money at all.  (This relates to the
feminist aspect of the anti-alcohol movement, as alcoholics and other addicts
often spent a whole paycheck before they got home.)  And no "social safety
net", no foodstamps /welfare/ medicaid...

This situation is much the epitome of enslavement of people via unwanted
pregnancy.  Women didn't necessarily _want_ 8 or 9 children.  Often, their
physical health could not stand up to it, kids came so close together one had no
time to recover before she was pregnant again.  And the poor could not feed or
get proper medical care for their children [like now only worse] so many of
these babies were dying anyway.

Men didn't want more children all the time either.  People were begging for
contraception, and the laws against it were entirely vicious in effect.

("Well, kids, I got laid off at the factory today, and so I'm sorry to say that I
can't feed you all, and you must be sold off to be used for medical
experiments."  Paraphrased, from Monty Python's _Meaning of Life_, a slam
on Catholics who _wouldn't_ use contraception, but an apt/satiric portrayal of
the consequences of not doing so, whether it is by "choice" or forced.  [The
children all sing together] "Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good..."  In
Sanger's time, the laws against anybody getting contraception were instigated
and supported mainly by the Catholic church, I've heard.)

It is easy for me to imagine the frustration and anger that health care providers
feel when faced with constantly patching up one prolapsed uterus after another
post-partum infection, examining already malnourished women who were
pregnant again, no longer had breast milk for the 3-month old previous baby
and couldn't afford the inadequate cow's milk as a substitue, filling out death
certificates, listening to men desparate to feed the children they already had,
when all that was preventable!!  And at the same time, to the extent that rich
people had fewer kids, that had to be the result of access to high-quality black-market contraception, secretive doctors and effective immunity from police
action.

So, the Sangers, esp. Margaret, became politically active.  They printed
pamphlets with basic ob/gyn/contraceptive information, and passed them out
free in the streets.  She stood on a soap-box and spoke to impromptu crowds of
women in the street.  It was such activism that drew the attention of the
authorities.  She was arrested under "obscenity" laws for explicit [although
medical] discussion of sex and sexual anatomy, pamphlets were seized, printers
arrested, entrapment techniques used by the cops.  She eventually fled to
Britain to avoid prison, and was active in the same movement there.  This drew
even more publicity back in the US.  (He medical-worked for cash so the
family could eat, and did child-care and home-making while she kept long
hours organizing and working with others in the pro-contraceptive/ feminist
movement.)

All the activism stimulated increasing public debate, she and other activists
wrote articles and letters that were published by bigger and bigger papers, and
by the time she returned to US she had a huge welcome.  In the face of public
outcry the courts let her off easy.  Best of all and a lasting legacy, laws against
contraception were finally, legally removed.  [Such rights are still, constantly
under assault, for minors, for federally or state funded programs, etc.]

To me it seems that to put contraception [and disease prevention!] in the hands
of every person, to let each one _have_ a choice other than celibacy even
within marriage as dictated by a religious law, is a good thing, especially in
those circumstances.  Yes?

Rakesh also said: Again, I emphasize it is Gilder's influence, not his theoretical
acumen, which makes him important to deal with ...[Pack's paper] makes a
good point about why Gilder should be taken seriously.

Lisa: I did catch that distinction the first time, no problem.  It is disgusting to
me that nonsense is often influential, and therefore must be dealt with in some
way; but it is all too common, well I know.

Thanks for reply,
Cheers,
Lisa



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