Friday, 28 September 2012

The Life and Crimes of Margaret Sanger III: Eugenics and Birth Control

A 1919 issue of the
 Birth Control Review  

Margaret Sanger established the first birth control clinic in the United States of America at Brownsville, New York in 1916. In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League to advocate for the adoption of artificial birth control at the level both of public policy and of individual practice. She followed this in 1923 with the establishment of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau which was the first legal birth control clinic and a centre of research into contraceptive methods. In 1928 due to an internal conflict she resigned from the ABCL and took full control of the BCCRB.  In 1929 she founded the National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control. The ABCL and the BCCRB were reunited in 1939 as the Birth Control Federation of America, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942. Sanger did not lead the merged organisation but she was responsible for the founding of the International Committee of Planned Parenthood in 1948 which became the International Planned Parenthood Federation in 1952. Sanger was its first President and held this position until 1959.
The above narrative alone demonstrates the extent of Sanger’s commitment to the ideology of birth control. In the first part of this series we saw that Sanger was an advocate of sexual ‘liberation’ and saw contraception as a means of allowing women to pursue a promiscuous ‘liberated’ lifestyle while attempting to avoid the natural consequence of their behaviour. We have also seen, in Part II, that she came to adopt the Malthusian position that birth control was the only solution to the problem of poverty.  However Sanger had a much wider agenda than merely reducing the birth rate. She believed that a ‘qualitative factor as opposed to a quantitative one is of primary importance in dealing with the great masses of humanity.’[1]  In other words she saw the primary end of birth control as improving the ‘quality’ of the population rather than population reduction. In 1921 she stated that ‘The campaign for Birth Control is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical in ideal with the final aims of Eugenics.’ She continued ‘The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective... Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.’[2] She considered certain human beings to be ‘human weeds’ who ‘clog up the path, drain up the energies and resources of this little earth’.[3] On another occasion she regretted that while ‘nature eliminates the weeds... we turn them into parasites and allow them to reproduce.’[4] Such sentiments are not original. Sanger is here expressing opinions which were identical in substance to those of other prominent supporters of eugenics such as Francis Galton, H.G Wells and Marie Stopes.
An American billboard promoting Eugenics
Margaret Sanger was a long term member and supporter of the American Eugenics Society and encouraged cooperation between organisations advocating eugenics and those advocating birth control. A majority of the AES’s ‘Committee on Eugenics and Dysgenics of Birth Regulation’ were in fact formally associated with Sanger organisations. A main aim of the eugenics movement at this time was to introduce forced sterilisation for those deemed ‘defective.’ Sanger openly advocated that ‘defectives’ should be segregated or sterilised. She expressed her frustration that eugenic programmes were not being implemented more swiftly: ‘We know, without doubt, that certain groups should not reproduce themselves. Why not say so... We cannot improve the race until we first cut down production of its least desirable members.’[5] In her ‘Plan for Peace’ published in 1938 Sanger called for segregation, sterilisation, and what amounted to slavery and forced labour for the ‘unfit’:
d. to apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.
e. to insure the country against future burdens of maintenance for numerous offspring as may be born of feebleminded parents, by pensioning all persons with transmissible disease who voluntarily consent to sterilization.
f. to give certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.
g. to apportion farm lands and homesteads for these segregated persons where they would be taught to work under competent instructors for the period of their entire lives.

More than 30 American states practised compulsory sterilisation during the period from 1907 to 1964 leaving behind more than 63,000 victims whose suffering has never been adequately recognised. Around 60% of these sterilisation were performed on women, yet many of Sanger’s feminist biographers have been willing to ignore her complicity in this system, lest it force themselves or their readers to challenge the notion that Sanger was a great ‘liberator’ of women.
An objective assessment of her published writings leaves no doubt that one of Sanger’s primary aims in advocating birth control was bring about the creation of a future purified race that conformed more closely to those ideas of perfection that prevailed among her own circle. The freedom that Sanger advocated was merely the freedom to indulge in promiscuous sexual acts while frustrating their natural outcome. The freedom to pursue a normal family life was not something that Sanger recognised. Indeed any woman who preferred raising a large family in the normal context of marriage was deemed for that very reason to be ‘irrational’ and unworthy of the vision of sexually liberated womanhood that Sanger had set before them. Her successors in the abortion industry today are still implementing a eugenic programme though they hide behind the rhetoric of ‘choice’.  Parents of children with disabilities are often put under enormous pressure to have their children killed in the womb with the result that, for example, 90% of children with Down’s Syndrome are eliminated before birth. In a society still dominated by the eugenic principles which have been propagated among us for more than a century what kind of ‘choice’ will most parents feel ‘free’ make?

[1] Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 1922
[2] Margaret Sanger ‘The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda’, The Birth Control Review, October 1921
[3] Margaret Sanger, ‘The Need for Birth Control in America’ Birth Control: Facts and Responsibilities ed. Adolf Meyer, 1925
[4] Quoted in Angela Franks, Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy, p48
[5] Taken from a letter written to leading eugenicist Frederick Osborn in 1939 and quoted in Franks, Sanger, p11-12 

Friday, 21 September 2012

Hard cases make bad law

Abortion is an issue which comes up time and time again during the US presidential elections. This year is no exception, not least because President Obama takes an extreme position on the issue of abortion, has done since his time as senator in Illinois and is expected to continue if he is elected for a second term as president. According to Pam Sutherland, chief lobbyist for the Illinois branch of Planned Parenthood (PP), Obama worked closely with PP when it came to votes on abortion legislation. According to Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, Obama towed the radically pro-abortion PP line on the following: the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act; the bill to protect liveborn children; the bill to protect children born as result of induced labour abortion where “born-alive infant" includes all infants "born alive at any stage of development." He also co-sponsored the 2007 Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) in the US Senate. Since his presidency, Obama’s administration has blocked attempts to defund PP, has reversed the global gag-rule which prevents US dollars funding abortion overseas, and opposed a bill to ban gender-selective abortion, to name a few. The ethical considerations of certain legislative proposals are one thing, but the clear and persistent pro-abortion motivation of Obama is clear.   

Kathryn Sebellius, the secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration has also unveiled the HHS mandate in the past year which has been virulently opposed due to the fact that it forces even religious institutions (who employ people of different faiths) to pay for abortifacients and contraception as part of their employee insurance plan 

Finally, Todd Akin, a member of the Republican party, recently made a reference to ‘legitimate rape’ and the idea that a woman rarely falls pregnant after being raped owing to the trauma caused by rape. 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is well known for his changing position on the issue of abortion, though he issued a pledge last year outlining his position on abortion and stating that he only supports abortion in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. As we know, this is contrary to the authentic pro-life position, which values all human life from conception until natural death, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the conception. Romney recently appointed Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential candidate, who is pro-life and has consistently supported pro-life legislation. Nonetheless, despite Romney’s choice for VP, the Romney-Ryan ticket will run on Romney’s partially pro-life stance. This is contrary to the advertisements produced by the Obama campaign, which claim that Romney supports a blanket ban on abortion.

People whose lives were brought about by rape are often some of the strongest voices in the pro-life movement, precisely because their lives, along with those of the disabled, are most often included in the ‘exceptions’. They are often excluded from the protection of the law, as are disabled babies, because many consider the idea that a woman should be ‘forced’ to continue this type of pregnancy too awful (in the UK, for example, abortion is legal up to birth for disabled babies). Rebecca Kiessling’s mother, who was violently raped and fell pregnant, tried to abort Kiessling twice and failed. Kiessling, who lives in the US, is now a strong voice for the unborn and particularly for those who are conceived through rape. As a recent article on points out, there is no difference between a baby conceived because of rape and a baby conceived through normal intercourse. Why then, should these children be treated differently? More importantly, why should any unborn child be treated differently, regardless of disability or circumstance? After all, it is not our circumstances which define our humanity and therefore our right to life, but the fact that we are human.

Kiessling appeared, alongside Gloria Allred, a woman who had been raped and aborted her unborn child via a ‘backstreet abortion’, on ‘Piers Morgan tonight’ to discuss Akin’s comment and abortion in cases of rape. Kiessling makes a valid point during the debate which draws no response: “I’m a woman, you say you care about women...what use is my right to anything if I don’t have the right to life?”.

Shauna R. Prewitt wrote in 2009 that many laws are passed to facilitate abortion in cases of rape and incest, but what real support is given to the women who choose to keep their rape-conceived children? 

“...few states have passed special laws to aid the large number of raped women who choose to raise their rape-conceived children. Without such laws, a man who fathers a child through rape has the same custody and visitation privileges regarding that child as does the father of a child not conceived through rape. Moreover, as a result of this legal absence, raped women and their children are left to face substantial and potentially terrible consequences” (p.829).

Whilst modern radical feminists continue to scream and shout for ‘reproductive rights’ especially in cases of rape, how many are supporting their fellow women who make the courageous decision to choose life? 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

What’s wrong with gender selection?

There seems to have been a flurry of media coverage on gender selection recently. An article in the Evening Standard quoted the British (Cambridge) trained Dr Steinberg claiming that he had helped around 400 couples choose the gender of their child. The Daily Mail reported that Dr Steinberg currently sees around 40 British couples a year charging around £30,000 each, and the Daily Telegraph quoted him claiming he has even assisted some UK politicians:

“I have had leading British politicians from the UK coming here, to this office, for services that are outlawed in the UK”

This is rather concerning because sex selection is illegal in the UK under the 1990 and 2008
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which states that reproductive technologies cannot authorise any practice designed to secure that any resulting child will be of one sex rather than the other”. In the Evening Standard a description of the process is provided:

“We harvest on average around of 10 eggs, of which eight or nine will be successfully fertilised,’ says Dr Steinberg. ‘We biopsy the fertilised eggs, and will lose at least half from genetic abnormalities. Then half of those remaining are going to be the wrong gender, so we will be left with just one two of the gender we want, to implant’”

On the clinics website they say something similar:

“After 3 days, several 8-cell embryos will have developed. Our doctor-scientist specialists examine the genetic makeup of the embryos, screening for both genetic diseases and desired gender. Healthy embryos of the gender you desire are implanted in the mother. Any additional healthy embryos may be cryo-frozen for future use.”

Arguing, as Dr Steinberg does, that sex selection could lead to a decline in abortion is disingenuous. Reports from 2010 highlighted the proportion of mothers aborting their children conceived through IVF. It’s argued that babies conceived through IVF are really “wanted” as the parent or parents have potentially spent a lot of money, and perhaps been through several cycles of IVF and the associated procedures. Prof Bill Ledger, a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates fertility treatment, said: “I had no idea there were so many post-IVF abortions and each one is a tragedy.”

This is concerning because human person exists from conception. There is no such thing as a living human person with subhuman moral status and thus the destruction of embryos is intrinsically wrong

Secondly, the issue with sex selection is that effectively life is treated as a commodity with a pick and chose attitude to children. The child is not seen as a gift, which should be treasured no matter the gender, but as a product which should meet certain demands. How can we condemn gendercide in India and China yet allow 40 couples a year to go to America to choose the gender of their child whilst sacrificing countless embryos?

As Amanda Mitchison argued in the Guardian in 2010 “It may be only a matter of time before women are demanding PGD sex selection on the NHS. If the state will fund IVF for a baby, why not for a baby girl? Or a baby boy?” With politicians going to these clinics don’t be surprised if a group of MPs get together, with the backing of embryologist researchers and fertility doctors, to legalise this. Each human life is unique, and shouldn’t be designed in a lab. The Coalition Government needs to take a hard line against this, before it is too late

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