|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.’ 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.’ She considered certain human beings to be ‘human weeds’ who ‘clog up the path, drain up the energies and resources of this little earth’. On another occasion she regretted that while ‘nature eliminates the weeds... we turn them into parasites and allow them to reproduce.’ 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.’ 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.