You might say that Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, was the mother of the birth control movement and the grandmother of the abortion industry. She would have embraced the first title and bristled at the second. Birth control, Sanger assured us, would eliminate the “crime of abortion.” It would help protect children, whom she called “the chief asset of a nation.” Margaret Sanger, believe it or not, referred to human fetuses as “child[ren] in the womb,” marked conception as the “point of creation,” and despite her contempt for the “unfit,” decried the practice of euthanizing “defective progeny” through infanticide—something Planned Parenthood refuses to do today. Sanger opined that the the pursuit of wealth was no reason to “shut our eyes to the sacrifice of human life” and argued that “each human being is essentially implicated in every question or problem which involves the well-being of the humblest of us.” Nevertheless, the organization she founded for the propagation of birth control went on to become the largest abortion business in America. Though abortion has long existed on the fringes of society, Planned Parenthood brought it into the corporate mainstream—on the coattails of birth control.
I’ve already addressed Margaret Sanger’s religious devotion to birth control and her contempt for Christian charity, but there remains at least one more piece to the puzzle—as revealed in her 1922 treatise on birth control, The Pivot of Civilization. To truly understand what made this complex and often contradictory woman tick, we must take a look at the faith she held in a sort of grotesque determinism. Simply put, Sanger believed that intelligence, skill, and physical competence were entirely predestined by a person’s genetic stock. No amount of wealth or education could make the “unfit” fit. This sentiment has already been expressed in some of her quotes from my earlier posts, but I will offer up some more:
There is but one practical and feasible program in handling the great problem of the feeble-minded. That is, as the best authorities are agreed, to prevent the birth of those who would transmit imbecility to their descendants. (Kindle Locations 705-706)
Modern studies indicate that insanity, epilepsy, criminality, prostitution, pauperism, and mental defect, are all organically bound up together. (Kindle Locations 716-718)
Dr. A. Tredgold, has pointed out …, "In the case of children with a low intellectual capacity, much of the education at present provided is for all practical purposes a complete waste of time…. If the time and money now spent in the fruitless attempt to make silk-purses out of sows' ears, were devoted to the higher education of children of good natural capacity, it would contribute enormously to national efficiency." (Kindle Locations 793-800)
Indeed, it is to be doubted whether even a completely successful educational system could offset the evils of indiscriminate breeding and compensate for the misfortune of being a superfluous child. In recognizing the great need of education, we have failed to recognize the greater need of inborn health and character. "If it were necessary to choose between the task of getting children educated and getting them well born and healthy," writes Havelock Ellis, "it would be better to abandon education.” (Kindle Locations 681-684)
Notice Sanger’s statement in the last quote, regarding “the misfortune of being a superfluous child.” I draw attention to it because it highlights one of the central tensions—or contradictions—in the book. Superfluous doesn’t mean stupid. It means extra or unnecessary. Even while asserting that “inborn health and character” is what determines a child’s potential, Sanger reversed field and argued the other way. According to this argument, the problem isn’t a lack of mental capacity, it’s a lack of practical opportunity. The “evils of indiscriminate breeding” have simply yielded too many kids to adequately educate. So, which is it?! Are the problems Sanger listed above—insanity, epilepsy, criminality, prostitution, pauperism, and mental defect—tied to nature or nurture? Do they owe to a poor hereditary inheritance or an overcrowded bedroom?
If such a question were posed to Sanger, it’s entirely possible that she would have claimed these disparities to be one and the same. I say this because of the way she unequivocally connects large families to inferior genetic stock. In her mind, the bearing of a large family was positive proof of mental degradation. Consider these comments:
[S]cience in recent years has contributed enormously to strengthen the conviction of all intelligent people of the necessity and wisdom of Birth Control, (Kindle Locations 1947-1948) Translation: All intelligent people believe the practice of birth control is wise and necessary.
Feeble-mindedness as investigations and statistics from every country indicate, is invariably associated with an abnormally high rate of fertility.” (Kindle Locations 706-707) Translation: If you have a lot of kids, it’s proof that you suffer from feeble-mindedness.
Modern studies indicate … that the least intelligent and the thoroughly degenerate classes in every community are the most prolific. (Kindle Locations 716-718). Translation: The more children you have, the less intelligent and more degenerate you are.
The most responsible and most intelligent members of society are the less fertile;… the feeble-minded are the more fertile. Herein lies the unbalance, the great biological menace to the future. (Kindle Locations 1435-1436) Translation: People of responsibility and intelligence have few children.
The statistics indicate at any rate a surprisingly low rate of intelligence among the classes in which large families and uncontrolled procreation predominate. (Kindle Locations 1941-1942) Translation: Large families are a sign of low intelligence.
What is so ironic in this brash display of bigotry is the fact that Margaret Sanger was herself the product of a large family. She was the sixth of eleven children! Applying her own logic concerning the mental fortitude of large families would make her both the product of feeble-minded genetic stock and a superfluous, unnecessary child—precisely the kind of unfortunate offspring for which no amount of opportunity could do any good. And yet Margaret Sanger found a way to attend college and marry into wealth—on her way to becoming one of the most influential intellectuals in the modern era. All this from a child who, according to Margaret Sanger’s own stereotype, should never have been born.
Apparently oblivious to the walking contradiction that she was, Margaret Sanger threw all her weight behind the “science” of eugenics—in order to eliminate precisely the kind of children she once had been. She wrote:
Birth Control which has been criticized as negative and destructive, is really the greatest and most truly eugenic method, and its adoption as part of the program of Eugenics would immediately give a concrete and realistic power to that science. As a matter of fact, Birth Control has been accepted by the most clear thinking and far seeing of the Eugenists themselves as the most constructive and necessary of the means to racial health. (Kindle Locations 1537-1540)
Here again, Sanger employed one of her favorite rhetorical devices—attributing wisdom and intelligence to those who supported her ideology and imbecility to those who didn’t. Elsewhere in the book, she praised the Socialist movement for “so valiantly and so courageously battling against the stagnating complacency of our conservatives and reactionaries, under whose benign imbecility the defective and diseased elements of humanity are encouraged ‘full speed ahead’ in their reckless and irresponsible swarming and spawning.” Amidst all this, the thing that infuriated Margaret Sanger the most was her inability to convince the “feeble-minded” to effectively eliminate themselves. As such, she often advocated for something stronger than mere coercion, as evidenced by her comments below:
The curious situation has come about that while our statesmen are busy upon their propaganda of "repopulation," and are encouraging the production of large families, they are ignoring the exigent problem of the elimination of the feeble-minded. (Kindle Locations 722-723).
Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives. (Kindle Locations 864-866)
[W]hen we realize that each feeble-minded person is a potential source of an endless progeny of defect, we prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded. (Kindle Locations 867-868)
And lest you think that Sanger only has in view those whose mental deficiencies can be clinically certified, think again. She was extremely liberal in the application of her scorn:
Are we to check the infant mortality rate among the feeble-minded and aid the unfortunate offspring to grow up, a menace to the civilized community even when not actually certifiable as mentally defective or not obviously imbecile? (Kindle Locations 766-767)
We do not object to feeble-mindedness simply because it leads to immorality and criminality; nor can we approve of it when it expresses itself in docility, submissiveness and obedience. We object because both are burdens and dangers to the intelligence of the community. (Kindle Locations 784-786)
In passing, we should here recognize the difficulties presented by the idea of "fit" and "unfit." Who is to decide this question? The grosser, the more obvious, the undeniably feeble-minded should, indeed, not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind. (Kindle Locations 1473-1475)
Loud-mouthed defenders of American democracy pay no attention to the strange fact that, although "the average education among all American adults is only the sixth grade," every one of these adults has an equal power at the polls. (Kindle Locations 635-637)
Speaking out of both sides of her mouth, Sanger simultaneously maintained that, “The programme for Birth Control … is not aiming to interfere in the private lives of poor people, to tell them how many children they should have, nor to sit in judgment upon their fitness to become parents.” When considered within the broader context of her published statements, there can be no doubt that this is precisely what she intended birth control to do. Those who needed birth control the most, Sanger maintained, were too stupid to know it:
Cohesion of any sort, united and voluntary organization, as events have proved, is impossible in populations bereft of intelligence, self-discipline and even the material necessities of life, and cheated by their desires and ignorance into unrestrained and uncontrolled fertility. (Kindle Locations 1156-1158)
Among other things, Margaret Sanger helped pave the way for the forced sterilizations that remain one of the United States’ more hidden badges of shame. Despite her contempt for ignorance, Margaret Sanger never suggested the elimination of “feeble-mindedness.” Believing that to be a predetermined impossibility, she suggested instead that we simply eliminate the feeble-minded—voluntarily when possible, forcibly when not. I suspect Margaret Sanger would have mocked the Reformed doctrine of predestination, but in her blind devotion to fatalism, she embraced predestination of a far more menacing kind. The purported science of eugenics has long been exposed for the classist, ableist, racist doctrines it held, but there remain plenty of insidious holdovers. Margaret Sanger believed that birth control should be employed to prevent the birth of “unfit” children. Today, Planned Parenthood believes abortion should be employed to the very same ends. Guess which one is worse.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.