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Margaret Sanger and the Religion of Birth Control


Nov 22, 2013 / By: Michael Spielman
Category: Abortion History

Though Planned Parenthood now operates the largest abortion business in the country, its historical roots are entirely tied to birth control—as evidenced by its original name: the American Birth Control League. There is a tragic irony in this fact, since the woman who founded Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, argued that birth control would ultimately eliminate "the crime of abortion." Birth control, as we’ve found out, does not eliminate the crime of abortion—though it certainly played a central role in decriminalizing abortion and turning Planned Parenthood into a billion-dollar corporation along the way.

In 1922, Margaret Sanger published The Pivot of Civilization, which I read for the first time last week. I was led to it for three reasons. First, I recently stumbled upon a 1957 video interview Sanger did with Mike Wallace. Second, I watched a lecture on eugenics delivered last month at Ohio University, which referenced Sanger extensively. Third, a new, pro-Sanger biography was published last year, asserting that Margaret Sanger’s "connection to eugenics … has been exaggerated by deceitful critics." I considered forking over $10 to read the book until I realized that Sanger’s own work is a free Kindle download. Why not go straight to the source?

As is so often the case, the results were surprising. The tone and energy of the book stand in stark contrast to the impression you get from the Wallace interview where, despite her feeble attempts at cordiality, Sanger comes across as a tired and cranky old woman—while Wallace comes across as a cocksure and self-absorbed man. Overall, The Pivot of Civilization is both better and worse than I expected. Better for Sanger’s sincere interest in protecting women and children from the grinding gears of poverty and ignorance. Worse for the unabashed contempt she harbored towards anyone who didn’t measure up to her genetic standards. On the one hand, Sanger recognized that welfare-type philanthropy exacerbates the ills of society. On the other hand, she believed that the best way to eliminate poverty and suffering is to eliminate the poor and oppressed—by breeding them out. A light went on for me when I realized that though Sanger was sincerely distressed by the collective suffering of women and children, she cared hardly a lick for the suffering woman and child. Her concern was not to help them, but to get rid of them. In her own words:

We become fully cognizant of the burden of the imbecile upon the whole human race; when we see the funds that should be available for human development, for scientific, artistic and philosophic research, being diverted annually, by hundreds of millions of dollars, to the care and segregation of men, women, and children who never should have been born…. The benevolent activities of our missionary societies to reduce the deathrate by the prevention of infanticide and the checking of disease, actually serve in the end to aggravate the pressure of population upon its food-supply and to increase the severity of the inevitably resultant catastrophe…. At the present time, civilized nations are penalizing talent and genius, the bearers of the torch of civilization, to coddle and perpetuate the choking human undergrowth, which, as all authorities tell us, is escaping control and threatens to overrun the whole garden of humanity. (Kindle Locations 854-856, 1026-1028, 2127-2128)

Complaining about the social cost of caring for "feeble-minded" men, women and children, Sanger refers to them as a "dead weight of human waste." Sanger’s contemporary supporters try to downplay her devotion to eugenics, but it was central to everything she believed—which is why she regarded any effort to advance the prospects of the "swarming and spawning" proletariat as a complete waste of time. In a perversion of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, Sanger asserts that "a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit…. Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." In other words, no amount of pruning can improve a genetically corrupt tree—or in this case, a genetically corrupt human being. In the age-old debate between nature and nurture, there is no question where Sanger stood:

The Eugenist points out that heredity is the great determining factor in the lives of men and women…. You may bring all the changes possible on "Nurture" or environment … but comparatively little can be effected until you control biological and hereditary elements of the problem…. There is every indication that feeble-mindedness in its protean forms is on the increase, that it has leaped the barriers, and that there is truly, as some of the scientific eugenists have pointed out, a feeble-minded peril to future generations—unless the feeble-minded are prevented from reproducing their kind." (Kindle Locations 719-721, 1396-1399).

I have page after page of "Did she really say that?" quotes—statements that are even more shocking when read in today’s politically-correct, post-eugenics milieu. Much can and should be said about them, but Pivot’s most significant take away for me centers on something even more sinister. I call it the religion of birth control. Despite all of Sanger’s disavowals of "sentimentality"—her favorite euphemism for "religion"—and despite her professed devotion to the rigorous objectivity of science, Sanger was religious to her secular core. She didn’t worship God. She didn’t even worship Karl Marx or Francis Galton. She worshipped each day at the First Church of Birth Control. She was its founding pastor; she was its first and best evangelist—even traveling to India in an effort to "convert" Gandhi. If religion is "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power," that is precisely what Margaret Sanger found in her devotion to birth control.

Birth Control as Savior

Though a card-carrying Socialist, Margaret Sanger was astute enough to realize that there can be no salvation through government. She criticized "those idealists and reformers who think that by the ballot society may be led to an earthly paradise." As evidenced by her remarks below, she did not apply the same limitations to birth control:

A great wall separates the masses from those imperative truths (about birth control) that must be known and flung wide if civilization is to be saved. (Kindle Locations 177-178)

To effect the salvation of the generations of the future—nay, of the generations of to-day—our greatest need [is] the formation of a code of sexual ethics based upon a thorough biological and psychological understanding of human nature; and then to answer the questions and the needs of the people with all the intelligence and honesty at our command. (Kindle Locations 287-290)

Until they recognize Birth Control as the PIVOTAL FACTOR in the problem confronting the world to-day, our statesmen must continue to work in the dark.  (Kindle Locations 1062-1063) — Notice that Sanger always capitalizes her functional deity.

Birth Control must be recognized, as the Neo-Malthusians pointed out long ago, not "merely as the key of the social position," and the only possible and practical method of human generation, but as the very pivot of civilization. (Kindle Locations 1535-1537)

Quoting Robert Ingersoll (admiringly): "Science (is) the only possible savior of mankind." (Kindle Locations 1780-1781)

Birth Control as Holy Spirit

Whereas scripture teaches that it is the Holy Spirit who provides peace and empowers victory over the flesh, Margaret Sanger assigns these roles to birth control:

Civilization, in any true sense of the word, is based upon the control and guidance of the great natural instinct of Sex. Mastery of this force is possible only through the instrument of Birth Control. (Kindle Locations 102-104)

Birth Control concerns itself with the spirit no less than the body. It looks for the liberation of the spirit of woman and through woman of the child. (Kindle Locations 217-218)

Birth Control is an ethical necessity for humanity to-day ... It gives us control over one of the primordial forces of nature, to which in the past the majority of mankind have been enslaved, and by which it has been cheapened and debased.  (Kindle Locations 1763-1765)

Not only is [Birth Control] the most effective, in fact the only lever by which the value of the child can be raised to a civilized point; but it is likewise the only method by which the life of the individual can be deepened and strengthened, by which an inner peace and security and beauty may be substituted for the inner conflict that is at present so fatal to self-expression and self-realization.  (Kindle Locations 1924-1927)

Birth Control as the Securement of Future Paradise

In Sanger’s religious economy, heaven is secured—not through a substitutionary savior—but through the selective breeding of birth control. She writes:

The moment civilization is wise enough to remove the constraints and prohibitions which now hinder the release of inner energies (the bearing of children), most of the larger evils of society will perish of inanition and malnutrition.  (Kindle Locations 1870-1873)

Let us conceive for the moment at least, a world not burdened by the weight of dependent and delinquent classes, a total population of mature, intelligent, critical and expressive men and women. Instead of the inert, exploitable, mentally passive class which now forms the barren substratum of our civilization, try to imagine a population active, resistant, passing individual and social lives of the most contented and healthy sort. Would such men and women, liberated from our endless, unceasing struggle against mass prejudice and inertia, be deprived in any way of the stimulating zest of life? Would they sink into a slough of complacency and fatuity?…  Awakened at last to the proximity of the treasures of life lying all about them, the children of that age would be inspired by a spirit of adventure and romance that would indeed produce a terrestrial paradise.  (Kindle Locations 2133-2140)

Let us look forward to that era, perhaps not so distant as we believe, when the great adventures in the enchanted realm of the arts and sciences may no longer be the privilege of a gifted few, but the rightful heritage of a race of genius. In such a world men and women would no longer seek escape from themselves by the fantastic and the faraway. They would be awakened to the realization that the source of life, of happiness, is to be found not outside themselves, but within … Men and women of the future will not seek happiness; they will have gone beyond it. Mere happiness would produce monotony. And their lives shall be lives of change and variety with the thrills produced by experiment and research.  (Kindle Locations 2142-2148)

Uncontrolled, [sex] is a cruel tyrant, but [when] controlled and directed, it may be used to transmute and sublimate the everyday world into a realm of beauty and joy. Through sex, mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise. (Kindle Locations 2175-2177).

Margaret Sanger was 43 when The Pivot of Civilization was published—recently divorced (after a decade’s separation) and recently remarried. Sanger was 78 when she sat down with Mike Wallace. No longer the vibrant and attractive woman she once was, one wonders if she still held out hope for the utopian paradise she had promised 35 years earlier. When questioned at the end of the interview as to whether or not she believed in the existence of "sin," she faltered—clearly uncomfortable with the entire notion. When questioned as to weather she thought infidelity and murder were sins, she again demurred. This was her answer:

I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world (pause) that [are] diseased from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being, practically: delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things, just marked when they are born. That, to me, is the greatest sin that people can commit.

Like those in the church who have lost the joy of salvation but cling grimly to cold hard doctrine, so Sanger appears at the end of her life. Her utopian vision was not realized in the least. Nor has it been in the half century that’s followed. Sexual restraint has been thrown off, birth control has been almost ubiquitously embraced, but poverty, misery and abuse are as entrenched as ever. Her "savior" has not saved. Birth control has not won the day; eugenics is nothing more than a disgraced cast off—though its legacy lives on in the organization Sanger founded. While still peddling salvation through birth control, Planned Parenthood made the jump to abortion for the simple fact that birth control doesn’t work as advertised. Margaret Sanger promised it would eliminate all that plagues us. It didn’t. Today, the same promises are made about abortion, and the results have been much the same—with one notable exception. Whereas Margaret Sanger tried to eliminate poverty by keeping the impoverished from breeding, Planned Parenthood tries to eliminate poverty by killing the impoverished before they're born. Welcome to Paradise.

Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. 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.

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