The History of Abortion in America - Part 1: Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood
It has been said that, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Part of becoming an educated and informed participant in today’s culture war includes reflecting on how we got to where we are now.
Who were the key influencers of thought?
Who were the key listeners?
Did the change their efforts invoked produce positive or negative results?
How has our current worldview been affected by history, without us even knowing it?
When one seeks to find answers to these questions in regards to the history of abortion, you simply cannot start anywhere else but with reflecting on an individual named Margaret Sanger.
This article will serve to give readers a brief overview of her life and her viewpoints on hot topics such as women’s rights, birth control, and abortion.
Margaret Sanger was born in 1879 in Corning, New York. Her father was a stonemason and was considered to be the “village atheist”. Her mother was a devout Roman Catholic Irishwoman who bore 11 children and died at age 50. Margarat was sixth in the birth order and the death of her mother was a very tragic event for her.
After watching her mother have 11 kids and die young, Margaret determined that the hardships of pregnancy and motherhood is what caused her mother’s death. She grew up in a time when women were legally and socially subordinate to men. Women could not vote, own property, enter into contracts, or keep their own wages. In addition to that, religious leaders misused the Word of God to back up offering women this lowly status. Sanger’s mother, being a devout catholic, would have been impacted by this oppressive religious teaching and controlling societal norms.
While I hold steadfast that traditional gender roles are of the most benefit to society, a healthy family unit, and child rearing, the manner of control that Sanger and her mother experienced was not ever God’s plan for women. His Word being used as a tool to oppress women is a grievous misdeed that no doubt helped to shape Margaret and her views on motherhood and women.
Margaret Sanger watched all of this take place as a young girl. She watched her mother work herself to the bone to care for the family. She watched her father - a godless man - live in control of the house. She watched her mother die at a young age after rearing 11 children and she watched her mother live committed to a religious teaching that celebrated this type of bondage on women. Margaret saw these injustices to women not only in her own upbringing, but also in the rest of society after becoming a nurse in New York.
The cumulation of all of this no doubt left Margaret mad, hurt, and passionate to change the world around her. A righteous indignation rose up in her to see women set free from this oppression. I do not argue that the questions Margaret Sanger asked were the correct questions. Questions like “How do we end poverty?” and, “How can we achieve equal rights for women?”. These were catalytic questions that ultimately led to massive breakthroughs for our nation and for women’s rights. However, the answers that Margaret Sanger and people like her settled upon have left our nation in a world of hurt and pain.
The main answer for all of the suffering that Margaret Sanger witnessed was to implement Birth Control. According to her, Birth Control would give women the freedom to decide if their bodies and minds could handle another pregnancy or not. It would give women some level of autonomy over their own reproductive capacities and all the areas of life that caring for a family influences.
Sanger witnessed horrendous things - poverty, marital rape, abuse, women being silenced and demeaned. She determined that the best solution to fix all of this pain was to free women from the “oppressive” role of motherhood. She believed that if you could be more selective in who bore children and when, that many of society's issues such as poverty and disease would be eradicated. She is actually documented in interviews as having said:
"The greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease 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’re born. That to me is the greatest sin that people can commit." - Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger and her followers held fast to the belief that the world population was getting too large and that people with disease, poverty, or the wrong ethnicity were blemishes to society. Her fight for birth control to become commonplace was not simply to give women some sense of ownership over their own bodies, but was to solve what she and her cohorts saw as the problem of the world: imperfect people.
My questions to Margaret would be: Who decides which people are imperfect? Do you want to decide that? Do you want me to decide that for you? That seems like an awful serious thing for us to be the judge of. Who is worthy of life? Who is worthy of death? What is the criteria to be worthy of either one? Who makes these rules and what are the standards for which we determine who or what is imperfect? Are you a qualified judge of this, am I?
Sanger was part of the eugenics movement which sought to “breed” out “undesirable” populations by limiting their ability to procreate through birth control and sterilization. They essentially did just that...decide who was worthy of life and who was worthy of death. Sanger believed things like, “it is better to have never lived than to live poor”. She believed that inheritable diseases, obesity, poverty, and the procreation of certain races should, and could, be stopped by women having the choice to prevent pregnancy. She also believed that this one freedom, the choice to NOT be a mother, would ultimately give women their rightful place in society and the societal freedoms that were just out of reach.
This worldview and passionate advocacy led Margaret Sanger to open the first ever birth control clinic. She knew that contraceptives would give women the right to choose to have children or not, and believed that this freedom would ultimately grant women the place in society they deserved. She believed that it was motherhood and childrearing that kept women oppressed and degraded. She believed it was motherhood and childrearing that killed her mother. She believed it was motherhood and childrearing that may kill her, too, if it was left unchecked. If she could free women from motherhood, she could free women from the pangs of unjust treatment.
She taught that it was women’s responsibility to stop themselves from having babies if they had imperfections in their lives that would potentially create more imperfect people. For example, if a woman had an inheritable disease she believed that it was irresponsible for that woman to have a baby. Sanger felt that imperfect people who live in imperfect situations - disease, poverty, oppression, etc. - should “do the right thing” by not birthing more children that would possibly live similar imperfect lives.
Sanger advocated that if a woman could choose to not be pregnant by using birth control and abortion then a man would not have the tyrannical control over her that was common in those days.
In the search to give women societal and legal rights she advocated for women to be allowed to use birth control.
In her lifetime, Margaret Sanger saw the distribution of contraceptives and contraceptive information go from illegal to widely spread. She witnessed the invention of the first ever oral contraceptive (something she called “the Magic Pill”), she opened the first birth control clinic, started the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau and the American Birth Control League. Later these two organizations would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
Just four short years after her death, the slippery slope from legalized birth control to legalized abortion took flight. New York legalized abortion in 1970 and Planned Parenthood began offering abortions. Three years later, in the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, abortion became a constitutional right.
These may seem like feats in freedom to some but what isn’t advertised is that amidst these efforts there were tragic consequences for many. In her fight for legalized birth control, which ultimately led to legalized abortion, Margaret Sanger was also a partner to tens of thousands of black women and immigrants being sterilized and experimented on against their will. She witnessed an entire population of Puerto Rican women be given experimental birth control pills as “test subjects” without informed consent of the risks. She helped set the stage for abortion-on-demand which has now led to over 63 million deaths in less than 50 years. She taught women of the Klu Klux Klan to advocate and distribute birth control and she almost single-handedly taught women to despise motherhood and degrade men.
There is no doubt that Margaret Sanger was a major influencer and invoked colossal changes to society. The question remains, though, were these influences actually positive?
The atomic family is almost non-existent. An entire generation of children has been killed through abortion, leaving gaping holes in society. Where the older generation is leaving the workforce, there is a disproportionate amount of young people to take their place. Father’s are now demeaned and disregarded. Women are waiting well into their 30’s to have children, a time in life when they are less fertile, less energetic, and birth complications are higher. Sex is meaningless because it can be found anywhere, anytime without the responsibility and blessing of procreation. Women’s hormonal imbalances and reproductive health issues are at an all time high (largely caused by birth control methods). Women are unsure if they are women and men are unsure if they are men. Mothers don’t want to be mothers and fathers don’t want to be fathers. Divorce rates are up, marriage rates are down. Family size is smaller and the amount of children being raised by grandparents is astronomical. Abortions are now being performed at home and it is the mother of these children administering their own demise and the demise of their child. Mental health issues have skyrocketed and economic issues are vast. Can all of this be traced back to the simple implementation of a little pill intended to bring women to freedom?
It may seem far-fetched to you that a little “magic pill” may have been the catalyst to so many of our cultural issues today but, it is possible that this “magic pill” that was intended to free women once and for all was the Pandora’s Box of hidden oppression, faux freedom for women, and the undoing of family all together. History can rewrite itself if we aren’t careful to study it. Who are the modern day Margaret Sangers? Shall we continue to let them influence our school of thought, or is it time to rise-up and rebuild the foundations of family and motherhood?
I say it is time, mothers and fathers, to rise up and rebuild. That means you. That means me. We all have a part to play.
“Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.” (2 Chronicles 36:23 NIV)
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