Right Problems, Wrong Solution: Margaret Sanger’s Misguided Policy

Referring to her experience as a nurse, Margaret Sanger, women’s rights advocate and founder of Planned Parenthood, discusses dreadful situations such as this:

“I was called into a home where the father, a machinist by trade, was earning eighteen dollars a week. He was at the time the father of six living children, to all appearances a sober, serious and hard working man… Two years ago I came across this same family, and found that five more children had been added in the meantime to their household. The three youngest were considered by medical authorities to be hopelessly feeble-minded, two of the older girls were prostitutes; three of the boys were serving long term sentences in penitentiaries, while another of the children had been injured by a fall and so badly crippled that she will not be able to help herself for years to come.”

Only two of the total eleven children were uninjured and free.

Sanger identifies the problem from this story as one of timing and capacity: the parents were ill-prepared for having 11 children, but they still had 11. Having too many children too quickly is a problem when parents cannot support them, limiting the ability of the parents to not only make decisions to improve their situations, but to provide decent living conditions for their children. The lack of education contributed to this problem, for they were unaware of how to avoid pregnancy without abstaining. Sanger often worried about overpopulation and the creation of ghettos from uneducated couples having too many children.

To Sanger, the root problem was that women lacked control over their bodies, many women did not know how to avoid pregnancy without abstaining. Married women could not abstain from sex because religions implored their followers to have as many children as possible, and it was seen as wrong for women to reject their husbands. Sanger understood the problems that women faced and wanted women to have power over their bodies and minds. This is an important, natural urge for individual choice. Individual choices drive free societies and enable human flourishing.

To this end, Sanger’s work, coupled with that of other feminists, was promising. Now churches accept of natural methods of birth control, which they hadn’t in Sanger’s time. More and more women and girls are educated about ways to avoid pregnancy. Women are able to abstain without acquiring a negative reputation. While rape and other serious concerns still exist, overall the situation for women has drastically improved.

However, there is a dark side to this story of success. Since its inception, Sanger’s Planned Parenthood has killed over seven million babies in the womb, and abortion is Planned Parenthood’s leading job. Sanger’s intention was for abortion to be a rebellion against women’s oppression: “It is true that, obeying the inner urge of their nature, some women revolted. They went even to the extreme of infanticide and abortion. Usually their revolts were not general enough. They fought as individuals, not as a mass.” Unlike the supporters of abortion today, Sanger’s abortion proposal was not merely for the victims of rape and incest, a case that pro-choice advocates commonly turn to even though this case is exceedingly uncommon. Her proposal was for widespread abortions as a protest for women’s rights.

Not once in her piece, however, does she acknowledge that abortion/infanticide is the killing of a child, nor does she seem to see much of a problem in killing children. She has no respect for life, which calls into question her claims to desire women’s power. She claims to want women to have rights to control their lives, yet she believes that this control comes from murdering innocents. If this were any other war, it would be brought to the attention of every human rights organization. However, abortion is instead applauded. Sanger cannot logically believe in women’s power and the killing of future women through abortion. Sanger was willing to kill babies in the womb and infants in her quest to give women their deserved rights. In her view, killing lives of innocents is worth the power it would give to women.

Sanger’s is a demeaning and pessimistic view of women’s power. Women have power from the opposite of Sanger’s tenet: power comes from creating life, not ending it. Any man can take lives, but only women have the unique ability to cultivate and raise new ones. Women who want temporary power to feel in control will get abortions. However, power comes from truly being in control, not hastily attempting to regain control after a mistake. Abortion is a simple, quick-and-easy fix for a more serious control problem, not a strategy to gain power. A truly powerful woman would have the child, and her next step would be to abstain or use birth control. Abortion shows women’s weakness, and its use is demeaning because it implies that women cannot be expected to control themselves and that they must have another way out of pregnancy. If we want to be seen with respect, we should act with dignity, not kill innocents.

Lack of education and lack of power are excuses used by those who supported abortion in Sanger’s time. Those were real problems, and while mass murder was still not justified, it was erroneously seen as the only option to avoid more families like the one from Sanger’s story. We now have the ability to control pregnancy with 99% effectiveness with most forms of birth control, and there is no longer a stigma against wives abstaining from sex with their husbands. Sanger’s problems have been solved. Times have changed, and now women are educated and powerful. Sanger’s extreme methods are no longer needed. It is time for Sanger’s revolution to end by ending the practice of abortion.