A Conversation With Margaret Sanger

Recently I imagined what would have been like to interview Margaret Sanger.  The questions are mine.  The answers are hers from a 1921 lecture.

Interviewer:  Thank you Ms. Sanger for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk with us tonight.

MARGARET SANGER:  You are welcome.

Interviewer: With the current debate ranging on health care issues, especially women’s healthcare, do you have any thoughts on this matter?

MARGARET SANGER: I believed that the people of this country may and can discuss this subject with dignity and with intelligence I desired to bring them together, and to discuss it in the open.

Interviewer: Please elaborate.

MARGARET SANGER: We know that every advance that woman has made in the last half century has been made with opposition, all of which has been based upon the grounds of immorality.  When women fought for higher education, it was said that this would cause her to become immoral and she would lose her place in the sanctity of the home.  When women asked for the franchise it was said that this would lower her standard of morals, that it was not fit that she should meet with and mix with the members of the opposite sex, but we notice that there was no objection to her meeting with the same members of the opposite sex when she went to church.

Interviewer: Ms. Sanger. Are you saying the church in its various incarnations across this country is somewhat responsible for this controversy on women’s healthcare?

MARGARET SANGER: The church has ever opposed the progress of woman on the ground that her freedom would lead to immorality. We ask the church to have more confidence in women. We ask the opponents of this movement to reverse the methods of the church, which aims to keep women moral by keeping them in fear and in ignorance, and to inculcate into them a higher and truer morality based upon knowledge. And ours is the morality of knowledge. If we cannot trust woman with the knowledge of her own body, then I claim that two thousand years of Christian teaching has proved to be a failure.

Interviewer: Ms. Sanger, are you saying birth control should be universal without restrictions?

MARGARET SANGER: We stand on the principle that Birth Control should be available to every adult man and woman.  We believe that every adult man and woman should be taught the responsibility and the right use of knowledge.  We claim that woman should have the right over her own body and to say if she shall or if she shall not be a mother, as she sees fit. We further claim that the first right of a child is to be desired. While the second right is that it should be conceived in love, and the third, that it should have a heritage of sound health.

Interviewer: A number of local and state laws are being enacted and discussed on this subject. What are your thoughts on these?

MARGARET SANGER: There are laws in this country which forbid the imparting of practical information to the mothers of the land.  We claim that every mother in this country, either sick or well, has the right to the best, the safest, the most scientific information.  This information should be disseminated directly to the mothers through clinics by members of the medical profession, registered nurses and registered midwives.

Our first step is to have the backing of the medical profession so that our laws may be changed, so that motherhood may be the function of dignity and choice, rather than one of ignorance and chance. Conscious control of offspring is now becoming the ideal and the custom in all civilized countries. Those who oppose it claim that however desirable it may be on economic or social grounds, it may be abused and the morals of the youth of the country may be lowered.

Interviewer: China as you know has a one child policy, are you advocating some policy like that for this country?  A number of people would vehemently disagree with you.

MARGARET SANGER: Such people should be reminded that there are two points to be considered.  First, that such control is the inevitable advance in civilization.  Every civilization involves an increasing forethought for others, even for those yet unborn.  The reckless abandonment of the impulse of the moment and the careless regard for the consequences, is not morality. The selfish gratification of temporary desire at the expense of suffering to lives that will come may seem very beautiful to some, but it is not our conception of civilization, or is it our concept of morality.

In the second place, it is not only inevitable, but it is right to control the size of the family for by this control and adjustment we can raise the level and the standards of the human race.

Interviewer:  Ms. Sanger, are you saying that abortion should be part of this control?

MARGARET SANGER: While Nature’s way of reducing her numbers is controlled by disease, famine and war, primitive man has achieved the same results by infanticide, exposure of infants, the abandonment of children, and by abortion.  But such ways of controlling population is no longer possible for us.  We have attained high standards of life, and along the lines of science must we conduct such control.  We must begin farther back and control the beginnings of life.  We must control conception.  This is a better method, it is a more civilized method, for it involves not only greater forethought for others, but finally a higher sanction for the value of life itself.

Interviewer: Thank you clarification on the abortion matter.  How would you bring about this control conception in a civilized manner?

MARGARET SANGER: Society is divided into three groups.  Those intelligent and wealthy members of the upper classes who have obtained knowledge of Birth Control and exercise it in regulating the size of their families.  They have already benefited by this knowledge, and are today considered the most respectable and moral members of the community. They have only children when they desire, and all society points to them as types that should perpetuate their kind.

Interviewer: Ms. Sanger, that is an interesting observation.  Who would be classified in your second group?

MARGARET SANGER: The second group is equally intelligent and responsible.  They desire to control the size of their families, but are unable to obtain knowledge or to put such available knowledge into practice.

Interviewer:  Interesting.  Your third group?

MARGARET SANGER: The third are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequence of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers.  Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent entirely upon the normal and fit members of society for their support.

Interviewer: Ms. Sanger, how would you regulate this third group of people on the matter of birth conception?

MARGARET SANGER: There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped. For if they are not able to support and care for themselves, they should certainly not be allowed to bring offspring into this world for others to look after. We do not believe that filling the earth with misery, poverty and disease is moral.  And it is our desire and intention to carry on our crusade until the perpetuation of such conditions has ceased.

Interviewer:  Ms. Sanger, based on the reaction of our studio audience, this statement seems to have touched a nerve.  Mandatory control over a large segment of the population would seem immoral.  Any comments on that?

MARGARET SANGER: We desire to stop at its source the disease, poverty and feeble-mindedness and insanity which exist today, for these lower the standards of civilization and make for race deterioration.  We know that the masses of people are growing wiser and are using their own minds to decide their individual conduct.  The more people of this kind we have, the less immorality shall exist.  For the more responsible people grow, the higher do they and shall they attain real morality.

Interviewer: Ms. Sanger, just one last question since our time is near its end.  You have written and spoke the morality of human conduct.  Please elaborate for us on that for the remaining seconds of the program.

MARGARET SANGER: When one speaks of moral, one refers to human conduct. This implies action of many kinds, which in turn depends upon the mind and the brain. So that in speaking of morals one must remember that there is a direct connection between morality and brain development. Conduct is said to be action in pursuit of ends, and if this is so, then we must hold the irresponsibility and recklessness in our action is immoral, while responsibility and forethought put into action for the benefit of the individual and the race becomes in the highest sense the finest kind of morality.

Interviewer:  Ms. Sanger, thank you again for taking the time to visit with us tonight.

MARGARET SANGER: Thank you.

G. D. Williams       © 2012

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NOTE: The answers given by Margaret Sanger are taken from a talk she gave on November 18, 1921 in Park theatre, New York.  The full text of her talk can be found at

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/PDFFiles/Margaret%20Sanger%20-%20The%20Morality%20of%20Birth%20Control.pdf

A Brief Bio

Margaret Higgins Sanger (September 14, 1879-September 6, 1966)

http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/secure/aboutms/index.html

http://www.biography.com/people/margaret-sanger-9471186

Forced Sterilization in the United States

http://civilliberty.about.com/od/gendersexuality/tp/Forced-Sterilization-History.htm

http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/MN/MN.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/e_eugenics.html

http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/SD/SD.html