Margaret Sanger and the minority holocaust
Why is Christianity Today trying to rehabilitate Margaret Sanger’s legacy?
Margaret Sanger around 1938.
Published: 24 March 2015 (GMT+10)
Christianity Today was founded by world-famous evangelist Billy Graham; Planned Parenthood was founded by racist eugenicist Margaret Sanger. And Christianity Today’s article about Margaret Sanger shows that one of them has departed a long way from the principles of its founder.
Rachel Marie Stone wrote that Margaret Sanger’s promotion of contraceptives stemmed from her compassion for poor women, often forced to bear more children than they could support, wrecking their health and possibly dying through botched abortion.1
This image of a compassionate women’s advocate is what is advanced by her ideological heirs, but it does not stand up to scrutiny.2
Sanger: anti-abortion, but pro-forced sterilization
Sanger’s statements about abortion throughout her life seem to be thoroughly against it, even reminiscent of pro-life statements today. For instance, she said,
To each group we explained simply what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not begun.3
And in 1931, she even replied to Pope Pius XII expressing extreme condemnation of abortion:
“The real alternative to birth control is abortion,” wrote Dean Inge, in his article already quoted. It is an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn. Although abortion may be resorted to in order to save the life of the mother, the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious. I bring up the subject here only because some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not. Abortion destroys the already fertilized ovum or the embryo; contraception, as I have carefully explained, prevents the fertilizing of the ovum by keeping the male cells away. Thus it prevents the beginning of life.4
Her statements throughout her life are similarly anti-abortion and anti-infanticide. She advocated a lot of horrible things, but she did not advocate abortion, as far as we can find in primary sources and reputable secondary citations from both her friends and foes. Her repeated public statements indicate that abortion horrified her, and when she was in control of Planned Parenthood, she turned women away who came seeking abortions. Also, Sanger frequently defied social norms and even the law by speaking her mind, so it’s unlikely that her private thoughts were different from her public pronouncements. In short, unlike Planned Parenthood today, Sanger recognized abortion as killing a baby, and was suitably disgusted by the notion.
However, her ideas were no less abhorrent, and her ideas led her organization to become pro-abortion after Roe v. Wade.
‘Negative eugenics’—sterilizing the people you don’t like
Thanks to Janine Suter
Still photo from a 4D ultrasound image of human baby in the womb, taken at 20 weeks.
In Sanger’s day, eugenics was the scientific consensus. The intelligentsia of the day thought it was the socially responsible thing to do to encourage certain kinds of people to reproduce more, and others to reproduce less, or not at all. If Darwin’s theories applied to finches and dog breeds, it seemed downright irresponsible to neglect the obvious implications for humanity. Eugenics was even taught to American school children in the notorious biology textbook, A Civic Biology (1914), defended by the ACLU at the famous Scopes Trial (1925).
And far from being an aberration of Darwin’s teaching, as many evolutionists claim today, eugenics was invented by Darwin’s first cousin Francis Galton, and four of Darwin’s sons were leaders in the eugenics movement. Also, just as many Church leaders tell us to follow the establishment science of our day—billions of years and evolution—the liberal churches in Sanger’s day were fervent supporters of the establishment science of its day—eugenics. They scoffed at the conservative churches that opposed eugenics on biblical grounds.
Sanger believed that American society faced a rising number of ‘human weeds’ as a result of the wrong sort of person having too many offspring. And a major reason she promoted contraception was to try to convince these people to stop reproducing.
Today, we know that these eugenic ideas were not only scientifically ridiculous, they also led to heartbreak for many thousands of Americans who were sterilized under the eugenics policies in the United States, some of them without consent or even against their will.
This policy of sterilizing anyone deemed unfit to reproduce dehumanized those people, just as abortion dehumanizes the unborn child. In reality, there was no medical or scientific ground for these eugenic policies. Yet, they were ‘settled science’ at the time.
Sanger was instrumental in acting on these ideas. She explicitly opposed charity because:
Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks [of people] that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant.5
Instead, she promoted birth control explicitly as:
facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective.6
Further, she was very anti-life, in the sense that she thought that the world had too many people”
We hold that the world is already overpopulated.7
However, when she wrote, the world’s population was under 2 billion; now it’s over 7 billion. Yet we are far more prosperous, and average life expectancy has more than doubled. This is largely because infant and child mortality has plummeted, as well as vastly improved medical care (such as vaccination and antibiotics) and nutrition. (Note that the reason for setting 65 as the retirement and Social Security age in the USA was that most people at the time did not reach this age, so the Government thought that it would have to pay out very little.)
Abortion—eugenics for the 21st century
Planned Parenthood did not begin to offer abortions until 1970, when New York legalized abortion. Now they are the leading abortion providers in the USA. In many ways, eugenicists of 100 years ago would be proud of their work, as their clinics are located disproportionately in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods.8 In some sections of New York, there are more black aborted babies than live births:
According to a report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (cnsnews.com), in 2012, there were more black babies killed by abortion (31,328) in New York City than were born there (24,758), and the black children killed comprised 42.4 percent of the city’s total number of abortions. On average, 1,876 black babies are aborted every day in the United States.9
Margaret Sanger succeeded in making contraception widely available and destigmatized—but this did not result in fewer accidental pregnancies, because no contraception works 100% of the time. In fact, many times, women who abort their pregnancies were using contraception which failed.
In Sanger’s day, one potent argument against abortion was that it was unsafe, frequently injuring the mother, rendering her unable to have more children, or even killing her. It is still unsafe today—even moreso when it is performed in an abortion clinic which does not face the same standards as a medical facility. Pro-life groups like Life News regularly feature stories of women injured or otherwise victimized at abortion centers.
One example is the notorious Kermit Gosnell, who murdered at least one mother and seven newborns, and is now serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health had long turned a blind eye to the illegal late-term abortions, grossly unsanitary conditions, and surgical malpractice.10
Furthermore, maternal deaths in the USA were plummeting before abortion was legalized by judicial fiat in Roe v. Wade, 1973, and even before contraceptives were legalized by Griswold v. Connecticut 1965. This great improvement in maternal health was due to rigorous sterilization and disinfection of anything coming into contact with patients, plus the widespread introduction of antibiotics such as penicillin.11
The solution—the Gospel
Even though Sanger was anti-abortion, she cannot be said to be properly ‘pro-life’, because her writings make it clear that she was against procreation except in the case of people she (and the prevailing science of the day) deemed ‘fit’. And Planned Parenthood, one of the leading abortion rackets in the United States, is her legacy.
Today the culture sees the horrors of eugenic thinking, while turning a blind eye to a growing mountain of lifeless children produced by its replacement. The solution to the horror of abortion is only partially political—of course Christians should support any law that will extend any level of protection to the unborn, and should vote for pro-life candidates. But lasting change will only come through seeing the value of unborn life, no matter whether the baby is inconvenient or disabled. And only the Gospel gives us the right foundation for seeing that all people are created in God’s image, as Genesis teaches, and so they are valuable from their first moment of existence.
References and notes
- Stone, R.M., Contraception saves lives: Reconsidering Margaret Sanger as one who was opposed to abortion but emphatic about the personal and social good of contraception, christianitytoday.com, 11 March 2015. Return to text.
- Bomberger, R., Why is Christianity Today defending racist birth control activist Margaret Sanger? Lifenews.com, 13 March 2015. Return to text.
- Sanger, M. autobiography, 1938, p. 217; cited in Walker, J., What did Margaret Sanger think about abortion? Red State, 23 January 2013, redstate.com/2013/01/23/what-did-margaret-sanger-think-about-abortion. This is a politically conservative site that would be unlikely to cover up any pro-abortion statements, and is highly critical of Sanger just as we are. Return to text.
- Sanger, M., Birth control cdvances: A Reply to the Pope [encyclical Casti connubii (Of Chaste Marriage), 1930], 1931 (emphasis added). Reproduced on nyu.edu, from Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Margaret Sanger Microfilm, S71:243. Return to text.
- Sanger, M., The Pivot of Civilization, ch. 5, 1917; cited in Bomberger, Ref. 2. Return to text.
- Sanger M., Women and The New Race, ch. 18, 1920; cited in Bomberger, Ref. 2. Return to text.
- Sanger M., Birth Control and Racial Betterment, Birth Control Review, February 1919, p. 11; cited in Bomberger, Ref. 2. Return to text.
- Ertelt, S., Report proves Planned Parenthood targets Blacks, Hispanics, Lifenews.com, 29 August 2011. Return to text.
- Hubart, K., More tragic casualties in the fight for equal rights, news-sentinel.com, 7 March 2015. Return to text.
- E.g. Dale, M., “Kermit Gosnell, abortion doctor, enters 5th week of murder trial; more gruesome details revealed”, Huffington Post, 15 April 2013. Return to text.
- See documentation and chart in Bomberger, Ref. 2. Return to text.
Thanks for this warning about how far Christianity Today has fallen. More on Sanger. In her book Pivot of Civilization on pg. 112 she wrote that the handicapped, including the "blind, deaf, dumb, mute and epileptics," were the "dead weight of human waste". And Planned Parenthood still says that: we are "Proud of our Past" including their founder and longtime president. Yet Sanger wrote on pg. 33 of her book Woman and the New Race: "The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it."
Thanks Bob. But in all fairness, we have to point out that it seems the context of that (still rather horrible) comment by Sanger seems to have been a hyperbole when compared to the suffering and likely sickness and early death a child in a large, poor family would face (at least in her estimation). She was not advocating literal infanticide.
Then could you help me understand that she wasn't for abortion then? According to research, abortion in the case of life of the mother is few and far between. Does that still make it right? I have literature from Sanger that would say otherwise. Does not the fact that she stood for these atrocities make it right to say she was reminiscent of pro-life statements today? I would post all of this but trying to not violate your standards.
It is true that there are very few cases today where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother--ectopic pregnancy and not much else comes to mind. If the mother will die without intervention, and there is no way to save the baby, it is better to save one life than neither. Abortion is never a good thing. And thankfully medical advances have made it much, much more likely that a woman and her baby can make it through the whole pregnancy.
Her statements about abortion, i.e. calling it horrific and so on, are reminiscent of pro-life statements. However, we did not praise her for this, rather we highlighted how her eugenic thoughts led her organization to become the leading abortion provider in the United States.
Was really taken back by the fact that you guys said that Margaret Sanger was anti-abortion. The thing that I get hung up on is the fact that she indeed said she was against abortion, but in certain cases believed that it should happen. So she was not anti-abortion. The fact that she was for sterilization (forced) and eugenics should not have you saying she was anti-abortion and "just" pro-contraception. The morning after pill is another form of abortion as well. I do not attack you guys. I really enjoy your articles and other resources. They have always been helpful to me but unfortunately, this one is someone misleading and I'm concerned that a christian publication would put something out there like this.
Margaret Sanger acknowledged that there are situations where doctors have to remove the child to save the mother's life (ectopic pregnancy is still such a problem today). However, she was against abortion as a eugenic solution, or as a form of 'birth control'. We never said she was "just" pro-contraception--her views were abhorrent (and racist, and scientific nonsense) and we were appropriately critical of her in that area. But our criticisms of someone should be based in the truth, and the truth is that Margaret Sanger was against abortion, at least according to her public statements, except in cases where it was deemed medically necessary.
"...average life expectancy has more than doubled. This is largely because infant and child mortality has plummeted,".
I wonder what the average life expectancy would be if we included the aborted within these statistics? If we did could it be that this modern, prosperous and most medically advanced period of history actually has one of the shortest life spans on record?