Margaret Sanger and the minority holocaust
Why is Christianity Today trying to rehabilitate Margaret Sanger’s legacy?
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.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurrence in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc. (28 May 2019), wrote a blistering attack on the social-Darwinist, eugenicist, and racist origins of Planned Parenthood, but also pointed out:
“To be sure, Sanger distinguished between birth control and abortion. Woman and the New Race 128–129; see, e.g., Sanger, Birth Control or Abortion? Birth Control Rev., Dec. 1918, pp. 3–4. For Sanger, “[t]he one means health and happiness—a stronger, better race,” while “[t]he other means disease, suffering, [and] death.” Woman and the New Race 129. Sanger argued that “nothing short of contraceptives can put an end to the horrors of abortion and infanticide,” id., at 25, and she questioned whether “we want the precious, tender qualities of womanhood, so much needed for our racial development, to perish in [the] sordid, abnormal experiences” of abortions, id., at 29. In short, unlike contraceptives, Sanger regarded “the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year [as] a disgrace to civilization.” Id., at 126.”
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
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. The reason is that widespread contraceptive availability decoupled sex from marriage and procreation, so there was more premarital and extramarital sex, under the mistaken view that 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.
Re-featured on homepage: 16 June 2022
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.