Margaret Sanger, "Family Planning: A Radio Talk," 11 Apr 1935.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:0380."
You have heard a great deal about National Security through National Planning. The time has come for us to think of Family Security through Family Planning.
Every good housewife accepts the idea of planning for the comfort of her household. She plans her budget to meet the necessities of food, clothing and shelter, of education and recreation. She tries to plan for sickness and unemployment, and for the comforts of life in old age. But there is still another factor, which is vitally important for the security of the family and the security of the nation as well. One other kind of planning, the most important of all, must not be overlooked, if a family is to have health and security, is to bring up happy children to become useful citizens. This is planning for the number of children, and for the spacing of their births in accordance with the health of the mother, the earning power of the father, and the standard of living for all.
In order to space the arrival of the children so that they will not come too close together, in order to have no more children than can be safely born and adequately reared, mothers must have reliable, scientific birth control instruction.
There has recently been a great deal of confusion about what birth control is. There has been a lot of loose talk about birth control “operations.” There is no such thing as a birth control operation. Remember this: birth control means to prevent, not to destroy. It does not mean the destruction of life after it has begun.
Every normal woman, every normal man wants children. The joys of parenthood are joys which every married couple want to experience. But there is a vast difference between a woman wanting two, three or four children that she can adequately care for, and the dread of having a family of ten or twelve without being able to give them food and clothing, let alone education and a start in life.
Every father has a right to knowledge which will permit him to plan his family in accordance with how many children he can support. If the father’s wages remain stationary, as is all to apt to happen now-a-days, and the babies continue to come year after year, no planning is possible. No family can feel secure when this condition prevails.
There are many things to be considered in planning the size of the family, but there are three very important and obvious ones that should have special attention:
First, the mother’s health: No woman should attempt to bring a baby into the world if she is suffering from tuberculosis or a heart of kidney disease. These are diseases which usually can be cured, if taken in time, and if they are not complicated by pregnancy. It is unfair to put upon a frail woman, with any of these ailments, the further task of motherhood. It is also unfair to the father and to the unborn child.
America is the only country in the world, with modern medical care, that has laws keeping contraceptive knowledge from mothers suffering from these diseases. This is, in large part, why we have a high maternal mortality rate, and we shall doubtless continue to have it until mothers have knowledge of birth control, and can use this knowledge to protect their health.
Second, the father’s earning power: This is a very obvious consideration, and yet millions of parents today who are on relief rolls and are unable to provide for the children already born, cannot get information about how to control the number of their children. Approximately four million families are on general relief, and the birth rate is higher in these families than among those of the same social status among the employed.
Think of these parents, already burdened with poverty and debts, fearful of the future. The mothers are depleted and exhausted from too frequent childbearing. They cannot look forward with any hope, because they cannot meet the uncertainties which large families entail. And what about the children? What is to become of them? Millions of them are physically or mentally handicapped to meet the difficulties of life, yet they continue to arrive regardless of the parents’ ability to provide for them.
Third, child spacing: Even a healthy mother should space the births of her children at intervals of not less than two years, preferably three. Only in this way can she fully regain her strength and vitality after childbirth, and be a fit mother for the children already born and for those to come. Studies made by the United States Children’s Bureau show that children born one year apart die at the rate of 147 per thousand, while children born at two year intervals have a death rate of only 92 per thousand. Maternal mortality rates also show the dangers of too many pregnancies and too closely spaced childbirths.
The Federal laws which class birth control information with obscenity and which forbid the sending of birth control information or supplies by mail or common carrier, were passed sixty-two years ago. They keep mothers, especially the poor mothers, who are most in need of birth control information, who more than all others should and wish to have smaller families, in absolute ignorance of reliable information. No such restrictive laws exist in England, or in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden or Russia. Why should Congress, on the basis of laws passed in 1873, continue to deny to American mothers the rights enjoyed by mothers in these countries?
The National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, of which I am the president, is fighting to change these laws. We want hospitals, clinics, public health agencies and doctors to be able to give parents harmless, safe and reliable birth control information. Only in this way can they have the number of children they want and are able to care for, can they properly space the arrival of their babies. Only in this way can they have Family Security.
The Federal laws work tremendous hardship on the mothers of America. It is the poorest women who pay. They pay for their ignorance in ill health, in infant deaths, in maternal deaths. They pay for it in slums, in child labor, in unemployment. They pay by living in constant fear and anxiety, fear of the coming of children whom they have neither the strength nor means to bring up.
The mothers of the poor, particularly the mothers in the millions of families on relief are the forgotten women. They are too poor to have influence, too weak to rebel. They cry out to us for help. If you would help the forgotten woman, if you are in sympathy with the work I am doing, help me change the Federal law. We have at present two bills before Congress, which would amend these laws so that birth control clinics for the poor could be included in the government Public Health Program.
We are preparing a petition to President Roosevelt, asking him to recommend to Congress the passage of these bills. Add your name to the thousands upon thousands who want to get rid of these obsolete laws. Help the mothers of America free themselves.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project