Margaret Sanger, "Family Welfare Through Birth Control," 9 Apr 1937.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of CongressLibrary of Congress Microfilm 128:300."
Sanger's 15-minute radio address was opened with the following announcement: Margaret Sanger, recognized as the leader of the birth control movement, will speak to you about "Family Welfare through Birth Control." Mrs. Sanger is in Bethlehem tonight on her invitation tour of the state. She will speak this evening at Liberty High School and both those who are planning to be present and those who cannot come will be glad of this chance to hear her. Mrs. Sanger. . ."The date of the speech has been corrected based upon newspaper coverage. For an additional version, see Library of Congress Microfilm 72:111.
Every normal man and woman looks forward to having a home and rearing a family. Every one of us has deeply rooted in our heart a love for children. And therefore every one of you, I feel sure, are interested in family planning, as birth control might be called, which is one of the foundation stones of family life.
Children, the most important creation of man, should be planned for, wanted, welcomed, and given every chance in life. Motherhood, woman’s noblest career, should be undertaken consciously, not stumbled into at the whim of blind chance.
You will all doubtless agree with these ideas.
You will also doubtless agree that three important factors should be taken into consideration in planning a family. First of all, the mother’s health. A woman should be physically fit when she undertakes motherhood, If she is suffering from tuberculosis or a heart or kidney ailment, pregnancy should be postponed. If she is weakened in mind or body from any cause whatsoever, she should have the knowledge of how to postpone the coming of a child until she is in good health.
Second in importance is the economic factor. A man should plan his family in accordance with how many children he can support. If his wages remain stationary, and babies continue to arrive every year, he cannot do his duty by them. If, as is unfortunately so often the case at the present time he is unemployed and on relief or doing WPA work, he should be able to control the size of his family until he regains a foothold in life.
Third comes the question of child spacing. Even when the mother is in good health and there are ample funds, children should not be born too close together. The general consensus of medical opinion is that there should be an interval of not less than two years, preferably three, between births. In this way a mother can fully regain her strength after childbirth and give the best that she has to the children already born and 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 two years apart have a far greater chance of survival. Their death rate drops to 92 per thousand. As the interval between births increases, the infant death rate drops. So also mothers are more apt to die when there are too many pregnancies and when children come too close together.
There are other factors to be considered. The mother’s age, the presence of any hereditary taint in either parent, their aptitude for bringing up children.
But let us keep to the three fundamental reasons for family planning. Reliable and scientific birth control is needed for family welfare. Whether viewed as a health measure or a social measure, birth control information is necessary for successful family life, for building better homes and rearing better families.
A birth control test case was fought out in Ottawa, Canada, last month which is of far reaching interest and importance. A social worker was being tried for distributing birth control information in Eastview, a suburb of that city. She had violated a statute forbidding such distribution, the government claimed. But there is in Canada a law a provision that the statute should not apply if it can be shown that the act performed was for the “public good.” Hence the case focused on the question of whether the giving of birth control information was “for the public good.” The magistrate decided that it was. He pointed out that 1000 of the 4000 inhabitants of Eastview were on the relief rolls and that in such a community there was no doubt that birth control was needed and that thus the worker deserved exemption from the restrictions of the statute.
Here in the United States we too are rejoicing in a recent wise and far reaching court decision. The organization of which I am the president, the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control has been seeking an amendment to the so-called Comstock law. This Federal statute, passed over sixty years ago, classed prevention of conception with obscenity and made it a crime to send birth control information or supplies by mail or by express. It also forbade importation. I saw many years ago that this law was the chief stumbling block to progress; doctors were hampered in giving information, that hospitals were prevented from giving this service. So we began to organize public opinion in support of a birth control bill to exempt physicians from the restrictions of this law. Each year we gained more ground, both inside the halls of Congress and in the public at large.
This year, on November 30, 1936, to be specific, a decision of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the second Circuit interpreted and clarified the law and gave to the medical profession what we were trying to secure through legislation. It gave physicians a bill of rights in the field of contraception. The case involved the seizure by the Customs of birth control materials sent to a physician here in America by a physician in Japan. I will read just one sentence from the decision. “We are satisfied,” said the judges, “that this statute was not to prevent the importation, sale or carriage by mail of things which might intelligently be employed by conscientious and competent physicians for the purpose of saving life or promoting the well being of their patients.”
The United States government decided not to carry the case to the Supreme Court. This means that the decision from which I have quoted becomes, in effect, the law of the land.
Freed from legal confusion, birth control may now take its rightful place as a part of preventive medicine, as a necessary factor in promoting social welfare. Doctors may now give contraceptive advice in their public as well as their private practice, and thus contribute to the health and well being of the nation. Hospitals and dispensaries can--and should--now include birth control among their other health services.
I believe that every married woman needs to know about birth control. Not merely to limit the number of her children, but to plan her family, and space the intervals between her children’s births so that she and her children may have the best possible chance for health and happiness. I believe that every married man should know about birth control so that he can equate his income and his expenses and give his children the best possible chance in life.
In Bethlehem, I am happy to learn, they have made a fine start in this direction. The Maternal Health Center at 26 East 3d. Street ↑Bethlehem↓ is doing splendid work. I am told that the society has the active support of the representative people of the community and stands ready to give mothers who need it the best possible reliable, medical advice. I hope that all of you who have heard this talk will take an active part in this work, so necessary for the health and welfare of your community.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project