Margaret Sanger, "The Humanity of Family Planning," 26 Nov 1952.
Source: " Third International Conference on Planned Parenthood, Report on Proceedings (Bombay: 1952), p. 53-55 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:776."
Margaret Sanger gave this speech at the Third International Conference on Planned Parenthood in Bombay, India. Additional comments reported in the press noted that India had "the most magnificently intelligent and capable women in all my experience," and on India and the population problem, "I am certain India is going to be one of our great moving forces of the future. She has not the religious and political barriers we have, although some may crop up here and there," (World Unit Set Up for Birth Control, New York Times, Nov. 30, 1952. For other short comments, see Comments at the Third International Conference on Planned Parenthood, Nov. 26, 1952.
We have seen during the past decade, that those for and those against birth control or the control of the size of the family live in different mental climates. We must realize psychologically that ignorance attracts ignorance, faith attracts faith, intelligence attracts intelligence. We know, too, from experience, that no reasonable discussion is possible with minds still focused in the dark ages, where scientific advances are ignored. We cannot wait for these minds to evolve as they eventually do but we must go ahead with all the courage and understanding we possess to overcome their prejudices in the interests of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
My first visit to India was from November, 1935 to March, 1936. I came at the invitation of the All India Women’s Conference, requesting me to address their Congress in Travancore. Arrangements had been made for me to visit your great leader and, to many, the world’s greatest living Saint--Mahatma Gandhi--at Wardha. I spent three days there as a guest of the Mahatma’s. Needless to say these three days were not ever to be forgotten or paralleled in human experience. I could spend all the time allotted to me this evening relating our conversation--enough for me to say that neither of us convinced the other that we were wrong. Gandhi’s conclusions, however, were interesting and had already been given publicity. He said that India was then (in 1935) overpopulated--“it was this condition of overpopulation that enslaved her”--that four children should be the limit born to a couple--after that, separation or continence. I am not going into the birth and death rates of that period. The leaders of India are aware of a population problem and will doubtless attempt in every way to solve it.
Every one who thinks will realize that people must and should be fed. When too many people occupy the land and use up its resources faster than they can be replaced these problems begin--and often increase at a faster rate than the solution to solve them. This is the condition in many countries today and all the “ifs” and “buts” do not solve the immediate problem of feeding, clothing and sheltering the vast populations constantly increasing all over the world.
The vast essential problem of almost all nations today, including political problems, could be greatly alleviated by the national encouragement and practice of birth control. Nearly every country is overtaxed to pay for enormous armament. The cry for babies is the cry for armament, the cry for war. There is also the tremendous expense of care of defective mentalities and the army of delinquents. There is also the problem of poverty, of child labor, of unemployment, of crime and enormous maintenance of prisons, and asylums; the standards of public education with the demands of more and more from the tax-payer; demands to support charities, community chests, Red Cross, all of these mount year by year in nearly every country in the world. Everyone who has studied the advance of science and of technical progress is aware that machinery in all industrial pursuits can take the place of manpower, that more can be produced with less hours and fewer men, so that there is not the need of vast populations for industry as in former years.
As population increases in any given territory, it encroaches upon all natural resources--forests, grasslands, soil fertility, water levels and water sheds. The increasing population threatens not only the food, clothing and shelter of the present living people, but the living standards of the present population lower as naturally as the night follows the day. Cultural, educational, and scientific advances remain in the background or are relegated to the past.
Sir George Sansome in a recent B.B.C. broadcast said that he was alarmed by the magnitude of the problem of population throughout Japan and India where he had recently traveled. He said “The Japanese, the first in Asia to use modern technology for the increase of their resources, have not solved it. Their population has grown faster than the means for its support and their economic situation gives cause for anxiety.”
While it is right to extend all possible means of science to cultivate land as a means of food supply, it is also right to use intelligence and apply it to the individual family and its responsibility of adding numbers to the already overcrowded land. Family limitation is the intelligent approach to problems of housing, of marriage, of education, of medical care, of high taxes as Governments take over the philanthropic attitude toward people too poor to provide for themselves, and of the problem of War or Peace.
In World War Two, over 21 million young men were killed in battle; 15 to 20 million woman, children and old people killed in air raids; 30 million wounded, mutilated, or incapacitated for work; 45 million people evacuated, deported or interned; 30 million homes reduced to ashes; 150 million people left without shelter, prey to famine and disease. Up to 1946, the Second World War cost three times as much as the First. This money could have provided a $30,000 house, $12,000 worth of furniture and $6,000 cash present to every family in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, the Soviet Union and Belgium. In addition, every town of over 200,000 inhabitants could have been given a cash donation of $75,000,000 for libraries, $75,000,000 for schools, $75,000,000 for hospitals. These are the actual sordid facts of war.
We must break down prejudices against sterilization--we must enlighten and educate our people as to its harmlessness.
Abortions break down the health of the mother without preventing renewed pregnancy at an early date. Abortions are the very worst way to prevent increase in the population. Let us make an end to all this suffering, waste, enfeeblement and despair.
Anyone who has a free mind and the welfare of the nation at heart will recognize that one single principle should stand first and foremost in the solving of these problems, which is birth control. This subject concerns everyone of us in its more remote consequences it affects the life of every man, woman and child of the nation, as well as the future of the race.
The first object in population control is to achieve cultural progress rather than military advance.
Second--research institutions to be established by scientists classifying basic factors in eliminating harmful dysgenic births in the nation.
Third--co-operation in educating the population to consider the cultural qualities of offspring and efface the egotistic desire to perpetuate the self in offspring.
Basic principles of the planned parenthood movement will help to achieve these results, as follows:--1. Any adult having a transmissible or hereditary disease should not have children. Marriage may be contemplated, but only if the person submits willingly to sterilization as a safeguard against propagating offspring carrying such diseases. 2. Women afflicted with temporary diseases, where cure is retarded because of pregnancy, should practise contraception until cured. Tuberculosis, heart disease, kidney disease, goitre, and other ailments not transmissible, put a definite strain on a woman’s health when conception has taken place. 3. No more children when parents, though showing no affliction themselves, have given birth to offspring with mental and nervous disease---morons, cleft palate, Mongolian idiots. Somewhere in the heredity there is the cause of these conditions. 4. Spacing of children in a family where husband and wife are in good health should be from two to three years. If the family is planned for four children, the first two could be a year or 18 months apart. Then a spacing of two years before another pregnancy is contemplated. Two more children 18 months apart. Then a spacing of two years before another pregnancy is contemplated. Two more children 18 months apart bring both groups together with fair spacing, to consider the mother’s health, the father’s earning capacity, and the standards of living the parents are ambitious to maintain. 5. Early marriage can be helpful to young people with the postponement of parenthood. Twenty-two years is a good age for a woman to bear her first child. Children born of young mothers in the teen ages are more frequently neglected. Infant mortality is highest where mothers are under twenty-two years of age. 6. Economic conditions should be seriously considered. Certainly the father whose wage-earning power can properly feed, house and educate three, even four children, should not have eight, ten or twelve children. Records for delinquency of children in poor, large families fill the courts, jails and penitentiaries. 7. Parenthood should be considered a privilege, not a right. It should be considered an assignment, and those about to, or desiring to be parents should be examined physically and mentally as to their responsibility and knowledge of the care of infants. There should be compulsory education by the State for parents to be able to cope with problem children and the changes occurring yearly in childhood and puberty.
In voicing the above principles it is well to realize that responsibilities are twofold. First, the individual couple, who have the intelligence, insight and wisdom to plan the number of children desired who can be cared for, can be considered the cultural group in every country. Second, there is the responsibility of our officials in public health and social welfare. It should be their duty to the State, to the public and to our future civilization to see that those who do not have the individual initiative and intelligence to plan and control the size of their families should be assisted, guided, and directed in every way to eliminate the undesirable offspring, who usually contribute nothing to our civilization but use up the energy and resources of the world.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project