Margaret Sanger, "Meeting the Need Today," Oct 1919.
Source: " Birth Control Review, Oct. 1919, pp. 14-15 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S70:826."
It is indeed a strange task for me to seek for the medical profession a right which has neglected to claim for itself. None knows better than I, perhaps, the indifference, neglect and evasion which has so generally characterized the attitude of physicians toward Birth Control. Be its sins of omission and commission what they may, however, the fact that we are compelled to make use of the skill and the knowledge of the medical profession in order to meet a definite situation should not deter us from meeting that situation. I believe that our present problem of bringing relief now to hundreds of thousands of suffering women can be most effectively solved (so far as legislation can solve it) by the enactment of the so-called "doctors and nurses' bill."
What is the situation that we must meet today? Let us take stock of the human elements that we have to work with. First, we have the mass of men and women who are ignorant of their own bodies and especially of the physiology of their sex organs. We have also three closely related classes of people who do possess knowledge of the human body and of he physiology of sex -- the only classes of persons who have made a special study of the subject. They are the doctors, nurses and midwives. This constitutes our first big fact.
The second fact to be faced is that there exists in this state a law forbidding anyone, even doctors, nurses and midwives to give information concerning contraceptives to anyone. This law is now in existence, it is in operation at this hour and at this hour women are suffering and dying because of its tyrannous enforcement.
The third fact is that the only classes of persons who can bring effective help to the sufferers are restrained from doing so by the operation of the law, though the masses, who are ignorant of the physiology of sex, very generally disregard it. The only practical effect -- the real tragedy of the present law--is that it deprives us of knowledge and skill of the only persons who are capable of instructing the masses. So far as free speech is concerned it is impossible to deprive the individual woman of that right in regard to Birth Control. The state cannot put a policeman in every home. So, law or no law, women are giving to each other the scanty Birth Control information available under present conditions. But the trained persons, who are best qualified to impart scientific information, are silent. They will remain silent while the law is unchanged. If every woman's organs were exactly alike and if one method would meet the needs of every woman, the existence or change of the present law would make little difference. But every woman's organs are likely to be in a different condition according to the number of children she has borne, the kind of work she is doing, and the kind of care and medical skill she has had the benefit of. These conditions complicate and make necessary individual advice in Birth Control methods if the woman is to be assured protection against pregnancy.
WHERE SHALL WOMEN get this individual attention? Certainly they cannot get it from any other agency than a doctor, a nurse or a midwife. The majority of those who need Birth Control most, usually come into contact with a doctor or a nurse who is connected with some dispensary or other public agency. And while doctors in private practice may run the risk of violating the law, the doctor or nurse in public practice is not likely to invite attack of the prejudiced clericals who permeate all public and semi-public institutions.
We know of cases in which women suffering from tuberculosis, syphilis and other diseases in which pregnancy is a direct danger to her life are being refused contraceptive information at the dispensaries and hospitals at which they are under treatment. This is the real tragedy of the present law. The chief practical benefit to be derived from a change of the law is the opening of these institutions and others like them yet to be established, to the women who need Birth Control. The doctors and nurses bill will best accomplish that result.
This so-called "obscenity law" has never held the respect of many Birth Control advocates. The very genesis of the movement was the conscious, deliberate and public violation of this statute. The most important thing in the movement is not to change the law, but to relieve the suffering of overburdened women, law or no law. Meanwhile, however, it becomes desirable incidentally, to seek to change the statute, in order that the millions of women who depend upon dispensaries and similar institutions, may receive relief at capable hands. These, at least, can be helped now. They, at least, can regain health, obtain time for self-improvement, and be of use in the larger struggle from human freedom. This is our present task. The "doctors and nurses' bill" goes most effectively to this point.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project