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Margaret Sanger, "Planned Parenthood: A Cultural Civilization Will Bring World Peace," 24 Oct 1955.

Source: " Fifth Report of the Proceedings of the International Conference on Planned Parenthood, (Tokyo, Japan, 1955), pp. 6-8 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:955."

This speech opened the Fifth International Conference on Planned Parenthood, held in Tokyo, Japan, on October 24-29, 1955. For earlier drafts, see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:940, S72:944, and S72:946. For another speech she gave at this meeting see Welcoming Address to the Fifth International Conference on Planned Parenthood, Oct. 24, 1955. Sanger also wrote the Foreword to the Proceedings of this conference.


Founder, Margaret Sanger Research Bureau, New York;
President, International Planned Parenthood Federation

May I express the warmth in my heart as I greet all of you, and as I return to the East. I first came to your lovely, green islands in 1922, thirty-three years ago. Then the question of population control as a necessity for world health and peace had no international forum and was fiercely beset by nationalist, expansionist aims. Now we are meeting for the Fifth International Conference with delegates from seventeen countries. It is surely significant that, in 1955, two great nations of the East--Japan and India--are the first countries of the world to place population control within the functions of the state.

I feel again in this East, as I felt it in the earlier years, a surge of concern for the individual human being, a determination to raise the dignity of mankind. There are grave hazards in man’s path to happiness, health and peace. He needs wise leadership to guide in these troubled, anxious times.

World crisis follows world crisis; great statesmen rush from one meeting to another across huge areas of the globe. National potentates make endless “friendly” visits. An incident in one remote outpost alerts half the world for action. Modern communication makes the world an agitated audience, swung now to hopeful optimism, alternating between hope and bitter resignation.

This conference is concerned with a basic world problem--population-control through planned parenthood. Malthus was correct, if premature, in his prophesy. His message was obscured by the great expansionist forces of the 19th century. The world is catching up with Malthus. Population pressures are enormous; they affect each country of the world economically and psychologically. The nature of this pressure is not commonly understood; the clash and tangle on a thousand fronts is often the result of action taken without previous definition of goals.

Our experts here today will tell you that during the last 300 years global population has shot from five hundred million to two billion five hundred million! Every twenty-four hours there are 100,000 more people on this planet. Western Europe now adds annually about three million people; the US adds about three million each year, and the Asian countries 10-20 million a year. Meanwhile, modern techniques cut the death-rate all over the world. Consider only that malaria control in Ceylon reduced the death-rate from 20.3 per thousand in 1946 to 12.6 in 1949--no similar birth control during the same period.

In 1952 the United Nations Bulletin of the FAO stated that in the immediate post-war period, the population of the world increased 12 to 14 per cent. In spite of our great technical progress, at least two-thirds of the world’s people at the present time cannot obtain enough calories to maintain normal standards of health and efficiency. Two-thirds of the world’s estimated 900 million children are underfed, while at the same time certain nations still call for more babies. It is estimated for the Asian countries that by 1956 the population will be 31 per cent greater than in the middle thirties, while food supply and agricultural output generally will be only 19 per cent greater. There is a demographic point of no return!

This great lag between the present population and the actual results of our best scientific skill to supply it is the basic great threat to the world--not the alarms, the ideologies, the conflicting national aims which meet the surface eye and ear. If birth-rates are not sensibly balanced with death-rates in the individual countries there can be no fundamental planning for the separate countries no at the global level. This is not being done in most countries: the means employed to meet our problems are largely palliative. Confusion, anxiety, stop-gap measures--and even starvation--are the results.

Was this population problem discussed during the recent meeting “at the summit”? Were these world leaders accompanied by demographic experts? Did such experts have equal weight with the foreign-policy expert, the historian, the domestic adviser? They did not, and it means--to get at the heart of it--that these leaders were really ducking the main issue, the basic issue inextricably bound to each of the problems discussed on the surface level.

Various agencies of the United Nations are concerned with aspects of this problem, and we must call upon them for greater help. In a sense, however, the UN is held in a great vice. Their reports and studies often give way to religious and nationalist traditions which constantly obscure fundamental facts of health, welfare and peace. They often state many of the facts, but they feel it impossible to equate them to the obvious solution, population control. Population control is necessary if the separate countries are to make firmly knit units within comprehensive global planning.

Thousands of good-will organizations in the world are giving lavishly of time and money. Which ones dare speak out boldly on the population problem? In all there is a great outpouring of generosity and kindly acts, but as Dr. William Vogt points out: “. . . token operations seem to salve our consciences. They have the very serious defect of making it possible for many people, even our leaders, to act as though they were coping with reality; in truth they are going through motions that conceal a rapidly declining position.”

The wide, wild swing of the pendulum between hope and fear that forms a pattern of world anxiety must be checked by simultaneous struggles in all fields of human relations. the greatest of these anxiety forces lies in population pressure. We must demonstrate this truth again and again, slowly, constantly, so the world will accept and recognize it. It is the prime purpose of this conference to sound and re-sound this threat to the peace of the world.

The Deputy Director-General of FAO Sir (Herbert Broadly) has written : “Where birth-rates continue to advance, as is the case in many countries--and not only in the underdeveloped countries--where death-rates and human mortality are being halved ... we cannot just sit back and let Nature take its course. If we do, Nature’s course will be a very desperate one. It is only through international action that wise solutions can be achieved.” Many of you have spoken bravely and eloquently on world forums--and will speak on this world forum."

Now I would like to turn to an aspect of the problem that is always, and increasingly dear to my heart--the individual, the single man or woman. The chanting chorus of his rising hopes and then his anxious despair is the cruellest sound in any land.

When there is a great fire, a serious accident, an epidemic, the local mobilization of human effort is an astonishing thing. The innate goodness, the concern, and the abilities of the human mind and body are put to immediate, positive use, to prevent this ever happening again.

Yet, each day there are born--in all countries--human defectives; mentally and physically lost children, children who cannot be loved or cared for. Such births bring no dramatic mobilization of the public resources. True, separate beings feel the grief of such, and we make colossal efforts to house, feed, and care for them in thousands of institutions--after they are born. Just as we resort to superficial action on a global scale, so level man engages in a maze of surface action: charity-calls, community-chest drives, and ever-increasing taxation. The fundamental problem is left untouched--namely, that the child should not have been born, knowingly born to congenitally diseased or unwilling parents. Each of these births unleashes a train of difficulties which are now faced only on a confused, surface level.

There is an enormous amount of common sense in the heart of men and women. We must trust this innate goodness; we must appeal to it in the simplest, clearest way. We must give more and more practical help to individuals or parents. The average parent responds to the human side of planned parenthood--a wanted child in a stable home. The individual can most easily see it in terms his own family: the health of the mother, the happiness of the household, the true harmonious growth of the family unit. He can be shown that such family units make a health nation; that public-health planning is a joint problem for him and for his society. We can help him break through many psychological barriers if we never lose sight of the heart of this separate man.

Dr. C.P. Blacker, speaking to the Third International Conference at Bombay, said: “There exists, I believe, and unassessably large matrix of goodness in the world which, though largely unnoticed and unrecorded, is yet responsible for the refinement of morals and the spread of human ideals. These forces, unlike the excursions and alarms which history records, but like the processes of physiological healing, are almost wholly silent. Yet they provide the essential motive power behind social progress.”

This paradox--and the gulf between the simple, known needs of man and woman and the general social confusion--is dramatic in each country. In the United States we boast of our five to six hundred planned parenthood clinics, of our studies of fertility and infertility. Yet, the sad fact remains that millions of mothers cannot come to our clinics nor do they have knowledge of our research projects. We must use other means to reach these families. Economists have said that half the world’s population is experiencing a “revolution of expectations”. Individual man is often submerged in areas where material progress hardly touches him--when he is close to hunger amid the plenty.

Perhaps it is the East which will resolve this paradox. Your ancient cultures are rooted in knowledge and achievement. This is clear even now during the turbulent movements of recent years when the triumphs of the industrial West have rolled across the ancient East. Japan and India have looked squarely at the population problem before them, and each has drawn the necessary conclusions. Planned parenthood has to be a part of national planning if there is to be any hope of a peaceful society. You have had the courage to act!

Reports of family planning activity come from all over the East to the offices of the IPPF: from Japan, Hong Kong, Formosa, Thailand, Malaya, the great movements in India, from Pakistan. The experiments of Dr. Yoshio Koya here in Japan, the work of countless others, is a tribute to your people and to your nation. In 1954 the Japanese birth-rate was below 20 per thousand and the death rate below 9--the lowest levels of fertility and mortality ever achieved by an Asian nation. Certainly the picture is clouded by the problem of abortion, but education and your intelligence will swing the balance to planned control before conception rather than the ancient destruction of the foetus.

Each country must work within its own natural framework; problems will be countless and pressing; the important thing is that you have the courage--and the wisdom--to act. Again, may I express the great warmth in my heart as I stand before you today. The work of this conference must go forward on many fronts. With basic goals defined, all these fronts must share the battle. If we never lose sight of the inarticulate masses the struggle will come out all right. This knowledge of--and communication with--the average man and woman is the real forward tide of history. Let us push it, let us guide it, and the glory will be world-wide.


Mrs. Sanger presented to the Family Planning Federation of Japan a statue, “Mother and Child,” made by Charles Golden, a well-known artist from Tucson, Arizona (Mrs. Sanger’s home-town), in appreciation of all the work which the Japanese Federation had put into the preparation of the Fifth International Conference on Planned Parenthood.

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project