Margaret Sanger, "Why Birth Control is Needed," 27 June 1937.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Smith College Margaret Sanger Microfilm S71:0936."
Sanger used this speech as a short radio address, to be used in Tampa, FL and elsewhere. The suggested introduction reads, "Mrs. Margaret Sanger, who coined the term birth control and put this vital health movement on the map of the world will speak to you and tell why Birth Control is Needed.
Before telling you why I fervently believe birth control is needed not only in America but throughout the world, I want to make clear what the term really means. For this is a movement which has aroused both loyal support and unfortunate opposition. The latter comes, I feel, from a misunderstanding of what birth control can do to help mothers and children, and to make a better race.
Birth control is the conscious control of the birth rate by methods which temporarily prevent conception. Please note the words. Control: which has a positive as well as a negative meaning. Note the words: to prevent conception. a very different thing from destruction of life after it has begun. Birth Control must not be confused with abortion, for they are poles apart. And one of the major benefits of adequate birth control information and its practise is that it will save women from taking such dangerous and desparate a step.
When physicians and scientists discovered safe, reliable and easily learned ways of enabling parents to plan their families and space their children, a new day of hope dawned for women and for mankind. Up to that time mothers everywhere had been at the mercy of blind chance, they were forced through ignorance to go on bearing children whether they were physically and mentally fit or not. Unwanted children, overburdened parents, such is the toll of ignorance.
The story of man’s attempt to control population goes far back into ancient times, but modern scientific birth control as we know it today, is a discovery of the twentieth century.
Birth control is needed by every married couple in order that they may plan their families according to several basic conditions. First and foremost, the health of the mother, for no woman should bear a child while she is ill. In so doing she is unfair to herself and to her child. Second, no child should be born if either mother or father carry hereditary taint which can be transmitted to the next generation. And third, a family should be planned with due regard to the father’s earnings, so that all the children can be given a fair start in life and an adequate education.
These three conditions sound like simple common sense. Yet, despite the discoveries of science, thousands, no millions, of women in America today are still in ignorance and darkness. I wish you could read the records of any birth control clinic, or the letters which I receive from women pleading for help. Women broken in body and spirit by endless childbearing; women trying to bring up their families when the father is out of work, driven to distraction by fear of the coming of another baby; women with tuberculosis, heart trouble, other conditions which make pregnancy dangerous. And young, ambitious couples starting out in life who want to plan their families, space their children, and enter the career of parenthood voluntarily, masters--not victims--of their fate.
If you know of such mothers, such families, if you who are listening to me feel that you can be a better mother by learning about birth control, talk the matter over with your own family doctor. If that is not possible, and you cannot afford to go to some physician for advice, find out if there is a birth control clinic in your community. For in more than 350 cities and towns, clinics, often called motehrs health centers, have been started so that no mother need be deprived of this modern help because of the smallness of her income.
Here in America we have fought a winning fight against taboos and bigotry, against inertia and misunderstanding. Our laws have been stupid and muddled, so that no one knew what was legal and what was forbidden. All that is now happily changed. For in a test case, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals recently gave out a decision clarifying and interpreting the old Federal laws which had been so great a stumbling block to progress. The intention of these laws, so ruled the wise judges, was not to prevent the conscientious physician from giving contraceptive advice for the health or well being of his patients. Thus the law of the land now recognizes birth control, legally, as a necessary part of medical practice.
Further and significant progress was made when the American Medical Association, which represents organized medicine in this country, unanimously adopted the report of its Committee to Study Contraceptive Practices. This report recommended that birth control be taught in medical schools and that methods and materials be studied and reported on.
Thus the organized medical profession has taken a step to check harmful, unreliable “over-the-counter” methods, and to make clear that birth control, to be reliable, safe, and harmless, must be prescribed for the individual woman by a physician.
With medical and legal recognition, every hospital in the country, every health and welfare agency can include this life saving and truly humane service in its program.
Birth control will bring health and happiness to countless families. It will save the lives of thousands of mothers. In saving the lives of mothers it saves lives of infants as well. It will, through controlling overpopulation, bring about--if anything can--and promote, “Peace on earth, good will to men” over the entire face of the globe.
Closing announcement: You have been listening to Margaret Sanger, birth control leader, who has just told you what she feels this movement can do to bring happiness to women and children. If there is a clinic in your community, use it and support it; if not, help to start one. To do this is to take part in a work which is truly constructive. If you wish further information on how to do this, write to The Clinical Research Bureau, 17 West 16th Street, New York City. Remember the number, 17 West 16th Street, New York City.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project