Margaret Sanger, "Too Many People!," Sept 1957.

Source: " Together Sept. 1957, pp. 16-18 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:492."

Too Many People!


The world is exploding at the seams. Population growth is outracing our ability to produce more food and goods. From the Orient to South America, from Eastern Europe to the U.S., soaring birth rates are posing future problems potentially more dangerous than the H-bomb.

Just look at these facts:

By this time tomorrow, there will be at least 70,000 more people in the world than there are today. If the current birth rate had started the year Christ was born, there would be 1 million people in the world for every one now alive. In 3 1/2 years Red China’s population alone has shot up by 42 millions--more than the total population of New York, California, and Pennsylvania, the three most heavily populated U.S. states.

At present, demographers--scientists who devote their lives to studying population problems--estimate that there are 2.7 billion people in the world. By 1980, they expect this to soar to 4 billions; by the year 2000, to 5.5 billions. In theory, ways can be found to feed that many human beings -- on a scale of living like that of Red China or India’s masses. (For a close-up of what that means: an estimated 100 million Chinese have died of starvation in the last 100 years.) But few, if any, experts foresee any way in which 5.5 billion people, even half a century from now, can enjoy a standard of living remotely approaching that now enjoyed by this country.

What is the answer? Birth control or, to give it another name, planned parenthood.

This is going to be a bitter pill in Roman Catholic countries, where the official church still boils down to this: Abstinence, or the far-from-certain rhythm theory, are all that can be countenanced in the way of planning one’s family. On the other hand, The Methodist Church has officially endorsed planned parenthood. The 1956 edition of the Discipline of The Methodist Church contains a series of resolutions on the Christian family, adopted by the General Conference last year. Included is this highly important statement on planned parenthood:

"We believe that planned parenthood, practiced in the Christian conscience, may fulfill rather than violate the will of God."

Beliefs of this sort, put into intelligent practice the world over, hold the only promise of forestalling a world-wide explosion from population pressures. Have-not nations, with millions more mouths to feed each year, must spill over their borders in unending aggressions, searching for more and more food-producing areas--unless their sky-rocketing birth rates are pulled down. Eventually, the threat of starvation will hang over everyone unless the problem is faced squarely--right now.

Paradoxically, the root of the problem is man’s progress and advancing knowledge. We have cut infant mortality to a tiny fraction of its former toll. At the same time, we have extended the span of man’s years. And advancing prosperity has encouraged larger families. Add the three together and you get a population mushrooming more ominously than the cloud over any atom-bomb explosion.

Let’s take a look at what some of the hardest-pressed countries are doing under this threat:

Japan : In 1922 I was forbidden to discuss birth control from a lecture platform in Tokyo. Japan’s population then totaled 66 millions, was increasing at 800,000 a year. We all know now how the resulting pressures helped bring about aggression and war in the Pacific. Now, with defeat and the return of millions of Japanese from her conquered “overseas empire,” nearly 90 millions are crammed into a vastly shrunken area--and once-shunned planned parenthood is becoming a cornerstone of government policy.

In the past, infanticide provided a partial--and brutal--remedy to oversized Japanese families. Then, in 1948, the Japanese government took a big step forward by enacting the Eugenics Protection Law, which approves the “termination” of pregnancies whenever the mother’s health may be “seriously injured” because of “physical or economic conditions”--in other words, Japan has legalized abortions where families feel they can’t afford another child.

Latest official figures place the number of legal abortions at 1.7 millions a year, or about one for every live birth. How many clandestine abortions are performed is anybody’s guess. But the number is undoubtedly large. This is a tragic situation.

In recognition of this, the Japanese government is also encouraging dissemination of information on contraceptives, but has hardly made a beginning in this work. Until thousands more midwives can be trained to teach married couples the use of contraceptives, and until the government can bring the price of these materials within the reach of the poorest peasants, legalized abortion will have to be the mainstay in keeping the Japanese birth rate down. And, bad as it is, it is a big step upward from infanticide.

India: Indian scientists are proud that infant mortality has dropped from 215 per 1,000 live births in 1901 to 114 in 1956; that it is expected to fall to 35 by 1964. But they are worried because population is zooming at the rate of 5 millions a year, is heading for 512 millions by 1980. With the masses already living on a less-than-subsistence level, the outlook is far from happy.

At present, the Indian government’s Five Year Plan officially endorses contraception. Health-service centers, operating on an $8 millions budget, are spreading information on planned parenthood and supplying free contraceptives. The nation’s second Five Year Plan calls for setting up 2,100 maternal and child-health centers in rural areas and 2,300 birth-control clinics.

Indian leaders pull no punches in describing their predicament. As they see it, they face a grim choice: If they don’t check the runaway increase in population, each person will be eating 5 per cent less food each year than he did the year before. On the other hand, if fertility can be cut in half, by 1986 each person will be able to consume 50 per cent more than he can today, thanks to improved methods of agriculture and production. For India, it is literally the hour to choose between cutting the birthrate or facing starvation.

China: Red China’s official census in 1953 put its population at 583 millions, increasing at the rate of over 12 millions a year. At latest estimates, the total is 625 millions--half again as much as India. Peiping’s overlords realize, despite their mouthing of Communist propaganda, that no Five Year Plan or magical improvement in agriculture or industry is ever going to catch up with increases such as these.

Already the ruling hierarchy is practicing birth control. Families of most leaders are limited to an average of two children each, setting a theoretical example to the masses. But actually reaching the millions of rural peasants is a task of the first magnitude. Last year the minister of health ordered an all-out propaganda drive to win these families away from their age-old desire for “many sons” and into the field of planned parenthood. Officials claim China’s women are enthusiastically backing the campaign, but admit that China lacks the birth-control devices to meet even a fraction of anticipated demand.

Turning to the Western Hemisphere, we find that the Latin American countries are growing at an even faster rate than the Asiatic. However, because they have not yet been brought under the intense population pressure of the Oriental countries, and because most of these are Catholic nations, their situation is not being faced by their governments.

Except in Puerto Rico. Perhaps because of its close ties with the Protestant U.S. mainland, or because its population has already reached the explosion point, that island is turning to an unusual solution. Despite Catholic opposition, it is using sterilization to limit the size of families.

The operation is performed most often on women immediately after childbirth. Perfectly legal, it is done only when the woman, her husband, and their doctor agree.

Within the U.S. itself, population is growing all too fast. It has been estimated that by 1975 we may have 249 million people--although surveys show over 80 per cent of American white women of childbearing age practice birth control. Actually, planned parenthood is becoming more accepted all the time. Not too many years ago, advocates of birth control were thrown in jail. It was illegal for a doctor to give information on spacing children.

Now, however, planned parenthood has become an accepted part of our life. Information and devices are available in hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and public-health centers. New methods are being tested in leading laboratories; even the Rockefeller Foundation is donating liberally to this work.

Too, U.S. scientists report encouraging results in experiments with an oral contraceptive, taken by women 20 days each month. Years of further testing remain, but the search for a “birth-control pill” appears to be bearing fruit.

All these things make the picture appear bright. But there is a darker side. The size of families is increasing, population is soaring, too many people refuse to look at the handwriting on the wall. A recent national survey shows 36 per cent of all births were unplanned. Too, there still remain thousands of frightened, unknowing women to whom illegal abortion remains the only known way of controlling the family’s size.

It has been estimated that, in addition to the comparative handful of legal abortions, 2 million illegal operations are performed every year in this country, and that racketeers net $50 millions annually from these terrorized women. How many victims die? Some sources say well over 100 a week, and probably considerably more, since most of these deaths are listed under some other cause.

And did you know that nine out of every 10 abortions in the U.S. reportedly are performed on married women between 25 and 35, with three or more children?

That is the frightening picture of “enlightened” womankind in this country in this year of grace, 1957.

What, then, is the world-wide situation? Progress is being made -- but time is running out. Some countries, especially those pushed to the brink of starvation, are at last teaching their people the elements of planned parenthood. In others, such as the U.S., the picture is confused. Birth control once a forbidden subject, is widespread and an accepted pattern of married life for millions. But for many others there still remains only that last desperate step--the illegal abortion--if the size of the family is to be limited.

In all, 18 nations now are members of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, whose next meeting will be held in Washington in 1958. But over all, federation members or not, hangs the threat of a P (for Population) bomb explosion.

Most nations, preoccupied with the threat of atomic wars and mass destruction, are unable--or unwilling--to face the stark specter of starvation which, in varying degrees of nearness, is drawing in on all of them. Authorities agree that there is nothing in the teachings of most major religions to forbid the practice of having children when they are really wanted. There seems, therefore, to be but one humane solution to the problem. That is best summed up in those simple words, quoted earlier, of The Methodist Church in its 1956 Discipline:

“We believe that planned parenthood, practiced in Christian conscience, may fulfill rather than violate the will of God.”

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project