Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control--Past, Present and Future," Aug 1921.

Source: " Birth Control Review Aug. 1921, pp. 19-20 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series, C16:0181."

This is the last in a three-series of same title. For preceding articles, see June 1921 and July 1921.


By Margaret Sanger

(Concluded from July Issue)

Opponents of Birth Control have often objected to this practice on the ground that it was injurious to the health of the woman who practices it, and that it often renders the woman sterile. This accusation is untrue. It grows out of the confusion between Birth Control and abortion. Repeatedly performed abortions, it has been proven, may have the most injurious effect on women and may render them sterile. Abortion is dangerous alike to the mother and the child. It is a practice that must be combated with all the weapons at our command. Abortions often produce inflammations and dangerous infections. Often they are unsuccessful, especially when an unfortunate woman attempts to induce them herself. The result is often a permanent injury to the child.

In order to combat this disgraceful custom of abortion, into which thousands of American women are forced by the cruelty and stupidity of our laws, nothing is more effective and hygienic than the alternative of Birth Control. As a great English authority on sex, Havelock Ellis, has pointed out, in order to do away with the need for abortion our main reliance must be placed on increased foresight in the determination of conception and increased knowledge of the means of preventing conception. In addition there must be awakened a great social valuation of mothers and children. There can be no doubt that in many charges of criminal abortion the real offense lies at the door of those who fail to exercise their social and professional duty in making known the more natural and hygienic methods of Birth Control, and who in their blind servility to the customs of the past are committing irreparable crimes against the future of the race.

Abortion is the great indictment against a civilization that tries to enslave motherhood. High infant mortality rates are the inevitable result and consequence of bringing too many children into the world. Add to these unfortunates the victims of the great racial diseases, tuberculosis, venereal disease, and all transmissible maladies of this type, and one gains a comprehension of the extent of dependents who are becoming an ever increasing burden upon society.

The present situation, in all countries of the world, and for all races, is of the utmost seriousness. While the better types in all countries are restricting their numbers in order to improve the quality of the humanity of the future, the undernourished, the diseased and the feebleminded are encouraged to reproduce and multiply their numbers by the political leaders and the untrained sentiments of society at large. In our blind worship of mere numbers, we are losing sight of the invaluable qualities of self-reliance, independence, and health, without which neither an individual, a nation nor a race can long survive in the world struggle. To meet this problem as a great scientist has recently pointed out, we need not more of the fit, but fewer of the unfit. It would be unbelievable, unless it were not a cruel fact of our American civilization, that syphilitics, consumptives, epileptics and semi-idiots are permitted to propagate their own curse, both what is called legitimately and illegitimately. Is it not time to protect ourselves and our children and our children's children? The propagation of the degenerate, the imbecile, the feeble-minded, should be prevented. We have no way of controlling the syphilitic and gonorrheic who pass their blights on to women, deteriorate her offspring, and commit an unpardonable crime against the human race. As a great scientist has said: "We have come to this; that half of us are obliged to watch, and nurse, and support the other half, most of whom should never have been born."

In the gloom which shrouds the future of civilized communities, the same great authority, William Bateson, points out, there is one factor which gives encouragement and hope: the decline in the birth rate. It is not the maximum number that we need but the optimum.

In the great problems of the future, in the programs of reconstruction and re-creation of human society, of what importance is the problem of Birth Control? My readers of the Orient may well ask this question. Our answer is definite: None of tHe problems of the future of humanity can be solved at all, I must assert with all the emphasis at my command, unless they are solved scientifically. Too long have we attempted to advance and better poor struggling humanity upon the basis of politics, of sentiment, or of religions. Each of these has dismally failed. You may act according to the most benign and humanitarian motives; you may even find these satisfactory in four cases out of five; but in the fifth case, you may destroy all the efforts you have accomplished in the other four. It is hard to believe that what you instinctively feel to be kind, is in the long run, cruel. Yet in our sentimental and religious praise of fecundity and fertility, we are encouraging the most dangerous and unfit elements in the community to spawn and reproduce themselves. We are learning that too many charities and philanthropies are not merely accomplishing nothing toward the prevents of the evils they attempt to palliate, but are actually the deep-seated causes of aggravation.

The Great War has taught us that the world is but one community. Just as in any city, the indigent and dependent classes must be supported by the self-reliant and prosperous, so we are gradually learning that the over-populated countries are a menace to the peace and security of the less densely settled ones. When overpopulated countries learn that there is neither strength nor cohesive force in mere numbers, but in the development of a strong and healthy self-sustaining population, a new direction will be given to national aims; and much will be done toward the elimination of waste and war. The strength and wealth of a country are to be sought, not in mere numbers, but in the number of self-reliant and independent men and women, who have physical, intellectual and productive value. Is there any more truly patriotic doctrine? Put into effect, the world over, Birth Control would make possible the growth and intensive development of happy nations. Without it, no League of Nations can ever eliminate contentions and war. Birth Control is the only true foundation of national strength and security.

The critics of Birth Control never tire of condemning this doctrine as negative, destructive, dysgenic, and conducive to "race suicide." Statistics prove the contrary. The population of Holland is increasing. The stature is increasing. It is likewise evident that Birth Control is, wherever practiced, correlated with personal hygiene and cleanliness, with individual responsibility and intelligence. It awakens a new interest in, and heightens the social and racial value of, fewer but better children. It decreases the infant mortality rate; it increases the survival rate. It is therefore a pivotal importance to the future of the world.

It shows us that the problem of human happiness is composed of three parts to be solved in this order and this order alone: good birth, good education, and good social and international organization. The efforts to solve one of the latter parts of this world problem are futile unless we begin with the basic and fundamental one. The struggle, the servitude, the wars between nations, between societies, between individuals, are the inevitable consequences of this widespread ignorance. Revolutions bring only changes of classes, spoliations of privileged persons for the benefit of newly privileged persons, without any lessening of the sum total of human suffering. The right to live, to work, to mutual aid, to self-expression, are all made impossible through this uncontrolled fertility of the unfit, made void and senseless. Birth Control points, to all peoples under the sun, the one and only way which can lead all nations to well-being, independence, and dignity,--to peace, justice and happiness.

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