Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control," Sep 1936.
Source: " The Theosophist, Sept. 1936, pp. 507-510."
This is the second part of a published version of an address Sanger gave on January 8, 1936 to the Theosophical Society in Adyar, India. For the first part, see Birth Control, Aug. 1936.
"I believe this whole movement belongs to those who are helping the spiritual evolution of the race," says this protagonist of family limitation, concluding an address which she delivered to a post-Convention gathering at Adyar. In our August issue she discussed the balance of population and the question of health. Other factors follow:
THE question of morality is different because that is so individual. So much immorality depends on what is within us. I refuse to accept the dictum that morality or immorality comes from the outside. I think it begins from within, and I believe birth control, no matter how much information is available, is never the cause of immorality any more than an automobile is the cause of immorality, or good roads, trains, hotels, or anything in modern civilization that makes immorality possible. None of these factors are the cause of immorality. We have to realize that every good thing may be used and misused. Our obligation and responsibility is the teaching to our young people of the proper use of knowledge. That is our responsibility. I think I am willing to face the fact, and others must also face it, that if two people are going to be illicit and immoral, they have only the right to injure themselves. They will learn and become wiser through that experience. But they have no right, in my opinion, to bring an innocent child into the world through that relationship. The world is not ready for the illegitimate child. It is too hard. If two people want to be careless and reckless, if they lack consideration for the individual life, I would rather see them use means of birth control and prevent conception of the illegitimate child and take the responsibility on their own shoulders, but I still maintain they have not any right to injure a third person. Morality is a question of character, integrity, education; it is a question of adequate preparation for life. I think that if after two thousand years of Christianity, where the churches have had the platform and the means of educating, strengthening, informing--if after all this time the Christian Church will not trust men and women with knowledge, they had better give the job over to science and see if science cannot do it better--and perhaps it might.
I believe there are no real factors than can be maintained to say that birth control shall not be used. I believe it has come to us as an ultimate means of science to help to free us. With it goes responsibility, of course, but we must be ready for that.
The means that are used are many. The first that is advocated in many circles, especially certain religious schools, is continence. Mr. Gandhi and I had an interesting talk on this subject. He thinks that continence is the only means of birth control that has an enobling influence. He believes that the family should be regulated. He thinks it is outrageous that women have not had a chance to develop their souls, minds, and bodies. He is with me one hundred per cent except on the method to be applied.
When it came to this question of continence, I said, "Mr. Gandhi, can you possibly advocate continence to the masses? Do you think it can be generally applied to individuals, save perhaps those few who can sublimate their creative and vital energies. Of course, these forces can be sublimated in doing creative work, lifting you out and above the mundane things of life, but can you say that the average man and woman of family life can apply it?"
"Women must resist their husbands," said Mr. Gandhi.
What kind of a condition is that going to cause, especially in India where women are less equipped to go out and battle for their own living? Can you even suggest the advice to the women of India to resist their husbands and injure an arrangement which has for ages been co-operative and harmonious to both.
But is continence as a general method feasible? That is a very important question. I have seen continence as a very ennobling force in the lives of many, and I have seen it as a very destructive force in the lives of many others, people who were not sufficiently evolved to make that a method of life. I knew, for instance, a good husband and a loving father of four children, twenty-eight years old, a strong vital figure. He was told by the doctor that another pregnancy would cause his wife's death and that if it occurred, he could consider himself the murderer. This man was absolutely tormented, of course, and resolved that under no circumstances should there be any relationship between himself and his wife for the rest of their lives. He began to live an isolated life. Formerly he had come home at nght and helped put the babies to bed and then his wife had read to him or they had played cards together. Now he dashed out of the home as soon as he came in, fearing temptation, and began to pick up with an inferior type of associate, got himself arrested and into all sorts of trouble, all because he did not feel he had the strength to stay at home even when he might not have been tempted. Finally the little woman, who was very sensible, realizing that she was losing the love of her husband, tried to plead with him to be normal. Desperately he repulsed her. The social workers were called in. In a few days things were quieted down, and the woman was sent to a physician who advised her what to do; the doctor talked to her husband, and that little family is now happy, living a peaceful life under a means that is very much more conducive to health, happiness, and harmony than the attempt to practise continence under the existing circumstances. You cannot always apply continence safely to all individuals. It is a process of growth, character development, and sublimation.
The next method that is also being used and considered is that of the "safe" cycle. The Roman Catholic Church does not believe birth control is necessary. Like Mr. Gandhi we agree on principles--that something must be done to free women and give them an opportunity to be themselves and grow and take part in the affairs of the world as human beings. The Catholic Church has gone a little further than Mr. Gandhi. They delved into the process and they have fixed a definitely safe period in the monthly cycle where, they claim, conception does not occur. They advocate this method, in fact some books on this subject have ecclesiastical approval, and as much propaganda as the birth--as against control--authorities ever hoped for has been given to this means of the "safe" period. There is no doubt that if that is true, it might be a useful thing in the lives of thousands. In my estimation it is the wrong method to advocate. Even if there is a definitely safe period, that is the time nature has closed the door for reproductions and all relationships. It i sthe time when the sex wave is lowest, and not the time when it could be most prominent. But what else can be expected when men are making these rules for women? Scientists tell us that so far that method of safety has not been definitely established. We cannot advocate it without definite advice from someone who knows and can help the woman to work out her cycle.
Then sterilization of the feebleminded, of epileptics, of certain cases of insanity, or those with diseases that can be passed on to innocent children, is another method of control. If these people have not the moral responsibility to keep them from bringing children into the world, they certainly should be sterilized. There are twenty-four states in America that have sterilization laws for people with these ailments, especially with transmissible diseases. One does not need to be afraid of sterilization for it is not such a terrible thing as many imagine. So far as the man is concerned, it simply makes it impossible for the sperm cell to pass out of the body and it is reabsorbed into the system. It takes the physician ten to twelve minutes to operate and the man is not in any way incapacitated. With a woman a major operation is necessary. The sterilization of both--man or woman--by any means whether surgery, x-ray, or radium, should be under the control of the medical profession.
A further method of control is the temporary means, the chemical or mechanical means of contraception. These are again means that have been evolved through a great deal of research and study. We find that many simple means were used in earlier times. For example, the peasants of France have used simple means since the time of Napoleon to keep the family down. The means have evolved until now they come into the realm of science. Whether the means used are mechanical or chemical, we believe they are individual and should be individually applied, as eye glasses are applied to the individual needs of the eye. So do we wish to place the whole question of contraception in the hands of nurses and doctors who know the best method suitable for the individual's requirements. Wherever women come under medical care, that should be the place where they should have such information.
The largest number of women--87 per cent--have come to use for economic reasons, not that they had anything wrong, but simply believing that they could not afford to have another baby. The other women had mental, nervous, physical reasons why another pregnancy would have been disastrous. We have saved thousands of lives of women, say, who had cancer. Today these women are living to thank us. We feel that we are raising the standard for women and placing it in proper and qualified hands so that women may obtain the best advice suitable for themselves. It is a long story, and one could go on talking of the economic, social and spiritual aspects that have to be considered. We have found that the women who come to us with their needs, after they have the fear of pregnancy lifted out of their lives, begin to reconsider their relationships with their husbands-- a "pal" friendship develops and permeates the relationship between the man and the woman.
Then we find the relationship of parent and child changes, for the mother has more time to spend with her children. So the woman is ready for other things, to step up higher to whatever is in the process of her evolution. Until that time it is very difficult to get the woman or the man to look beyond the coming pregnancy.
I believe this whole movement belongs to those who are helping the spiritual evolution of the race. I believe birth control is the keynote of a social awakening and is interlocked with the spiritual advance of the woman and the race together. As we look over life we know how physical sight came to us in our evolution, and so do I believe that our spiritual sight will come as we move upwards and onwards into that current of life called self-consciousness, and become conscious of our acts and responsibilities. There is no greater responsibility than that of passing on the gift of life. Let us see that it is passed on in a body fit and perfect as an instrument in the service of the soul that we may summon to take its place in the mystery of natural being.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project