Margaret Sanger, "All-India Women's Conference Address," 31 Dec 1935.
Source: " Birth-Control: Women's Conference Debate: Need for Rural Reconstruction, The Hindu, Dec 31 1935."
The question of imparting instruction in methods of birth-control through recognised clinics evoked considerable discussion at this morning's session of the All-India Women's Conference.
The resolution (which as already reported was passed by a majority) reiterated the conference's previous resolutions supporting the necessity for instruction in methods of birth-control through recognised clinics and called upon all constituencies for the conference to make special efforts to induce municipalities and other organizations for maternity and child welfare to open centres to impart such knowledge to those who were in need of it.
The resolution was moved by Mrs. Anna Chandy (Travancore). She said that the Travancore constituency had passed a resolution that clinics were undesirable as very little was known about clinics. All were agreed as to the necessity for control of births and there was difference of opinion regarding the means. Mr. Gandhi and other religious leaders advocated continence, but many felt that this was impossible for ordinary people. She discussed the opposition view and stated that clinics could refuse information to unmarried women if it was thought that it would spread immorality among unmarried women. Travancoreans had more confidence in the morality of their unmarried women and in the larger interests of the nation, benefits of the system must be availed of. It was not as harmful as yearly births.
Mrs. S.N. Ray (Bengal), seconding the resolution, stressed the fact that the question was not whether to impart this knowledge or not as it was being diffused widely through newspapers and advertisements, but it was to decide whether scientific knowledge was to be imparted or to allow harmful results on account of ignorance of methods. Birth-spacing was not birth-prevention.
Miss D. H. Watts (Travancore) opposing, said India was on the threshold of new life and to start extreme measures would be harmful to the country and the State. The Conference was nine years old and had plenty of work to do. The stability and existence of the Conference should not be risked by extreme steps. None was against the word "birth-control." But they were opposed to the word as it was used at present. Brahmins of ancient India had small families, but they did not use artificial means. If they system was good, why was there so much propaganda? Spiritual strength was acquired by self-control and not indulgence. National discipline was impossible with self-indulgence.
Mrs. Lakshmi N. Menon (Lucknow) answered the objections raised by Miss Watts and said that there was no hope of improving the lives of people if the population was not limited. Control did not mean prevention. Continence was impossible for the masses. All good causes needed propaganda. They wanted a healthy race which can provide for its children.
Miss Rosemeyer (Travancore), opposing, said that contraception was used as a method to escape control. President Roosevelthad called it racial suicide.
Dr. Sukthankar (Bombay) said that the resolution was innocent and it wanted only centres opened for those who needed it. The Bombay Municipalityhad failed to pass a resolution for the establishment of clinics. But men were responsible for this and women suffered. She pleaded for a rationalistic consideration of the matter.
Mrs. Damodaran (Madras) said she would go even as far as to say that even unmarried girls adopted these methods, they were better than the methods at present in use.
Children were god's gifts and how could they be properly received if they were born every year?
Mrs. Kutten Nair (Cochin), supporting the motion, emphasised that birth control was next to self-control. Was it morality to bring for weaklings? Religious leaders must have courage to protest against Mussoliniwho wanted large families as fodder for cannons and not against a method of saving mothers.
Miss Mistri (Bombay) pleaded for moderation and said that medical opinion was in favour of giving advice to those in real need on medical grounds.
Miss Owerkirk, opposing, quoted statistics to show that the rate of increase of population was 19 per cent while the rate of increase of agricultural productivity was 29 per cent and industrial productivity was 189 per cent. So there was no ground to show that population outstripped production. The danger was suicide of the race and birth control was not accepted by the whole of the civilised world. She pleased for adopting Indian methods.
Mrs. P. Thanu Pillai (Travancore) opined that it would lead to immorality.
Mrs. Kale (Nagpur) quoting Sir M. Viswesvarayya pleaded for birth control.
Dr. Ratnamma Isaac (Mysore) narrated her experience of clinics in Bangaloreand said information was given to all who came into maternity wards.
Miss Gomez (Travancore) disapproved of birth control.
Mrs. Cheriyan (Travancore) wanted that the standard of life of the masses should be raised.
Mrs. Sanger congratulated the conference on the atmosphere of the discussion. She would ask how many children the opposers had. Most of them had none. She was the mother of three and one of eleven children and trained nurse and had worked for 21 years for birth control.
Mrs. Sanger observed that those who opposed the resolution mostly represented the Christian religion and brought forward the argument of immorality. Christianity had been in existence for over two thousand years and had almost complete power in the world. If after all that, they could not trust women with knowledge, then that teaching had failed.
In one clinic with over 50,000 attending, less than one per cent were unmarried. It was quite possible to check those who came to clinics.
Continuing, she observed that in India the population had increased faster than in any other country. Where there was widespread misery and lack of food, there was overpopulation. To prevent the infant mortality, three factors had to be considered, namely, father's wages, spacing of family and the place of the child in the family. In India out of first-born children, 22 per cent died, of the fourth-born, 23 per cent, of the seventh-born 33 per cent, the tenth 41.3 per cent, of the eleventh 51.4 per cent, and of the twelfth 59.7 per cent. The birth and death rates were highest in India. While the average longevity was increasing in European countries, it was decreasing in India.
Proceeding Mrs. Sanger pointed out that birth-control had reduced infant and maternal mortality and that continence could not be imposed on those who were not ready for it. She read the following quotation from a book published with the approval of the Roman Catholic Church.
"First of all, we have the right to expect that married lives of many couples will be vastly enriched with values, physical, psychic, and moral, of married life as it was intended by the Creator. Burdens that test human endurance to the utmost limit and to which all too many succumb will be lightened. I speak of burdens of poverty, inadequate income, of unemployment which makes it impossible for parents to give their children and themselves food, clothing, housing, education and recreation which they are entitled to as children of God. I speak of psychological burdens, burdens of depleted physical energy and exhausted vitality, resulting from previous birth or miscarriage, burden of adverse conditions of the heart, kidneys or other organs and other conditions that threaten the life of the mother in case of pregnancy. I refer to psychic burdens of uncontrollable fear, anxiety and irritability, of rebellion against God and His Church for seeming to make demands beyond human nature and beyond human powers to endure."
The name of the book was "Rhythm babies when parents are ready" by Leo J. Latz.
The resolution was put to vote and carried by 82 to 25 votes. The conference then adjourned.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project