Margaret Sanger, "Abortion," 1920.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of CongressLibrary of Congress Microfilm, 129:179."
This is a pamphlet reprint of "Chapter 10--Contraceptives or Abortion?" from Woman and the New Race, pp. 118-29.
SOCIETY has not yet learned the significance of the age-long effort of the feminine spirit to free itself of the burden of excessive childbearing. It has been singularly blind to the real forces underlying the cause of infanticide, child abandonment and abortion. It has permitted the highest and most powerful thing in woman's nature to be hindered, diverted, repressed and confused. Society has permitted this inner urge of woman to be rendered violent by repression until it has expressed itself in cruel forms of family limitation, which this same society has promptly labeled "crimes" and sought to punish. It has gone on blindly forcing women into these "crimes," deaf alike to their entreaties and to the lessons of history.
As we have seen in the second chapter of this book, child abandonment and infanticide are by no means obsolete practices. As for abortion, it has not decreased but increased with the advance of civilization. The reader will recall that one authority says that there are 1,000,000 abortions in the United States every year, while another estimates double that number.
Most of the women of the middle and upper classes in America seem secure in their knowledge of contraceptives as a means of birth control. Under present conditions, when the laws in most states regard this knowledge, howsoever it be imparted, as illicit, and the federal statutes prohibit the sending of it through the mails, even the women in more fortunate circumstances sometimes have difficulty in getting scientific information. Nevertheless, so strong is their purpose that they do obtain it and use it, correctly or incorrectly.
The great majority of women, however, belong to the working class. Nearly all of these women will fall into one of two general groups-the ones who are having children against their will, and those who, to escape this evil, find refuge in abortion. Being given their choice by society-to continue to be overburdened mothers or to submit to a humiliating, repulsive, painful and too often gravely dangerous operation, those women in whom the feminine urge to freedom is strongest choose the abortionist. One group goes on bringing children to birth, hoping that they will be born dead or die. The women of the other group strive consciously by drastic means to protect themselves and the children already born.
"Our examinations," says Dr. Max Hirsch, an authority on the subject, "have informed us that the largest number of abortions (in the United States) are performed on married women. This fact brings us to the conclusion that contraceptive measures among the upper classes and the practice of abortion among the lower class, are the real means employed to regulate the number of offspring."
Thus a high percentage of women in comfortable circumstances escape over-breeding by the use of contraceptives. A similarly high percentage of women not in comfortable circumstances are forced to submit to forced maternity, because their only alternative at present is abortion. When accidental conception takes place, some women of both classes resort to abortion if they can obtain the services of an abortionist.
When society holds up its hands in horror at the "crime" of abortion, it forgets at whose door the first and principal responsibility for this practice rests. Does anyone imagine that a woman would submit to abortion if not denied the knowledge of scientific, effective contraceptives? Does anyone believe that physician and midwives who perform abortions go from door to door soliciting patronage? The abortionist could not continue his practice for twenty-four hours if it were not for the fact that women come desperately begging for such operations. He could not stay out of jail a day if women did not so generally approve of his services as to hold his identity an open but seldom-betrayed secret.
The question, then, is not whether family limitation should be practiced. It is being practiced; it has been practiced for ages and it will always be practiced. The question that society must answer is this: Shall family limitation be achieved through birth control or abortion? Shall normal, safe, effective contraceptives be employed, or shall we continue to force women to the abnormal, often dangerous surgical operation?
This question, too, the church, the state and the moralist must answer. The knowledge of contraceptive methods may yet for a time be denied to the woman of the working class, but those who are responsible for denying it to her, and she herself, should understand clearly the dangers to which she is exposed because of the laws which force her into the hands of the abortionist.
It needs no assertion of mine to call attention to the grim fact that the laws prohibiting the imparting of information concerning the preventing of conception are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year in this country and an untold amount of sickness and sorrow. The suffering and the death of these women is squarely upon the heads of the law-makers and the puritanical, masculine-minded persons who insist upon retaining the abominable legal restrictions.
"He who would combat abortion," says Dr. Hirsch, and at the same time combat contraceptive measures may be likened to the person who would fight contagious diseases and forbid disinfection. For contraceptive measures are important weapons in the fight against abortion.
"America has a law since 1873 which prohibits by criminal statute the distribution and regulation of contraceptive measures. It follows, therefore, that America stands at the head of all nations in the huge number of abortions."
There is the case in a nutshell. Family limitation will always be practiced as it is now being practiced-either by birth control or by abortion. We know that. The one means health and happiness-a stronger, better race. The other means disease, suffering, death.
The woman who goes to the abortionist's table is not a criminal but a martyr, a martyr to the bitter, unthinkable conditions brought about by the blindness of society at large. These conditions give her the choice between the surgeon's instruments and the sacrificing of what is highest and holiest in her-her aspiration to freedom, her desire to protect the children already hers. These conditions-not the woman-outface society with this question:
"Contraceptives or Abortion-which shall it be?"
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project