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[13 Feb 1923]
[Testimony Before the Connecticut State Assembly Judiciary
Margaret Sanger Pleads for Bill Before Committee,
Bridgeport Telegram, Feb. 14, 1923, pp. 1 and
Bell, J. Mortimer
Darbie, Elbert L.
Murray, John Gregory
Butler, Ellen A.
birth control, opposition to
Connecticut, birth control in
Connecticut, birth control laws
birth control laws and legislation, state
birth control, history of
birth control, and natural law
parenthood, responsibilities of
mentally diseased or disabled, and birth control
Sanger, Margaret, biographical details
religion, and birth control
MARGARET SANGER PLEADS FOR BILL BEFORE COMMITTEE
The question as to whether or not Connecticut shall
legalize the practice of birth control provoked, at a hearing before the Judiciary committee of
the general assembly this afternoon, the keenest and most absorbing
debate and rough and tumble controversy that the present session has seen in
connection with any matter. The hearing on the proposed birth control bill
brought to the old Senate chamber,
where the Judiciary committee holds its sessions, a crowd estimated at 300
persons, which packed the seats on the floors, the galleries, and the interior
window spaces. Most of those present were women.
A discussion by Mrs. Margaret Sanger, introduced as "the champion for
birth control in the United States," on the one hand, and Bishop
John G. Murray, chancellor of
the Catholic diocese of
Connecticut, sometimes referred to among scholars as "the pride of
University," on the opposition, developed substantial arguments, which
were applauded at intervals by the entire assemblage.
The proposed birth control bill, introduced by Representative Samuel Sisiky, of Enfield, at the request of Attorney Henry F. Fletcher, of Enfield, who was the first speaker
in behalf of the bill, repeals sections of the general statutes, which prohibits
the use of drugs instruments or articles intended to prevent conception, and the
dissemination of literature intended to prevent conception.
Considered Too Drastic.
An informal pool of the Judiciary committee at the close of the hearing
indicated, it was learned by the Telegram
correspondent, a probable majority of the committee in favor of some revision of
the existing statutes, by which birth control information is forbidden, although
the bill sponsored by the American Birth Control League is likely to
be unfavorably reported on the ground that some of its provisions are too
Mrs. Sanger was introduced as the principal speaker in support of the
bill, after Mrs. Annie G. Porritt
of Hartford, Robert P. Butler, corporation counsel of Hartford, and Attorney
Henry F. Fletcher of Enfield, had spoken briefly in favor of the bill. Mrs.
Porritt also said she was authorized to introduce the names of Dr. Paul P. Swett, Dr. Henry F. Stoll, and Dr. T. Weston Chester, noted obstetricians of
Hartford, in favor of the measure. Dr. Stoll appeared later personally to
express his approval of modification of the statutes which would permit the
imparting of birth control information, but not to the point of legalizing
Mrs. Sanger Applauded.
When Mrs. Sanger was introduced, the chamber resounded with applause. She
said the question to be settled "is not, shall the use of birth control be
permitted, but what kind of birth control shall we use." The idea of
birth control has been used all through the history of mankind, she said.
"Nature uses the cruelest method of birth control, with pestilence, famine and
war, but we don't believe in those methods, nor in infanticide or the abandonment of
children. It is a disgrace to our civilization that we permit the enormous waste of
women's lives. What we want to do is to bring the subject out of the gutter, where
we have put it, to raise it to the plane of science."
Mrs. Sanger called attention to the numerous bills which had been heard
by the committee that afternoon, relating to the State's burden of child
welfare, and maintaining or protecting children "who ought never to have
been born. When we go on doing this, and do not correct the condition
that produces it, we are like the ostrich burying its head in the sand. We
don't look the facts in the face," Mrs. Sanger said.
"We are trying to build up the conscious responsibility of parenthood," she said, "to make people of whatever station in life, realize that it is
the greatest, the most sacred responsibility. When the parents are diseased or the
children are likely to be diseased, or mentally deficient, or the parents cannot
provide a living and an education, and the decencies of life, we ought to take care
of the problem at the start, and not just shiftlessly have large families, and then
have the burden of support fall on the state."
Representative Bell, of Salisbury, a member of the Judiciary committee,
questioned Mrs. Sanger, saying "This particular bill permits
the giving by any physician or registered nurse to any person applying to him or
her, of information to prevent conception. Do you favor giving this information
to woman, whether she be married or unmarried?"
"No one has ever asked except the married woman," Mrs. Sanger
replied. "We ought to be able to leave it to the discretion of the
physicians or nurses. If they can't use good judgment, they ought not to be allowed
to have their licenses. We are trying to help the married woman, the married
Representative Darbie asked
"Do you think the feeble-minded person would be likely to inquire for this
information?" "Yes," Mrs. Sanger answered, "we know of many cases of
women who come to us and say there is something wrong with them, or something wrong
with their husband, and they do not want a child if it is going to have 'something
"What progress has this legislation made in other states, and what has
been the trend of the movement?" Senate Chairman Arthur Ells asked. "The movement is very
young," Mrs. Sanger replied. "We are trying to get the repeal of
statutes in New York and Pennsylvania, and we are
concentrating our efforts on these three states. Ohio has no law
prohibiting the information, and some effective work is being done in that
Women Favor It.
A poll of those attending the hearing who were in favor of the bill was
asked by the committee, and about 40 persons, all women, raised their hands.
Bishop Murray, opposing the bill, said, "We would have
to convert the whole state of Connecticut into an enormous
insane asylum if there are to be found people in the state who are foolish
enough to make use of this legislation if it is made into law."
"The inference is made," Bishop Murray said, "that poverty tends to cause conditions which are unfavorable to the
race. The whole theory is fallacious. A law of nature governs the whole matter
of the birth state. Attempting to interfere has meant race suicide, wherever it
has been tried, and it would mean race suicide here."
"The statute now existing, preventing the use of any drug, article or
instrument, and preventing the spread of any information intending to prevent
conception, was adopted by this state in 1821, and was the result of the wisdom
and experience of those who established this state," the bishop said. "To do
otherwise is to pervert a God-given function. This
bill which these people now propose is contrary to the recognition of natural
laws which have been on the statute books for over 100 years, and recognition of
the laws has made this commonwealth, in my judgement, the most ideal in the
"This movement is essentially atheistic," Bishop
Murray remarked making his concluding points. Representative Smith, of Avon,
Francis E. Jones, president-elect
of the Connecticut Council of Catholic Men, Mrs. David Wilson, wife of the Hartford postmaster, Mrs. Otis Butler, who described herself
as "one of eight children and mtoher of five,"
Mary M. Curry, of Hartford, and the Rev.
G. Herbert Ekins, who
occupies a seat at the reporters' table in the House, spoke in oppositon to the
Mrs. Sanger challenged Bishop Murray's statement concerning the violating
of natural laws in practicing birth control. "Is there anything today
which is not a violation of natural laws?" she asked. "There are men
in this room, and the gentleman is one of them, who are clean-shaven. That is
against a law of nature. We are wearing clothes. We are walking upright instead of
on all fours. We are benefiting by medicine and surgery. All those are violations of
natural laws. It's absurd, sayign that this would be contrary to nature. It's the
control of nature that we want to accomplish."
At the close of her remarks, Mrs. Sanger said she was one of eleven
children and the mother of three, and had been a trained nurse, practicing in
New York city for fourteen years. She said
she spoke in the interest of thousands who were inarticulate, but who earnestly
besought the right that the bill proposes to give.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project