Margaret Sanger, "Editorials," Oct 1925.
Source: "Birth Control Review, Oct. 1925, pp. 275-76."
In December, the American Birth Control League will go to Congress for the first time with a Birth Control Amendment to Section 211 of the Postal Law. The great work to be done in the Fall will be to put all candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives on record for or against the bill before the November election and to follow up those who are elected and enlist their active support even before they take their seats in Congress. For this we need all the help our members and sympathizers in all states can give us. If you want to help, write to the Secretary at the League headquarters, who will send you copies of the bill with questionnaire to candidates attached. If you want to help in another way you can send a check. A dollar will help, five will make you a member of our Congressional Committee and ten will bring you our blessings and a monthly report from Washington.
Do we still really care whether it is a girl or a boy? Do "families consider a boy an asset, a girl a liability?" It is hard to believe that great numbers of people still feel this way about the relative value of the sexes, and yet the reception given by the English press to Mrs. Montieth Erskine's book, "Sex at Choice," would seem to indicate that they do. We have not read Mrs. Erskine's book, it may or may not have any value as a contribution to a subject that is now much discussed in scientific circles. Mrs. Erskine alone so far claims that she knows the secret of creating male or female, but medical science has gone part of the way. It has reached the point of forecasting the sex of the unborn child.
Dr. Isaac Fried of the Jewish Maternity Hospital, New York, has according to the Medical Review of Reviews been able, by special blood test, to judge correctly the sex of many hundred children in utero. That science will soon go farther than this is the prediction of the English biologist Julian Huxley, who states in an interview in with the London Daily News that in fifty years the problem of sex determination will be solved. He adds however, that this may not be an unmixed blessing and "believes that the result may easily be chaos" unless the direction of this power is under scientific control. With sex determination Professor Huxley links Birth Control as a subject which scientific bodies should be taking seriously, and recommends that "the controlling of these two very powerful factors in human history" should be in the hands of a Medical Research Council.
With science thus set on taking these important matters out of the haphazard control of nature, it is interesting to know the latest figures on the proportions of the sexes. In the United States (census of 1920) it was 104 males to 100 females. A compilation for Europe by Dr. Maurel has been given recently in the Bulletin de L'Academie de Medecine (Paris). It shows that most European countries since 1865 show an excess of boy babies. In France the latest figure is about 102 boys to 100 girls, in some other countries the excess is greater. Maurel believes that the age of parents, especially of the father, has some influence, since figures from Norway show that the younger the father the greater the proportion of boys.
At the opening of the Sixth Assembly of the League of Nations on September 7th, Paul Painleve, the French Premier, who delivered the opening address apologized, according to press reports, "because greater effort for peace had not been put forth" by the League. The way to help the peace movement in a fundamental way is still open. It is two years since France tried to have information about contraception read into the obscenity laws of the nations which are members of the League. The effort was defeated, mainly it is believed by the efforts of England, and since then England has gone far toward government support of Birth Control. So we may hope that she will soon be added to Holland as an active supporter of Birth Control in the League.
The Roman Catholic opposition in England, forced to try to meet in other ways some of the problems demanding Birth Control for their solution, has presented a program for the relief of overpopulation. The program, framed by Father Deegan of Leicester is given in our news from England. With the exception of one item it is based from beginning to end on self control.
This mirage of relief for their miseries--this program based on emotional starvation--is all the greatest of the Christian churches has to offer its children as the alternative for Birth Control. The self control which would limit a marriage to a reasonable family of, say, three children means that many years of married life must be passed in absolute celibacy.
This church, of any institution in the world, ought to know that such self control is a mirage. For more than fifteen hundred years the Roman Catholic Church has been trying to enforce celibacy not upon the rank and file, but upon a picked body of the holiest men in its membership. Its experience is told in one of the great source books of medieval history, Henry C. Lea's "History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Middle Ages."
The struggle began in the fourth century when the Church irrevocably committed itself to an unmarried priesthood. An immediate result was the institution of the Agapetae, a body of young women in platonic relations with the monks and secular priests. The Agapetae, it is hardly necessary to state, soon lost its platonic character and became one of the most scandalous institutions of the early middle ages. Nor was this the only scandal that followed in the tram of sacerdotal celibacy.
The general situation in his lifetime is described by St. Augustine, himself one of those by whose efforts sacerdotal celibacy was opposed. He found everywhere "ecclesiastics surrounded by young female slaves and leading an existence which differed from matrimony only in the absence of marriage ceremony." Like reports of conditions are given century after century. A stream of laws, punishments and supervisory visits by church authorities prove at once, says Mr. Lea, "the hopelessness of the attempt and the incurable nature of the disorders of which the church was at once the cause and the victim."
In the ninth century after long continued and vigorous "cleanups," the Council at Aix found that the convents were often brothels and that in the monasteries the denial of appropriate and healthful affection led to fearful and unnatural crimes.
By the tenth century the decenter parish clergy, disgusted with the prevailing sacerdotal looseness, began to take wives, sometimes, if they could find like-minded priests to perform it, with the religious ceremony, sometimes as concubines, but even in these cases in a permanent and honorable union. Sometimes all the priests in a diocese were married. In one case where a higher church dignitary protested they replied that "marriage was necessary to protect the church against the most hideous vices." In certain Spanish provinces indeed, for this very reason the parishioners compelled their parish priests to marry. Whether broken by immorality or marriage, the law was always, with whatever penalties it was enforced throughout the centuries, a dead letter with a large body of the clergy. The fight for sacerdotal celibacy was never fought to a successful conclusion.
Today the priesthood is a smaller class relatively to the whole population, it can perhaps be recruited from that small group who have a vocation for asceticism. In the Middle Ages not ascetics alone, but all peace-loving men and women sought refuge in the religious life. Of such as these is the worldly man and woman of today and with such evidence as this of the impracticability of enforcing celibacy, or such self control in marriage as amounts to celibacy on the rank and file, we can only agree with Athenagoras, one of the early fathers of the Church who opposed the inauguration of the practice, that "that law is not from God which enjoins upon us practices contrary to our nature."
Mr. Lea's study has a moral not only for Roman Catholics, but for all those who believe that sex and population problems can be solved by the magic formula Self-control.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project