Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Legacy of Margaret Sanger

   Margaret Sanger (1883-1966) served as a public health nurse on the Lower East Side of New York City where she encountered poor families and became convinced that population control was the premier way to deal with the issue of poverty in the United States.
   In 1916, Mrs Sanger founded Planned Parenthood in New York City for the purpose, as described by Planned Parenthood, of providing reproductive information and assistance to men and women who might not otherwise be able to afford it. On the surface, this sounds rather benign; however, when one carefully examines the philosophy of the organization’s founder and reads her own words, the reader is left with a much different impression of Mrs Sanger.
   It is quite evident that Mrs Sanger was a major proponent of eugenics Eugenics, from the Greek words eu-genos (meaning “good birth”) is defined as:
the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, esp by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).1
   In 1921, Mrs Sanger stated, “Eugenics is… the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political, and social problems.”2 Her philosophy involved various avenues of implementation. A proponent of abortion, at a time when it was illegal, Sanger stated, “The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”3 She also proposed the belief that “birth control must ultimately lead to a cleaner race.”4 In regard to birth control she also stated:
As an advocate of birth control, I wish…to point out that the unbalance of the birth rate between the “fit” and “unfit” admitted the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between the two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation… On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.5
   Based upon her writings, it appears that she was also convinced that the poor should be sterilized as a way of preventing them from reproducing. Mrs Sanger stated, “Eugenics sterilization is an urgent need…We must prevent multiplication of this bad stock.”6
   If her comments appear to echo the teachings of Adolf Hitler, this should come as no surprise. While I am not proposing that Mrs Sanger was a Nazi, the fact remains that what she proposed was accepted as completely valid by the Third Reich. The Nazi belief that there were certain people who were not worthy of life was stated by Mrs Sanger in 1922 when she wrote:
“Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism... [Philanthropists] encourage the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant. We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all..."7
   A “dead weight of human waste” is how these children, who were made in the image and likeness of God, were seen by Mrs Sanger. There is no necessity to embellish Mrs Sanger’s comments since the very words she wrote give a clear and exact explanation of her philosophy. She went on to say, "The undeniably feeble-minded should, indeed, not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind."8
The interesting thing is that term “feeble minded” appears to have a rather fluid definition when used by Mrs Sanger. The traditional definition of feeble mindedness is one who has only a limited capacity to learn or understand. Does the fact that these people would not agree with her philosophy make them, by definition, feeble minded? Nowhere in the definition is there a listing for “a refusal to accept arrogance” as a criteria for feeble mindedness
   Not surprisingly, Mrs Sanger directly challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church and others who believe in the sanctity of human life
"The third group [of society] are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped."9
   Apparently having religious convictions qualifies one as “feeble minded” according to Mrs Sanger.
Recently U S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood. Mrs Clinton stated that she was “in awe” of Mrs Sanger and stated that Mrs Sanger’s “life and leadership was one of the most transformational in the entire history of the human race.” Given Mrs Sanger’s philosophy, the very same thing could easily be said of Adolf Hitler.
   Speaking on the floor of the U S House of Representatives, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) challenged the fact that Mrs Clinton visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe immediately before receiving the Margaret Sanger award. Appearing to St Juan Diego at Tepeyac, Mexico on December 12, 1531, as a pregnant woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is both the patroness of the Americas and of the pro-life movement.
   After briefly narrating the story of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Congressman Smith stated, “last Thursday, Hillary Clinton visited the shrine On Friday, she paid homage to Planned Parenthood and to Margaret Sanger. Margaret Sanger is the founder of Planned Parenthood. She was a self-described pro-abortionist eugenist and a racist who considered charity care for impoverished, disenfranchised women, including women of color, especially pregnant women to be ‘cruel’.”10
   The teachings of Margaret Sanger are not worthy of emulation. Eugenics is not an acceptable form of scientific research. However, this does not mean that it is not practiced. On Saturday, February 21, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI warned participants at a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life of the rise of a “new eugenics” which judges the worth of a person based upon his or her genetic makeup, as expressed in factors such as health and beauty. Statistics show that in many Western nations up to ninety-five (95) percent of unborn children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome are killed in their mother’s womb before birth. Recently it was announced that a screening technique is in development that may enable the diagnosis of autism in utero. Critics have said that such a test will inevitably lead to the eugenic abortion of children with autism.11 While some might argue that this would never happen, the fact remains that we see very few children with Down syndrome anymore. Some would like us to believe it is because modern science has found a cure for this syndrome; however, the fact is that these children are simply denied the right to live.
   The fact that prospective parents can actually pre-determine the eye color and other characteristics of their child prior to birth has a certain “Frankenstein-like” quality about it. The idea of in utero genetic screening is the logical conclusion when one follows the methodology of people like Margaret Sanger. Ideas truly do have consequences. Once again, it is the Catholic Church which is standing up and saying, “this is not acceptable. ” People like Pope Benedict XVI, Congressman Christopher Smith, and other need to be encouraged in their efforts to continue to stand up for the truth. The legacy of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood should be presented for what is it, a violation of the God given right to life of the most defenseless among us.

End Notes

1 Eugenics:  
2 Margaret Sanger "The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda " Birth Control Review, October 1921, p 5 
3 Margaret Sanger (editor), The Woman Rebel, Vol 1, No 1, Reprinted in Woman and the New Race (NY: Brentanos Publishers), 1922 
4 Margaret Sanger Woman, Morality, and Birth Control New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922 p 12 
5 Margaret Sanger "The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda " Birth Control Review, October 1921, p 5  
6 Margaret Sanger Birth Control Review, April 1933   
7 Margaret Sanger The Pivot of Civilization, 1922 Chapter on "The Cruelty of Charity," pp 116, 122, and 189 (Swarthmore College Library edition) 
8 Margaret Sanger, quoted in Charles Valenza "Was Margaret Sanger a Racist?" Family Planning Perspectives, January-February 1985, p 44  
9 Margaret Sanger Speech quoted in "Birth Control: What It Is, How It Works, What It Will Do" The Proceedings of the First American Birth Control Conference Held at the Hotel Plaza, New York City, November 11-12, 1921 Published by the Birth Control Review, Gothic Press, pp 172 and 174. 
11 Pope Warns of Proliferation of New Eugenics: (Posted 2/24/09, Accessed 4/13/09)   [Back]

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