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The Life and Crimes of Margaret Sanger Part V: Birth Control and Abortion

Posted by Matthew McCusker on 4 December 2012

Margaret Sanger's most concrete legacy is surely the International Planned Parenthood Federation which consists of 150 affiliated organisations working in 172 countries. Together they form the largest organisation in the world dedicated to the promotion of contraception and abortion.

Margaret Sanger's name is therefore inextricably associated with abortion, yet during her lifetime the practice was illegal in most American states and in almost every country in the world. It will be of interest then to consider Sanger's views on abortion and ask why the birth control organisations she led were to become the major abortion providers wherever abortion was legalised, and the major advocates for its legalisation in those nations where it was not.

Sanger was in favour of abortion from an early stage in her career despite her reluctantance to support it publicly. In her 1920 book Women and the New Race she claimed that throughout history societies have feared overpopulation and therefore practiced abortion and infanticide. Accordingly she argued that only the widespread availability of artificial birth control could bring an end to such 'horrors'. Sanger gives examples of women who have been 'forced' into abortion because they could not afford any more children. She used the natural abhorrence of abortion to try to overcome the equally natural abhorrence of contraception. If she was sincere in her profession that abortion was something to be regretted she was nonetheless prepared to support it. In her book Family Limitation she stated baldly that 'no one can doubt that there are times when an abortion is justifiable.' According to Angela Franks there is evidence that her Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau referred at least seventy-five women for abortions1. Indeed Sanger's criticisms of abortion seem to focus on the danger abortion procedures pose to the health of the mother rather than on the rights of the unborn child.

One of the major questions Sanger poses in Women and New Race is 'Contraceptives or Abortion - which shall it be?' Sanger's commitment to radical sexual liberation, which admits no possibility of sexual abstinence or self-restraint, combined with her conviction that overpopulation is the cause of poverty, renders her unable to accept the possibility of any other solutions to the problems that she raises. This refusal to acknowledge that rational human beings can exercise self-control in sexual matters is very prevalent today. Young people are taught to consider themselves as subject to uncontrollable desires which will result either in 'unwanted pregnancy' or sexually transmitted diseases unless they allow themselves to be subjected to a variety of contraceptive methods.  Modern sex education therefore strips from young people any sense of self-respect or true understanding of their sexuality.

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), has argued that we must either view abortion as a 'problem' or we must "allow people their moments of intimacy, we allow them to enjoy sex, and we allow them to make use of abortion as a back-up to contraception2." In other words, as no limit can reasonably be placed on the pursuit of sexual pleasure (because the right to such pleasure is so fundamental and the desire for it so overwhelming) it is permissible to destroy the 'unwanted' results of such actions, even though they be unique and innocent human beings.

If we have learnt anything in this series of posts about Margaret Sanger it is surely that the origins of abortion lie in an erroneous ideology of sexual liberation which separates sexual pleasure from the procreative and unitive ends of the sexual act. Once this isolation of pleasure has taken place then it becomes 'necessary' for birth control to be used to allow for the maximum pursuit of this pleasure. The failure of birth control to prevent all 'unwanted pregnancy' then renders abortion equally 'necessary'.  This is why the birth control movement was brought forth by the movement for 'sexual liberation' and why it has seamlessly developed into the abortion industry that we confront today.

Only by working tirelessly to restore a true understanding of human sexuality can the pro-life movement ensure that all human life will once more be loved, protected and welcomed.

You may be interested in reading the other posts in this series:

The Life and Crimes of Margaret Sanger: Part I

The Life and Crimes of Margaret Sanger II: From Marx to Malthus

The Life and Crimes of Margaret Sanger III: Eugenics and Birth Control

The Life and Crimes of Margaret Sanger IV: Eugenics and Race 

1. Angela Franks, Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility, p11
2. Ann Furedi, 'Why rising abortion rates are not a problem?', Spiked Online, (31/03/2008)

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