Roe v. Wade: Here Today, Maybe Gone Tomorrow — Part II

Yesterday in Part I we began the discussion about abortion in America. But what we have yet to discuss is who the players were in establishing abortion in the U.S. and its current perspectives among Americans. Margaret Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood that is the purveyor of most of the abortions performed in America today. The organization has come under scrutiny the past few years as members of its clinic management have been caught on tape discussing disposal of aborted fetuses.

But let’s not go down that road in this discussion. Let’s first get a glimpse of who Margaret Sanger really was.

The Founder

If you conduct an internet search titled “Margaret Sanger,” many stories pop up. One of the first is her published biography from biography.com. The biography of Sanger from that site appears below. It’s important to remember this version as we move forward:

Born Margaret Higgins on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York, Margaret Sanger was one of 11 children born into a Roman Catholic working-class Irish American family. Her mother, Anne, had several miscarriages, and Margaret believed that all of these pregnancies took a toll on her mother’s health and contributed to her early death at the age of 40 (some reports say 50). The family lived in poverty as her father, Michael, an Irish stonemason, preferred to drink and talk politics than earn a steady wage.

Seeking a better life, Sanger attended Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896. She went on to study nursing at White Plains Hospital four years later. In 1902, she married William Sanger, an architect. The couple eventually had three children together.

Sanger started her campaign to educate women about sex in 1912 by writing a newspaper column called “What Every Girl Should Know.” She also worked as a nurse on the Lower East Side, at the time a predominantly poor immigrant neighborhood. Through her work, Sanger treated a number of women who had undergone back-alley abortions or tried to self-terminate their pregnancies. Sanger objected to the unnecessary suffering endured by these women, and she fought to make birth control information and contraceptives available. She also began dreaming of a “magic pill” to be used to control pregnancy. “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother,” Sanger said.

Rather than face a possible five-year jail sentence, Sanger fled to England. While there, she worked in the women’s movement and researched other forms of birth control, including diaphragms, which she later smuggled back into the United States. She had separated from her husband by this time, and the two later divorced. Embracing the idea of free love, Sanger had affairs with psychologist Havelock Ellis and writer H. G. Wells.

Sanger returned to the United States in October 1915, after charges against her had been dropped. She began touring to promote birth control, a term that she coined. In 1916, she opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. Sanger and her staff, including her sister Ethel, were arrested during a raid of the Brooklyn clinic nine days after it opened. They were charged with providing information on contraception and fitting women for diaphragms. Sanger and her sister spent 30 days in jail for breaking the Comstock law. Later appealing her conviction, she scored a victory for the birth control movement. The court wouldn’t overturn the earlier verdict, but it made an exception in the existing law to allow doctors to prescribe contraception to their female patients for medical reasons. Around this time, Sanger also published her first issue of The Birth Control Review. In 1921, Sanger established the American Birth Control League, a precursor to today’s Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She served as its president until 1928. In 1923, while with the league, she opened the first legal birth control clinic in the United States. The clinic was named the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. Also around this time, Sanger married for her second husband, oil businessman J. Noah H. Slee. He provided much of the funding for her efforts for social reform. Wanting to advance her cause through legal channels, Sanger started the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control in 1929. The committee sought to make it legal for doctors to freely distribute birth control. One legal hurdle was overcome in 1936 when the U.S. Court of Appeals allowed for birth control devices and related materials to be imported into the country.For all of her advocacy work, Sanger was not without controversy. She has been criticized for her association with eugenics, a branch of science that seeks to improve the human species through selective mating. As grandson Alexander Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council, explained, “She believed that women wanted their children to be free of poverty and disease, that women were natural eugenicists, and that birth control, which could limit the number of children and improve their quality of life, was the panacea to accomplish this.” Still, Sanger held some views that were common at the time, but now seem abhorrent, including support of sterilization for the mentally ill and mentally impaired. Despite her controversial comments, Sanger focused her work on one basic principle: “Every child should be a wanted child.”
That biography of Sanger seems fairly benign — especially in light of much of what we have “heard” about Sanger through the years as detailed by Pro-Life advocates. There are other accounts of Sanger’s history that contradict much of what you just read. Here’s a version that throughout includes quotes from Sanger herself:

(Anne Barbeau Gardiner) In her works Woman and the New Race, Pivot of Civilization, and My Fight for Birth Control, Margaret Sanger offers a range of justifications for killing “unwanted children.” This is no surprise considering how she reacts when she witnesses an act of violence against an infant: “I saw a sickly baby in the arms of a terrified woman whose drunken husband had thrown the wailing, naked infant into the snow,” she recounts, and “I remember having keen sympathy with that man!” His wife had given birth to eleven children, six of them living, and the last “evidently had eczema” and “whined night and day,” so the situation was just “too much” for the father, and “out of the door into the snow the nuisance went!” The justification Sanger offers is purely subjective: “desperate for want of sleep and quiet,” the father’s “nerves overcame him.”

Infanticide is simply ridding oneself of an intolerable “nuisance.” This passage demonstrates Sanger’s pitiless view of nascent life and shows how fitting it is that she should be the founder of Planned Parenthood, today the chief purveyor of abortions in the United States. In another place she remarks, “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” She is remembered for her fight to legalize birth control, but a close reading of Sanger’s work shows that she saw birth control, abortion, and infanticide as differing only in degree, not in kind. They were points on the same continuum.

Sanger tells of a recurring nightmare of hers: she dreamed that “mechanical, automaton-like crowds were walking, walking, walking, always in the opposite direction” to her and crowding her to the curb, and then suddenly these people turned into “mice; they even smelt like mice.” The dream reveals her sense of superiority to the masses, who turn out to be vermin. When she sets up the Clinical Research Bureau in Brooklyn, she observes pointedly that she will be using people instead of mice: it will be “a nucleus for research, a laboratory, as it were, dealing with human beings instead of with white mice.”  She refers to the Chinese as breeding “with the rapidity and irresponsibility of flies” and compares most American women to cattle, asking if “any modern stockbreeder” would “permit the deterioration of his livestock” as Americans permit and even “encourage” the deterioration of their race by misguided charities.

In 1871, Darwin tried to show, in his Descent of Man, that humans did not differ fundamentally from beasts and that human morality had evolved from the social instincts of brutes. Between 1871 and 1930, a Darwinist worldview arose in Europe, according to which humans should be bred like animals for the sake of evolutionary progress, and “the destruction of the less well-endowed” be encouraged to “win space for the expansion” of superior stock. This was Margaret Sanger’s worldview; witness her frequent use of the word unfit for those she thought should be sterilized, aborted, or left to die.

In her campaign for birth control, Sanger spoke of “the evolution of birth control from infanticide, through abortion, to modern methods of scientific and harmless prevention.” But since birth control was supposed to replace infanticide and abortion in her scheme, it had to be foolproof. She tells us that women around 1920 were constantly asking her, regarding birth control, “Is it certain? Will it prevent absolutely?” “Yes,” she would answer, “there are sure methods, and the doubts raised about the certainty of contraceptives come from uninformed doctors and neighbors.”
Although the law, she added, forbade her to name the failsafe methods, she could say that they had “stood the test of certainty” in Holland, France, England, and even among the wealthy in the United States; witness their falling birthrates in the past quarter-century.
After giving such unqualified assurances to women during the 1920s, Sanger flatly contradicts herself in My Fight for Birth Control in 1931. Now she admits that the “need for reliable methods has been far greater and more extended than the ability on the part of the medical profession or science to supply them” and that “biologists and biochemists are now at work perfecting the science of contraception.”  So birth control offers no absolute “certainty” after all. So what happens when contraceptives fail and women are faced–to use Sanger’s term–with “involuntary motherhood?” She explains that “nearly all” working-class women fall into two groups in such a crisis: the first group will “find refuge in abortion,” while the second will be “hopelessly” resigned. The better choice, she declares, is abortion, for those “in whom the feminine urge to freedom is strongest choose the abortionist,” while the others bring children to birth “hoping that they will be born dead or die.” Thus, according to Sanger, nearly all working-class women wish their unborn children dead, but only some of them act on that wish. She approves heartily of those who choose abortion because she says they follow an irresistible “urge” to guard their liberty: women are driven to defy “church and state,” she exclaims, by “the strongest force” in their nature, by an “absolute, elemental, inner urge” of the “feminine spirit.”
That seems to be a bit different from the bio above taken from biography.com. But there are many other versions of Sanger’s life including this from Stella Morabito, a well-known senior contributor at The Federalist. In the first sentence of this article, Morabito uses the word “eugenicist” describing Sanger. To better understand Sanger and her prespective on this topic, here’s the definition of Eugenics: the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially 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).”

 

(Stella Morabito) The passionate eugenicist (Sanger) wished to rid America of its “idiots” and “imbeciles” and “morons” as part of her crowning vision for “race improvement.” The Planned Parenthood matron lamented America’s “race of degenerates.” The nation’s landscape needed to be purged of its “human weeds” and “the dead weight of human waste.” Sanger shared the view of humanity held by another Supreme Court progressive icon, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who declared that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Margaret Sanger maintained that “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” Progressives today dare not speak of Sanger’s May 1926 speech to a rally of the women’s branch of the KKK in Silverlake, New Jersey, or of her work on the “Negro Project,” or of her December 10, 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, stating (in a statement disputed by liberals): “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”
America, according to Planned Parenthood’s founder, must limit these lamentable populations, and she was willing to take big steps to make that happen, including a special kind of segregation. In her 1922 book, The Pivot of Civilization, Sanger urged that “every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives.” But even then, this surely wasn’t enough: “Segregation carried out for one or two generations would give us only partial control of the problem.” What to do then? Well, if a nudge wouldn’t work, then coercion would: “we prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded.”
These “defective delinquents” were a “menace.” America needed to “become fully cognizant of the burden of the imbecile upon the whole human race.” Funds should be made available, she counseled in 1922, “by hundreds of millions of dollars, to the care and segregation of men, women, and children who never should have been born.”

How grand it would be if Uncle Sam could fund the means to limit the reproduction of these unsavory populations. After Sanger’s death, her legacy lived on in Planned Parenthood.

Fast forward to the 1990s, the era of the Clintons. In 1992, Ron Weddington, one of the abortion attorneys in the Roe v. Wade decision, fired off a letter to Bill Clinton urging sharper measures to limit the birth of America’s defectives: “You can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy and poor segment of our country,” wrote Weddington. “The problem is that their numbers are not only replaced but increased by the birth of millions of babies to people who can’t afford to have babies.” For an example of responsible reproduction, Ron Weddington pointed to Bill and Hillary. He told the president-elect: “You and Hillary are a perfect example. Could either of you have gone to law school and achieved anything close to what you have if you had three or four more children before you were 20? No! You waited until you were established in your 30s to have one child. That is what sensible people do.…”

“It’s time to officially recognize that people are going to have sex and what we need to do as a nation is prevent as much disease and as many poor babies as possible. Condoms alone won’t do it. Depo-Provera, Norplant and the new birth control injection being developed in India are not a complete answer…. Even if we make birth control as ubiquitous as sneakers and junk food, there will still be unplanned pregnancies. Thus, the ongoing need for abortion — lots and lots of it — to reduce the undesirables.” Weddington personally had done his part, boasting to Clinton: “I was co-counsel in Roe v. Wade, [and] have sired zero children and one fetus, the abortion of which was recently recounted by my ex-wife in her book.… I had a vasectomy in 1969 and have never had one moment of regret.” Ron and his wife, Sarah, divorced, bequeathing their gift to the world: zero-population growth (and one aborted baby) from their marriage. Ron must have felt slighted when Planned Parenthood feted his wife (but not him) with its highest honor, its coveted Sanger Award — a grace also bestowed on Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
And most of all, Weddington must have been thrilled when Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the high court the next year. Ruth seemed to be channeling Ron as well as the ghost of Maggie Sanger when she preached the no-population-growth gospel to the New York Times in July 2009: “we don’t want too many of them types.”

Summary

What we see in today’s story is the drastic differences in the related history of Margaret Sanger: total difference analysis by these different historian writers. Why is that?

I’m not going to answer that question today. What we ARE going to do is prepare you for “Roe v. Wade: Here Today, Maybe Gone Tomorrow — Part III” tomorrow. It will be the wrap-up of this story and will consist almost entirely of Sanger’s own words without any writer narrative added. It will include the when, how, and why of her establishment of Planned Parenthood as it looked when it began operations and how it looks today. We’ll also add some statistics, some of which will startle you.

Finally, in tomorrow’s summary, you’ll receive some personal analysis of this entire matter: abortion in America. It will be totally perspective and opinion. We do that from time to time here. But when we do, you are always informed that it is opinion. We’re all entitled to that.

Thanks for being here!

Dan

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