Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was one of the lead architects of the culture of death. Not only was she a major contributor to the liberation of sexuality from all restraint, but sexual liberation was for her part of a larger program of eugenics. While Planned Parenthood has been very careful to keep its founder's sexual and especially eugenic views from the light, they are a matter of public record, boldly and clearly expressed throughout Sanger's writings.
Sanger's dedication to the propagation and legalization of birth control was part of an overall eugenics program. Her journal, The Birth Control Review, was filled from cover to cover with the strongest and crudest eugenic propaganda. One of her favorite slogans, adorning each issue, was “Birth Control: To Create a Race of Thoroughbreds.”
For Sanger, the “lack of balance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’” was “the greatest present menace to civilization,” so that “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” As with the other eugenicists of the early 20th century, Sanger was particularly upset by the presence of the “feeble-minded,” a vague term which seemed to encompass everyone from the insane and those with nervous disorders, to those hitting low marks on the newly developed IQ tests. (By her estimate, some 70% of the population was feebleminded.)
To deal with the great “menace,” Sanger advocated a new kind of philanthropy, claiming that traditional philanthropy only succeeded in making the problem worse—“it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents,” she said, who were “the most devastating curse on human progress and expression.” True charity, by contrast, should not both coddle and perpetuate the “dead weight of human waste,” but weed out these undesirables at the source through birth control. Nor did Sanger shrink from advocating the use of force if necessary: “We prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded.”
Sanger's plans for genetic cleansing for the sake of “racial health” were racist as well. She was horrified by the fertility of the immigrant “Slavs, Latins [i.e., Italians], and Hebrews,” and her first birth-control clinic was set up in the Brownsville section of New York City, where such racially defective immigrants predominated.
Nor was she innocent of connections to the eugenic policies of Hitler's Germany. Her Birth Control Review published numerous articles by leading American eugenicists who lavished envious praise on the Nazi eugenic programs. As for the black population in the United States, Sanger “did not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population,” she wrote; therefore, the eugenic effort had to be carried out “through a religious appeal.”
She suggested that the birth-control movement should “hire three or four colored ministers” as traveling preachers of the gospel of birth control.
Sanger's zeal as a prophet and missionary of birth control was rooted in her evolutionary beliefs. Without birth control, the “dead weight” would continually drag humanity back down the evolutionary slope. But, no less important, she believed sexuality to be a dynamic, creative power which, if released from its traditional restraints, would bring about the development of “genius,” thereby allowing the “more fit” to make great leaps up that same slope.
Sanger's rather strange notion of the creation of “genius” through sexuality was based on a combination of current evolutionary thought, pop psychology and the writings of famed “sexologist” Havelock Ellis. Human beings were formed, socially and psychologically, by internal and external “forces … the greatest and most imperative of which are Sex and Hunger,” she claimed. While “Hunger … has created ‘the struggle for existence,’” the “dynamic energy” of “the great force of Sex” was the evolutionary force which created genius.
To Sanger, true charity consisted in weeding out society's ‘undesirables’ before they had a chance to be born.
The creation of genius will only come about with the “removal of physiological and psychological inhibitions and constraints which makes possible the release and channeling of the primordial inner energies of man into full and divine expression,” she wrote. “The removal of these inhibitions, so scientists assure us, makes possible more rapid and profound perceptions.”
Since the release of sexual energy was creative, and therefore the repression of sexual energy was destructive, it followed, in Sanger's logic, that the traditional approach to sexuality had to be replaced. That meant, of course, the necessity of breaking down the “codes that have surrounded sexual behavior in the so-called Christian communities, the teachings of the churches concerning chastity and sexual purity, the prohibitions of the laws, and the hypocritical conventions of society.”
As a consequence, Sanger became a direct opponent of Christianity, especially the Catholic faith, for the Church was the greatest obstacle opposing the release of the “dynamic energy” of sexuality, and such obstruction for Sanger was “nothing less than foolhardy.”
“Instead of laying down hard and fast laws of sexual conduct, instead of attempting to inculcate rules and regulations,” as the Church had done, “the teacher of Birth Control seeks to meet the needs of the people,” she wrote.
What do people need?
As we have seen, the wrong sort of people need to be taught (or forced) to quit breeding altogether. The right people need to be taught “the power to control this great force” of sexual energy—“to use it,” she wrote, “to direct it into channels in which it becomes the energy enhancing their lives and increasing self-expression and self-development.”
Sanger longed to create an earthly paradise, one in which the free expression of sexuality would replace the need for religion by creating a new religion. “Through sex,” she wrote, “mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise. So must we necessarily and inevitably conceive of sex-expression.”
No longer would humanity foolishly yearn for a world to come, for “in that dawn men and women will have come to the realization, already suggested, that there close at hand is our paradise, our everlasting abode, our Heaven and our eternity.”
Sanger not only preached this new religion; she practiced it as well. Sexual fulfillment had been, from very early on, the criterion by which she thought marriage should be judged. When marriage proved sexually unsatisfying, it should be dissolved. Even better, marriages should be “open” to sexual fulfillment elsewhere.
Following her own advise, she carried on at least six unconcealed premarital and extramarital affairs. As contemporary Mildred Dodge wrote of her: “She was the first person I ever knew who was openly an ardent propagandist for the joys of the flesh.”
Even though she was an advocate of “more children from the fit, less from the unfit,” she had only three children, and paid relatively little attention to them.
As her son Grant stated, “Mother was seldom around. She just left us with anybody handy and ran off we didn't know where.”
Although Sanger died in 1966, her legacy lives on in Planned Parenthood. The liberation of sexuality from all traditional moral restraints is still central to its agenda, as is clear from International Planned Parenthood's recent Youth Manifesto, which states that “young people must be able to have pleasure and confidence in relationships and all aspects of sexuality.” This demands that “society must recognize the right of all young people to enjoy sex and to express their sexuality in the way that they choose.”
As with Sanger, contraception is the means to bring about this sexual paradise.
But with the release of sexuality from procreative ends, and making of it merely a “creative” means for “enhancing … lives and increasing self-expression and self-development,” abortion has become a necessity. It is no accident that Planned Parenthood is both the largest educative force for Sangerian sexuality, and the largest abortion provider. Furthermore, with the advent of prenatal screening, abortion is bringing about Sanger's eugenic “dream” of eliminating “the mentally and physically defective,”—“the dead weight of human waste,” as she called them.
Sanger's “great spiritual illumination” did indeed “transform the world”—but in such a way as to usher in not an “earthly paradise,” but the culture of death.
Ben Wiker teaches classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio).