Margaret Sanger was a prominent leader in the eugenics and birth control movements that eventually led to the decriminalization of contraception and abortion. Here’s what you need to know:
Founded America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood
In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in New York. The American Birth Control League was formally established in 1921. The organization’s name was changed to the Birth Control Federation of America in 1939 and then to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.
Principles of the American Birth Control League:
We hold that children should be:
- Conceived in love;
- Born of the mother’s conscious desire;
- And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health.
Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied. (Pivot of Civilization, page 280.)
Praised pre-war Nazi Germany’s eugenic and racist policies, which treated certain people as unworthy of life.
In April 1933, Sanger was the editor of the Birth Control Review and published an article on sterilization by Dr. Ernst Rudin, a psychiatrist deeply involved in, and an advocate for, the Nazi sterilization program. In 1939 Sanger was honorary chairman of the Birth Control Federation of America when it published an article entitled “Birth Rates in Fascist Countries” that praised the German population control program:
Again, however, we must stress the fact that in a national program for human conservation institutional and voluntary sterilization are not enough; they do not reach those elements at large in the population whose children are a menace to the national health and well-being.
Reports in medical journals state that the indications laid down in the German law are being carefully observed. These are [c]ongenital feeble-mindedness; schizophrenia, circular insanity; heredity [sic] epilepsy; hereditary chorea (Huntington’s)’ hereditary blindness or deafness; grave hereditary bodily deformity and chronic alcoholism.
Surely everyone will agree that the children of parents so afflicted are no contribution to the nation for even if they do not inherit these defects they are children of parents so handicapped that life will give them little, owing to their necessarily bad environment.
There are 1,700 special courts and 27 higher courts in Germany to review the cases certified for sterilization there. The rights of the individual could be equally well safeguarded here, but in no case should the rights of society, of which he or she is a member, be disregarded. (“Human Conservation and Birth Control,” typed speech. March 3, 1938. Emphasis added.)
At the time Sanger wrote those words, Germany was in the midst of a long-term euthanasia program to murder all citizens who were disabled, weak, or “unfit” members of society in order to “purify” the Aryan race. When Hitler took control of Germany in 1933, the Nazis created eugenic courts to determine who could and who could not have children, basing “fitness” to become parents on race. Between 1933 and 1939, the Nazis systematically murdered 5,000 children with disabilities or children who were suspected of inheriting disabilities from their parents. Unfortunately, this was only a precursor of what was to come.
For Sanger, the elimination of the “unfit” was right and the highest priority of the state, which had the power to use whatever methods necessary to protect society. “Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism” (“The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” The Birth Control Review, October 1921). In Sanger’s plan, the rights of the state to control the population could outweigh the rights of the individual to have children in some circumstances. Sanger clearly believed that voluntary sterilization was not enough to save the United States from becoming overrun with the “unfit.”
Was Sanger a Nazi? No. As Sanger supporters are always quick to point out, she did not advocate eugenics based on religious discrimination. But she did share their passion for eliminating the unfit by whatever means necessary for the “good” of society. In 1928, she remarked in one of her speeches that Germany’s strict sterilization laws and third trimester abortion policies were a little harsh, but she applauded them for taking whatever measures they felt were necessary for a better society.
The same ideas regarding sterilization, segregation, and world peace for which Sanger applauded Nazi Germany in the 1920s and 1930s led to the mass murder of millions of human beings—first in Germany’s asylums in the 1930s and eventually in concentration camps throughout Europe. Once society is convinced that human lives are cheap, there is nothing that can stop the calculated destruction of human beings.
Promoted “voluntary” sterilization or permanent segregation for people she called “morons,” “imbeciles,” “criminals,” and “epileptics.”
Although she mostly believed that segregation and sterilization should be voluntary, Sanger was not opposed to the state using “Spartan methods” or force to get citizens to comply with eugenic policies:
Birth control is not advanced as a panacea by which past and present evils of dysgenic breeding can be magically eliminated. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism. (“The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” Birth Control Review, October 1921. Emphasis added.)
I found from records concerning women of the underworld that eighty-five percent of them come from parents averaging nine living children. And that fifty percent of them are mentally defective. We know that the birth rate of mentally defective parents is about four times as great as that of normal parents. Is not this a cause for alarm? (“Women and Birth Control,” The Thinker, December 1923. Emphasis added.)
As long as any civilization encourages unrestrained fertility, always there is furnished the most fertile breeding class for mental defectives, morons and imbeciles. We protect the weak and feeble-minded up to the period of reproduction and then set them free to reproduce and increase their kind. The prisons and institutions are on the increase with long waiting lists of children, as well as adults to be admitted. Here is where the healthy and fit must limit the increase of the own progeny in order to support the increase of the diseased unfit. To continue this process at the insistence of the old civilization is to dramatically submerge and eventually wipe out the talented geniuses of this generation and give over the inmates of the institutions the creation of a future civilization. (“Civilizing Power of Planned Parenthood,” May 1955.)
All over the country we find that institutions are not numerous enough or large enough to take care of our feeble-minded population. California has been one of the few States advanced enough to take hold of this question and try to solve it through sterilization. Reckoning three children for each feeble-minded couple, out of six thousand sterilized, California has saved herself eighteen thousand feeble minded persons. It is not sufficient to take only the feeble-minded who are in institutions; only a small proportion of them are there. Millions live with us—with no regard whatever for the coming race. They continue to make our problems and to bring numerous children into the world. (“The Necessity for Birth Control,” typed draft speech. December 19, 1928.)
We are known in America to be a very generous hearted people; we are known throughout the world as being very large spenders. We have in the past ten years spent NINE BILLION DOLLARS on what are called the four D’s—DISEASE: DEFECTS: DELINQUENCY: DEPENDENCY. I have no quarrel even with that enormous amount if we could only be assured that it was not going to increase the next year and the following year. But we have no such assurance. In fact, judging by the past ten years, we have no reason to believe anything, except that we will be paying, not nine or ten but perhaps fifteen billion dollars to take care of the four D’s in the next ten years. (“The Necessity for Birth Control,” typed draft speech. December 19, 1928.)
Believed many children were a burden and should be avoided by using birth control.
We need one generation of birth control to weed out the misfits, to breed self-reliant, intelligent, responsible individuals. Our immigration laws forbid the entrance into this country of paupers, insane, feeble-minded and diseased people from other lands. Why not extend the idea and discourage the bringing to birth these same types within our borders. Let us stop reproducing and perpetuation [sic] disease, insanity and ignorance. (“Stop Perpetuating the Unfit by a National Policy on Limitation of Families,” New York American, December 1921. Emphasis added.)
Again, however, we must stress the fact that in a national program for human conservation institutional and voluntary sterilization are not enough; they do not reach those elements at large in the population whose children are a menace to the national health and well-being. (“Human Conservation and Birth Control,” typed speech. March 3, 1938.)
There are two groups of people in the world—not only in the United States but in almost all large cities of the civilized world. One group is what I term the small family group; the other is the large family group. When you look at the small family group you will see they have by far the best of it. It is there we find health, wealth, culture, education, intelligence. It is where there are few children, well spaced, that those few are brought up to full maturity. The children of this group are not sent to factories but to school, because of the desire of the parents to give them the best opportunities. They go to high school, to colleges, to universities. It is from this group that the best positions in the community are usually filled. It is from this group that those who desire to see large populations desire they should come.
On the other hand is the large family group; it has a hard time. You find there poverty. Poverty and large families almost always go hand in hand. You find mothers bearing children far too frequently, without regard to her health or the father’s earning capacity. It is there we find slums, overcrowding, not only in homes but in the community. We find there, too, terrible infant and maternal mortality, ignorance, disease, unemployment, child labor, and all the problems we are trying today to solve. (“The Necessity for Birth Control,” typed draft speech. December 19, 1928.)
Although Sanger did not publicly advocate for abortion in her later years, she always believed that abortion could be justified as a last resort if birth control failed and if the health of the mother were in question.
Any attempt to interfere with the development of the fertilized ovum is called an abortion. No one can doubt that there are times where an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent conception. (Family Limitation, 8th ed. 1918. Emphasis added.)
We know that abortion, when performed by skilled hands, under right conditions, brings almost no danger to the life of the patient, and we also know that particular diseases can be more easily combated after such an abortion than during a pregnancy allowed to come to full term. (“Why Not Birth Control Clinics in America?” American Medicine, March 1919. Emphasis added.)
Lobbied to have government control the size of American families through birth control, sterilization, and birthing licenses.
Federal funds should be made available for such operations when needed. It would be the best National investment. It would be a better use of tax payers’ money to pension the sterilized couple rather than paying a dole to increase the size of the family as it is being done in various countries. “Our babies are dying, give us more babies,” is the illogical cry of the dark ages. (“Sterilization,” typed speech. February 1951.)
It now remains for the United States government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or a yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feebleminded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit. Such a bonus would be a wise and profitable investment for the nation. It would be the salvation of American civilization. It would enable thousands of parents to get a firm footing on the path of life and enable them to give some care to those children they have already borne. It would mean facing our debts today, here and now, instead of passing them on and piling them up for future generations to pay. (“The Function of Sterilization,” published speech. The Birth Control Review, October 1926. Emphasis added.)
Article 4. No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child, and no man shall have the right to become a father, without a permit for parenthood.
Article 5. Permits for parenthood shall be issued upon application by city, county, or state authorities to married couples, providing they are financially able to support the expected child, have the qualifications needed for proper rearing of the child, have no transmissible diseases, and, on the woman’s part, no medical indication that maternity is likely to result in death or permanent injury to health.
Article 6. No permit for parenthood shall be valid for more than one birth. (“America Needs a Code for Babies,” American Weekly. March 1934.)
The Government is concerned about the kind of people who come here from outside. Up to 1914 Uncle Sam was rather negligent about the kind of folk who emigrated here; he was like the parents who, although they scarcely know what they will do if their family is increased, yet do nothing to prevent it. Not until 1914 did the U.S. Government do anything much. We did not encourage emigration but did nothing to stop it. Not until 1924 was it necessary to recognize that there was a population problem and that SOMETHING must be done for the future of the country. So bars were put up at the entrance of the United States. Let me read you what the Government thinks likely to be a menace and source of disease to her people, to the happiness and wellbeing of her population. Feeble-minded persons, epileptics, idiots, imbeciles, insane people, tubercular, those with any loathsome or contagious disease, paupers, professional beggars, those likely to become a public charge, criminals, prostitutes, or for purposes of prostitution in any form; illiterates, those over 16 years unable to read English or any other language—all are refused admission and procedure for the enforcement of these measures is mandatory. I think it is good legislation. Unfortunately it is merely negative and not selective legislation.
If it is necessary to keep such types out of the country why is it not just as important to stop their breeding? It seems to me a very short-sighted procedure to make laws to keep them out and laws that increase and multiply them within. (“The Necessity for Birth Control,” typed draft speech. December 19, 1928. Emphasis added.)
Started what she called “The Negro Project” to reduce the African American population by pushing birth control.
Like many eugenicists of her day, Sanger believed that some races (namely the intelligent, white classes) were more fit to produce children than other races. Using Darwinian reasoning, Sanger believed there was a clear connection between race and levels of intelligence. In 1912, she wrote:
The lower down in the scale of human development we go the less sexual control we find. It is said that the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets. According to one writer, the rapist has just enough brain development to raise him above the animal, but like the animal, when in heat knows no law except nature which impels him to procreate whatever the result. Every normal man and woman has the power to control and direct his sexual impulse. Men and women who have it in control and constantly use their brain cells in thinking deeply, are never sensual. (What Every Girl Should Know, “Sexual Impulses Part II,” December 1912. Emphasis added.)
In Sanger’s mind, colored women, because of the intense poverty and disadvantages of the South, were more likely to produce second-rate children—and lots of them. There is no question that Margaret Sanger targeted the African American community and tried to get its members to reduce the number of children per family.
Her first success with the black community came when she opened a birth control clinic in Harlem, a predominantly black neighborhood, in 1923. To keep the clinic from failing, she hired African American doctors, nurses, and an all-black advisory council to help her clients feel more at ease—and more inclined to listen to her birth control propaganda.
Sanger and her staff went to great lengths to calm the fears of their clients—even changing the name of the clinic from “Research Bureau” to “Birth Control Research Bureau” so the clients would not think that research was being conducted on them, a common fear among black women.
(For more information on the Harlem Clinic, read “Looking Uptown: Margaret Sanger and the Harlem Branch Birth Control Clinic” by Wangui Muigai, The Margaret Sanger Papers Project.)
In 1939, Sanger spearheaded Planned Parenthood’s “Negro Project,” an initiative to target African American communities with birth control education, especially in the South, so that they would have smaller families.
The question of race betterment is one of immediate concern, and I am glad to say that the United States Government has already taken certain steps to control the equality of our population through the drastic immigration laws. . . . But while we close our gates to the so-called “undesirables” from other countries, we make no attempt to discourage or cut down the rapid multiplication of the unfit and undesirable at home. . . . These types are being multiplied with break-neck rapidity and increasing far out of proportion to the normal and intelligent classes. (“The Function of Sterilization,” published speech. The Birth Control Review, October 1926. Emphasis added.)
The mass of Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly. (Sanger, quoting W.E.B. DuBois, a black sociology professor and socialist, from his June 1932 article in the Birth Control Review, “Black Folk and Birth Control.” (Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, Basic Books, 2010.)
Together with Dr. Clarence Gamble, of the manufacturer Procter and Gamble, Sanger and her staff developed a complex plan to sell her ideas about birth control to the black community. Making headway in the tight-knit black community was no easy task. In a letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, a fellow eugenicist, Sanger expressed her concern about how to implement the project:
The ministers [sic] work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. And the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members. (“Letter from Margaret Sanger to Dr. C.J. Gamble, December 10, 1939,” Smith Libraries exhibits, accessed August 12, 2016, libex.smith.edu/omeka/items/show/495.)
Birth control supporters will say that this letter is taken out of context—that Margaret Sanger meant to help African Americans rise above poverty and destitution. But as has always been the case among proponents of Planned Parenthood’s philosophy, the truth is elusive. Indeed, in this case, the record is crystal clear when it comes to Sanger and her attitude toward blacks.
To convince the black community to accept birth control, Sanger first had to get the black religious community on board. In the Negro Project’s proposal, Sanger specifically spells out the need for religious appeal in order to make inroads in the black community: “The project would hire three or four ‘colored Ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities’ to travel throughout the South and propagandize for birth control, since ‘the most successful educational approach to the Negro is through religious appeal.’ . . . The ministers would enlist the aid of black physicians—who were expected to offer their services gratis—and attempt to organize a ‘Negro Birth Control Committee’ in each community.” (Gordon, Linda, quoting “Birth Control and the Negro.” The Moral Property of Women, 2007, page 235.)
The Birth Control Federation of America, later known as Planned Parenthood, set up a National Negro Advisory Council with some of the most prominent African American leaders of the day, including religious leaders like Bishop David Sims and Reverend Adam Clayton Powell. With their help, Sanger earned the support of the black churches and even got them to preach her message from the pulpit.
Planned Parenthood still targets the African American community today, but this time with abortion services. In 2012, Life Issues Institute conducted a research study on Planned Parenthood and the black community. Using census data from 2010, it analyzed the location of Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the country and their proximity to predominantly black neighborhoods. LII found that “102 out of 165, or 62% of the Planned Parenthood abortion facilities are located in areas with relatively high African American populations, or in ‘targeted neighborhoods.’” Today, a black child is 2.33 times more likely to die in an abortion than a white child.
When each year more African American children die from abortion in New York City than are born, how can we not say they are being targeted?
Use the following articles to discover more about Margaret Sanger and the connection between eugenics and birth control. For more information about the video series Who Was the Real Margaret Sanger?, click here.
Margaret Sanger and Eugenics
In her own words
“Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda” by Margaret Sanger, Birth Control Review. October 1921.
“My Way to Peace” by Margaret Sanger, typed speech. January 17, 1932.
“Don’t Let History Repeat Itself” by Mary Kizior, CultureOfLifeStudies.com. July 11, 2016.
“Margaret Sanger’s Dirty Little Secret” by Judie Brown, ALL.org. April 24, 2008.
“Margaret Sanger: The Lonely Soul” by Christopher Reilly, ALL.org. September 30, 2015.
“Margaret Sanger, Racist Eugenicist Extraordinaire” by Arina Grossu, The Washington Times. May 5, 2014.
Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood
“Margaret Sanger Isn’t Who You Think She Is” by Palmer Williams, ACLJ.org.
“The Mother of Planned Parenthood,” TooManyAborted.com.
“Planned Parenthood’s Con Game” by Jim Sedlak, ALL.org. April 4, 2008.
“Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, and the FACTS” by Judie Brown ALL.org. August 12, 2016.
“The Pill and the Big Chill” by Judie Brown, ALL.org. February 3, 2015.
Margaret Sanger and Racism
In her own words
Margaret Sanger’s December 10, 1939, letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, 255 Adams Street, Milton, Massachusetts. Original source: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, North Hampton, Massachusetts. Also described in Linda Gordon’s Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976.
“The Nero Project,” TooManyAborted.com.
“How Can I Celebrate Black History Month?” by Pastor Stephen Broden, ALL.org. February 17, 2013.
About Margaret Sanger
“10 Eye-Opening Quotes from Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger” by Lauren Enriquez, LifeNews.com. March 11, 2013.
“If Margaret Sanger Ran for President” by Mary Kizior, CultureOfLifeStudies.com. July 18, 2016.
“Margaret Sanger Quotes, History, and Biography,” LiveAction.org.
“Why Is Margaret Sanger Still Relevant Today?” by Mary Kizior, CultureOfLifeStudies.com. June 30, 2016.
EMC Frontline is a network of pregnancy resource centers in New York City providing loving care and support for pregnant moms in the abortion capital of America.
The Issues4Life Foundation is dedicated to addressing the issues surrounding the inviolability or sanctity of human life in the African American community.
Priests for Life is a family of ministries that reaches and enriches every aspect of the pro-life movement, for clergy and laity alike, in a wide variety of activities.
LEARN offers quality, peaceful, non-violent leadership training at its conferences. LEARN embraces the precept of overcoming evil with ethical alternatives which acknowledge the sanctity of all human beings.
The Radiance Foundation is an educational, faith-based, life-affirming organization which illuminates, educates, and motivates people through creative ad campaigns, powerful multi-media presentations, and compassionate community outreaches.
Vida Initiative’s mission is to train and mobilize Latino leaders and the people they serve to end abortion and build a culture of life in their communities.
And Then There Were None is a registered nonprofit organization that exists to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry.
Other Helpful Websites
Christian Defense Coalition
Pro-Life Waco/Hometown Pro-Life Action
Human Life Alliance
Movement for a Better America
Silent No More
Who Was the Real Margaret Sanger?
This unit study and video series for high school students teaches about Margaret Sanger and how she changed America’s mind about birth control. Who Was the Real Margaret Sanger? helps students understand the impact of the contraceptive mentality on the decriminalization of abortion, identify the connection between the eugenics movement and the Nazis, and recognize the ties between the sexual revolution and destruction of the feminine genius in society. This dynamic series is a must-have for high school classrooms and students who are serious about combatting the culture of death!
Package includes: Instructor Guide, CD-ROM with printable handouts, and DVD containing the 3-part video series.