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Margaret Sanger And Birth Control History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In order to properly introduce the reason such topic is of major importance not only to America, but to most of the world’s female population, it is necessary to look back on the reasons and background information that propelled Margaret Sanger to become the most dedicated promoter of birth control and family planning.

Margaret was the sixth child of a working class Irish family with many children. Her mother was a devout catholic woman and her father earned a leaving by sculpting religious figures and tombstones. Her father was an Catholic-born social activist and always encouraged Margaret and her siblings to think for themselves and to seek the truth behind ideas, rather than believing and accepting concepts the way they were presented; nonetheless, Mr. Higgins was one of the most influential figures on Margaret’s life.

Margaret became interested in medicine while caring for her sick mother, who died before even reaching fifty years old, due to tuberculosis and poor health. Caring for the household and her eleven children, Mrs. Higgins had no time to take care of her own health. Margaret saw the eighteen pregnancies as one of the main reasons her mother was so frail and debilitated before reaching middle age.

After her mother passed away, due to the lack of funds to afford medical school, Margaret settled for nursing. While working as a visiting nurse, now married and a mother herself, Margaret Sanger could not help but notice the poor working class families had more children than they could afford. She was baffled by the difference in treatment wanted and unwanted babies received from their parents.

Due to Comstock laws, the use and dissemination of contraceptive methods and information was considered a way to promote promiscuity, and therefore deemed illegal. Without means to prevent pregnancies, women had to resort to dangerous abortions. Even though abortion was also an illegal practice at that time, on average, one hundred thousand women had abortions yearly in the city of New York alone. During her many night rounds, Margaret had to assist women in near death situations due to self induced or poorly conducted abortions. Many patients begged Mrs. Sanger to share “the secret” for pregnancy prevention, but because of the infamous Comstock laws, Margaret only knew about abstinence and condoms as contraceptive means, and both methods depended mostly on the men. Margaret felt women needed to have the right to decide whether or not they wanted to get pregnant, and she began a quest to find possible contraceptive methods; she traveled to Europe searching for ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Margaret felt the only way to change Comstock laws was by challenging them. She got in trouble with the law many times by publishing and distributing information about birth control methods in several different periodicals and manuscripts. She gave speeches and lectured on the need for birth control; she organized groups and leagues that advocated women’s rights to prevent undesired pregnancies; she even got arrested for opening a birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. Because of her arrest, in 1918 the Crane decision was passed: it allowed women to use birth control for therapeutic purposes. Sanger started to get more support for her cause, and soon books and pamphlets on birth control could be distributed without interference of the law; unfortunately, the law was not the only opposition Margaret had to face: the powerful Roman Catholic Church considered it a sin and frowned upon the usage and dissemination of contraceptive methods.

In 1921, during the first American Birth Control conference held in New York, Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League (ABCL). The following year she released the book “The Pivot of Civilization.” In that book she lists the main reasons a birth control program needed to be available to all women from all spheres of society. She advocated birth control as the best aid for those in society who needed help, and that rather than practicing charity, if contraception methods were taught and became readily available, society would be helping the less privileged a whole lot more. In the appendix section of the book she talks about the principles and goals of the ABCL. She also stated the League would post its findings, articles, scientific studies and medical reports in a periodical publication entitled “Birth Control Review.”

Sanger attended and organized birth control conferences all over the United States, Europe and Asia; she felt uncontrolled pregnancy and infant mortality due to mothers’ and children’s poor health was a widespread problem. She advocated that couples with any sort of illness or physical deformity should not give birth to children since those babies could carry the parents’ diseases in their genes. She also felt that in order to avoid any health related issues for either the mother or the baby, women should spread their pregnancies at least three years apart. Even though her ideas were welcomed in many different countries, several nations banned her from speaking and even denied her a visa.

People saw Margaret Sanger in two different ways: some saw her as an female angel who was fighting for women’s rights; others saw her as a Caucasian anti-Christ monster who wished to stop certain ethnic groups from procreating and decrease their population size, therefore leaving them unprotected from a possible white American domination; even nowadays, you can find plenty of information describing Sanger as a white supremacist who sympathized with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Such allegations are due to Margaret Sanger’s harsh choice of words when describing the unprivileged sectors of society, and to a series of lectures she performed to KKK female groups all throughout the country; however, such allegations are erroneous, since Margaret Sanger had the support of several African American activists, including W.E.B. Dubois and Martin Luther King Jr.

Nevertheless, Margaret continued her fight, and in 1925, with the help of Dr. Dorothy Bocker, she opened the first legal clinic dedicated to the research and testing of new birth control methods. The Clinical Research Bureau was a contraceptive study center that helped unprivileged women take charge of their bodies. The new clinic was a success: soon it was moved to a larger location and new branches were opened in several different cities. After the Clinical Research Bureau was opened, Margaret continued to fight and challenge the laws and the Catholic Church relentlessly. One of her biggest victories was the court decision that contraceptives could be prescribed by a doctor when pregnancy could alter the conditions of the patient’s body. Such decision could lead to several different interpretations, and despite the fact the Church strongly held to its convictions, many women, including Catholics, began using some form of birth control. In 1960, Margaret Sanger achieved her lifelong dream of finding a contraceptive method that was as easy to use as taking an aspirin: the Pill became available in the United States.

Margaret Sanger’s fight was a crucial staple for female independence and sexual liberation, not only in the United States, but worldwide. Because Sanger restlessly fought to break archaic rules, women from various social statuses took control of their bodies. They no longer had to settle as housewives; women became lawyers, business owners, scientists, professors or whatever they wanted without fearing an unwanted pregnancy.

Hypocrisy, outdated laws and religious views might have claimed the lives, health and sanity of many women, but thanks to Margaret Sanger, for almost a century, women have been able to go to school and pursue professional independence without the fear of getting pregnant and not be able to achieve their goals; they can plan when they want to get pregnant and how many children they want to have. Since then, many women in different parts of the globe no longer feel the need to get married to somebody they do not really love because that is the only available alternative, and today, a woman choosing to remain single is not viewed by society as a failure. Many other barriers and issues still remain, but Margaret Sanger and her fight for the use of birth control took women one step closer to gender equality.


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