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Sanger’s Flyer for the first Birth Control Clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “Do not kill, do not take a life, but Prevent”

Margaret Sanger was a pioneer of women’s reproductive rights, dedicating her life to opening family planning clinics around the world and making knowledge about birth control easily available. When Sanger began her life as an activist, the political struggle over women’s rights was very different than it is today. The Comstock Laws that Sanger was arrested for violating illegalized merely sending information regarding birth control in the mail! With that in mind, it comes as little surprise that Sanger’s views do not fit easily into today’s debate about women’s reproductive rights. Sanger was ambivalent, to say the least, about  most important issue in recent years : access to abortions.

In Sanger’s opinion, abortion was an evil practice that would become obsolete once birth control was practiced and understood by women and families throughout the world. In 1932, Sanger wrote: “Although abortion may be resorted to in order to save the life of the mother, the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious.” Although she strongly condemned the practice, she felt even more strongly that “it is  a woman’s duty and right to have for herself the right to say when she shall and shall not have children.”  Women’s right to control their reproduction took precedent over any moral or religious position. Unlike many today, Sanger trusted women to make the best decision for themselves:

“The only weapon that women have and the most uncivilized weapon that they have to use if they will not submit to having children every year or every year and a half, the weapon they use is abortion. . . . What does this mean? It means it is a very bad sign if women have to indulge in it, and it means they are absolutely determined that they cannot continue bringing children into the world that they cannot clothe, feed, and shelter. It is woman’s instinct, and she knows herself when she should and should not give birth to children, and it is just as natural to trust that instinct and to let her be the one to say and much more natural than it is to leave it to some unknown God for her to judge her by.”(MS, “Debate On Birth Control: First Speech,” Dec. 12, 1920 [MSM S76:0923 ].)

If you are interested in reading more about Margaret Sanger’s position on abortion, be sure to read our “interview” with Sanger in the Margaret Sanger Paper Project Newsletter!