Right now, for some bizarre reason (I have no idea how the topic relates to Intelligent Design), Uncommon Descent (“serving the Intelligent Design Community”) has an OP by Barry Arrington presented “without comment”, and consisting entirely of an image of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, next to a sickening piece of racist text, which is attributed to her.
It turns out (h/t to various members here) that this quotation is widely attributed to Margaret Sanger on the web, usually to the Birth Control Review, April 1933, No such words are found in that journal – indeed, no article by Margaret Sanger appears in that journal that I can find. Another reference gives it as Birth Control Review, October 1926. Well, I can’t find it there either.
In other words, this calumny has been passed around the web, with faux “authoritative” citations, with nobody bothering to check the primary source, which is, in fact, easy to check.
Perhaps Margaret Sanger was a racist. But I have seen no evidence of this. She was certainly a eugenicist, as were a great many people prior to the second world war. This is not surprising, given the twin scientific advances in genetics and fertility control – the idea that major disorders, including mental disorders, might be eradicated, just as vaccination had eradicated some of the most devastating infectious disorders, must have been a tempting one. We now know that heritability is complicated, and that there are appalling consequences when one section of society decides another is not fit to breed. But I see nothing in anything I’ve read of Margaret Sanger to indicate that she was either a racist (ironically, one of the articles in the October 1926 Birth Control Review is by a Rabbi, on The Synagogue and Birth Control) nor that she advocated anything but voluntary sterilisation.
More to the point: The scientific advance that has allowed women to take control of their own fertility has been a genuine liberation. Before birth control, women had to choose between career and marriage. When my mother, mid PhD and in training for a career in surgery, told her professor that she was getting married, he said: “If you want a life spent hanging nappies on the line instead of a career in surgery, that is your decision. But know this: when you leave this hospital, the door slams behind you”. Because of birth control, women are able to have the number of children they want, and to resume their careers. They are able to stop having children when they no longer want to risk their lives (as they did until organisations like Planned Parenthood also campaigned for better perinatal healthcare) on yet another pregnancy. Life expectancy among women has shot up since women’s healthcare improved, thanks to organisations like Planned Parenthood.
My mother had four children, all Planned. She worked part-time when we were small, running a Family Planning clinic, then went into General Practice. She did her Obstetrics training in Dublin, where perinatal mortality was high, and where multiparous women begged doctors to “give them something” so that they need not have any more. And she counselled women with two handicapped children who did not want a third – and those with family histories of Huntington’s, or haemophilia, who chose to adopt rather than pass those disorders on to their children. And of course she saw the terrible consequences of illegal abortion.
She was also a devout Catholic, and wrote a thoughtful book on the difficult ethical issues she faced, and how she came to resolve them. At her requiem, a Jesuit moral theologian gave the eulogy, and thanked her for “saying what we dared not”.
Yes, there are real ethical dilemmas about how we should face life and death in an era in which we, thankfully, have choices that our forebears, did not. But the way to tackle them is not to re-post careless calumnies of the pioneers who fought to make the world a better place for women and their children.
Shame on you, Barry.