I just read a piece that truly shocked me. Thin Places, a blog hosted by Christianity Today, published a piece by Rachel Marie Stone entitled “Contraception Saves Lives” that “reconsiders” Margaret Sanger (HT: Eric Teetsel). Much of Stone’s piece focuses on the benefits of birth control, but part of it repristinates Sanger herself.
On my first tour of Zomba Central Hospital in Malawi, Africa, where I lived from 2012-2014, an older nurse-midwife, Lena, told me proudly that she had visited the city of my birth, New York, to study at the Margaret Sanger Center in Lower Manhattan.
“A great woman, Margaret Sanger!” Lena said.
I wasn’t sure how to reply; Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, which, contrary to what Sanger would have wished, is today the largest provider of abortions in the United States. As it happens, Planned Parenthood did not, in Sanger’s day, provide abortions. Sanger herself opposed abortion, saying that “no matter how early it was performed it was taking a life.” But Sanger, like many medical professionals in her day, did hold eugenicist ideas. Eugenics were enshrined into compulsory sterilization laws in many U.S. states and supported by organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I do not mean to excuse Sanger for holding these views, but I do want to give the charge of “eugenicist” a more complete background.
I have great respect for CT as a magazine. I subscribe to it and enjoy reading it. I’m thankful to sometimes write for it (I did so last month, in fact). I haven’t read a great deal of Amy Julia Becker’s writing (she’s the person behind the blog), but I have read several pieces from her about disabilities that I found courageous, biblically faithful, and poignant. She’s given voice to people who don’t always have one, and I’ve personally been thankful for that.
I possess no existing concern for Becker’s material, then. I also inherently trust CT. But this piece took me aback; it truly shocked me. Margaret Sanger was an unbridled eugenicist and one of the worst (and most effective) racists America has ever seen. Let’s consider a few of her choicest quotations (from here):
The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.
Then there’s this:
[We should] apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.
Here’s the worst of them all (from here)–Sanger plotting with extreme cunning the extermination of “Negros”:
The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want 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 [emphasis added].
We could go on, and on, and on. Margaret Sanger is a veritable fountain of racist and eugenicist statements. She founded Planned Parenthood, which has in later years carried out her diabolical vision. I am stunned that a reputable and widely-respected evangelical publication like Christianity Today–a magazine I support–published this piece.
As blog readers will know, I am all for a healthy conversation about sexual ethics, including contraception. I actually do believe conscionable birth control can lend aid in certain ways to humanity. I do not believe every family needs to have as many children as possible, and I am sure that conscionable forms of birth control in the developing world could assist some people. So let’s be clear: the issue with this piece is not that it suggests a possibly viable role for certain forms of birth control.
But surely this issue can be framed without using a racist eugenicist who believed that African-Americans were “objectionable”? Is that possible? I would hope that it is. I might suggest choosing someone whose legacy does not include public questing for the extermination of “inferior” races. The fact that we would reference Sanger in laudable terms horrifies me, and no doubt has a similar effect on other readers, including some who would have been targeted unto death by Sanger simply for the color of their skin.
(Image: “SangerAndSon2” by Unknown – Library of Congress. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)