ON BIRTH CONTROL
Mrs. Sanger: Mr.
Chairman, and ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Russell and I seem to agree
on some of the points of this argument at least, but as usual with
most opponents of birth control, they have absolutely no intelligent
argument. (Laughter.) They always barricade themselves behind the
Bible or the terrible vengeance of an offended nature. That is exactly
what Mr. Russell is doing now.
Now, friends, I
want to say let us get down to fundamental principles. Let us get
together and look at life the way it is now, not as it might have
been had Nature acted thus and so, not as it might be had God done
thus and so, but as we find ousselves [sic.] today. We have a few
principles of life by which we must live, and I claim that everyone
of us has a right to health, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness.
I say furthermore that birth control is an absolutely essential factor
in our living and having  those three principles of happiness.
By birth control,
I mean a voluntary, conscious control of the birth rate by means that
prevent conception--scientific means that prevent conception. I don't
mean birth control by abstinence or by continence or anything except
the thing that agrees with most of us, and as we will develop later
on, most of us are glad that there are means of science at the present
time that there are not injurious, not harmful, and all conception
can be avoided.
Now let us look
upon life as it really is, and we see society today is divided distinctly
into two groups: those who use the means of birth control and those
who do not.
On the one side
we find those who do, use means in controlling birth. What have they?
They are the people who bring to birth few children. They are the
people who have all the happiness, who have wealth and the leisure
for culture and mental and spiritual development. They are people
who rear their children to manhood and womanhood and who fill the
universities and the colleges with their progeny. Nature has seemed
to be very kind to that group of people (Laughter.) 
On the other hand
we have the group who have large families and have for generations
perpetuated large families, and I know from my work among these people
that the great percentage of these people that are brought into the
world in poverty and misery have been unwanted. I know that most of
these people are just as desirous to have means to control birth as
the women of wealth. I know she tries desperately to obtain the information,
not for selfish purposes, but for her own benefit and for that of
her children. In this group, what do we have? We have poverty, misery,
disease, overcrowding congestion, child labor, infant mortality, maternal
mortality, all the evils which today are grouped in the crowd where
there are large families of unwanted and undesired children.
Take the first
one and let us see how these mothers feel. I claim that a woman, whether
she is rich or poor, has a right to be a mother or not when she feels
herself fit to be so. She has just as much right not to be a mother
as she has to be a mother. It is just as right and as moral for people
to talk of small families and to demand them as to want large families.
It is just as moral. 
If we let, as we
are supposed to do, nature take her course, we will say that we know
that any woman from the age of puberty until the age of the period
of menopause that that woman could have anywhere from 15 to 20 children
in her lifetime, and it will only take one relationship between man
and woman to give her one a year to give her that large family. Let
us not forget that.
Are we today, as
women who wish to develop, who wish to advance in life, are we willing
to spend all of our time through those years of development in bringing
forth children that the world does not appreciate? Certainly, anyone
who looks out to that will find that there is very little place in
the world for children. And besides, if a woman does spend all her
time in childbearing, do you know that even with a healthy woman,
that if she does this one out of ten of those women who have children
as often as Nature sends them, dies from child bearing? One out of
every ten of women who let nature take her course and have from 12
to 16 children die from child bearing, and furthermore, there are
many cases where it is absolutely indispensable for a woman's 
health, for her life in fact, to have means to control birth. There
are cases as Dr. Knopf said, of syphilis, cases of tuberculosis; do
you realize that out of every seven women who have tuberculosis today
that four of them die, not from tuberculosis, my friends, but they
die from pregancy [sic]. They die because they have not that knowledge
of birth control, because physicians and all the others who should
be disseminating information and safeguarding these women's lives
are not giving them the fundamental things to cure her disease, but
they allow her to become pregnant. They keep her in ignorance from
this particular knowledge that should assist her in recovering her
health. Not only with tuberculosis, but there are others [sic.] diseases
that are inimical to the woman's health and happiness. Heart disease
is another thing that pregnancy absolutely stimulates and it means
a woman's death. Not long ago there was a young girl who came to me
who had kidney disease. She was a telegraph operator. Her husband
was a young working man, but he was not able to support a family.
She had on two different occasions. tried to have children, but she
had kidney  disease and they found her in convulsions, she had
froth at her mouth and she was taken to a hospital in a serious and
critical condition. When she did this, the only thing they could do
to her was to resort to abortion and yet they send her back to her
home, to her husband and family again in just the same way with no
information of how to protect herself against another condition just
as she had gone through. That is what happens to our women today,
even those who are suffering from disease where they should be protected
with means and knowledge of birth control.
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 and a half,
the weapon they use is abortion. We know how detrimental abortion
is to the physical side as well as to the psychic side of woman's
life, and yet there are in this nation, because of these generalities
and opinions that are here before us, that are stopping the tide of
progress, we have more than one million women with abortions performed
on them each year.
What does this
mean? It means it is a very bad sign if women 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 a 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 this 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. I claim it is a woman's duty and right to have for herself
the right to say when she shall and shall not have children.
We know that the
death rate, maternal death rate, has not been falling in the United
States of America, although the death rate from diseases has been
falling. That shows woman is given the last consideration in scientific
and medical lines. But then woman will never get her own freedom until
she fights for it, and she has to fight hard to hold and keep it.
We know too that when the children that come to this mother against
her will and against her desires, when they come into the world, that
we have an appalling number of 300,000 babies each year in this country
who die each year before they reach one year of age--  300,000
if you please, and it is safe to say and anyone who has gone among
these mothers and these children--it is safe to say that the great
percentage of these children that are born have been unwanted. The
mother knows that that child should not come to birth, when the five
or or six or seven that she has have not enough to eat. That takes
common sense and every working woman has that common sense.
We have these 300,000
babies, this procession of litttle [sic.] coffins, and we shake our
heads sadly and say something must be done to reduce the number, but
nevertheless we go right on allowing 600,000 parents to remain in
ignorance of how to prevent 300,000 more babies coming to birth the
next year only to die from poverty and sickness.
We speak of the
rights of the unborn. I say that it is time to speak of those who
are already born. I also say and know that the infant death rate is
affected tremendously by those who arrive last. The first child that
comes--the first or second or third children who arrive in a family,
have a far better chance than those who arrive later.
We know that out
of a thousand children born that 200 of them live  when they are
either the second or third. When the seventh arrives there are 300
that die out of that thousand, and by the time that the twelfth child
arrives, 600 of this thousand passed away, and so we can see that
the man or woman who brings to birth two or three children has a far
better chance of bringing them to maturity than if they continued
to have nine or ten or twelve children.
Those are facts.
They are not generalities or opinions. The United States Government
stands behind these facts. Then we also, through our maternity centers
and child welfare means and other means, we finally rescue some of
these children, and do not allow them to die under one year of age,
and then when the mother is pregnant again--if maternity was not forced
upon her--she would be able to bring that child through. Another one
begins to come, and we find that this child that was rescued from
dying during its first year now succumbs before its fifth year, and
then we have 150,000 children who die before they reach the fifth
year of age and so we can enumerate all of these conditions which
are so despicable and so difficult in this country because  we
will not get to fundamentals. We will not deal with the cause of things
while we are anxious to deal with the cure. When a mother does finally
bring her children through the adolescent period, what is the next
thing she has for that? We find in the South that where children come
according to Nature, every year and one-half, that as soon as they
are able, they are shuffled and hustled on in to take the place and
compete with their father in the factories. That is the place that
society has for children of the poor. We find in other states, too,
where it is only a question of a few years later that also the children
as soon as they are able to take their place in industry, are pushed
out of home, not because the mothers of these children are not just
as anxious to see them in universities and colleges but because of
the pitiless earnings that she must have to support those who are
coming behind them.
Most of us know
this. We know something about the actual conditions of life as it
is among us. In some of the factories of Lowell and Fall River, Mass.,
it was found that of the children who work and toil there, under ten
years of age, that 85 percent of them come from families  of eight--their
mothers have given birth to eight children--and we find in the south
very much the same thing, excepting a higher percentage of 90 to 93
percent of the children there.
That is not the
only thing. We have conditions again that are more disastrous to the
race than child labor or infant mortality, and that is the transmission
of the venereal diseases to the race that is to come.
We know that the
mothers and fathers of today produce the race of tomorrow, and know
that unless we have a clean child and a clean stream of blood pouring
through that child that the race of tomorrow is a doomed foregone
conclusion. We know, too, that out of this terrible scourge of disease
that we have 90 percent of the insanity in this country, due to syphilis.
Anyone who is dealing with fundamentals would know that these people
should use means to protect themselves against having children. They
should absolutely in due regard to themselves, to their children and
to the race, not allow a child to be born while that disease is running
riot in the system, and then we have  that terrible consequence
which is insanity.
We have fifty percent
of the still births of this country, in other words, dead babies,
that are dead when they are born--50 percent are due to this disease.
You may think that these things are taken care of, but if I told you
that they are not--syphilitic women today are allowed to bring forth
progeny even in the face of all officialdom, and all the kind and
humane things and other kind of things that are doled out to women
today--that women are bringing forth children when they themselves
Not long ago we
took a syphilitic woman to 43 hospitals in the city and everyone of
them said, "We will cure her disease. Leave her here. We will do the
best we can for her, but don't ask us to give her the information
to control birth. That is not our office. That is not for us," and
so that little syphilitic woman went back again to her home and will
become pregnant only to abort again, which was a great kindness.
brings the syphilitic to birth before their full time, or brings them
dead. In other states of syphilis, that is not so, and we have feeble
minded as well  as insane. We have 400,000 feebleminded people
in the United States that any authority on the subject would say to
you "Not one of them should have been born." They never should have
been born and sometimes these parents are perfectly normal, and yet
this taint has gone through the blood and has left this perfectly
normal physical person who arrives at the adult age with all its physical
functions, and yet it has the mentality of a child eight years of
age. The feeble-minded man or woman is of no use to itself or society,
and it would be better if we were living in a real civilization that
they should not have been born. Only 40,000 of this 400,000 are entered
in institutions and the others are living among us, producing and
reproducing their progeny and providing abundant material and opportunity
for the continuance of charities and other institutions for ages and
generations more to come.
We found also in
one institution--a so-called reformatory where they take the girls
of the underworld--prostitutes--in Geneva, Ill., they find that 50
percent of these girls coming into the underworld--the prostitutes--was
of this cause, that she belonged to the feeble-minded,  and again
we find that 89 percent of these came from large families.
You can't get away
from it, my friend. Large families and poverty and misery go hand
in hand. Now what do we try to do for all these conditions? How do
we look out upon them? We are in a track. Motherhood has been tracked.
We find that most of the social agencies of the country are trying
to legislate these things out of existence. That is all. They run
off to Albany and to Washington and they make eight-hour laws for
women in industry, but they never think of the poor mother in the
home who might have eight hours. Can you think of the mother in the
home with eight hours? She has to go out of the home, out into industry
to be protected by the law. Do you realize that mothers and women
never have a night's rest from the time that they are pregnant, some
of them until the door of nature closes their maternal functions?
They never know what it is to have one whole night's rest. They are
up nights with babies. Is this freedom or liberty? Hasn't she a right
to herself--hasn't she a duty to herself to say  when and under
what conditions she shall be a mother?
We try to reduce
our infant mortality rate by our milk stations and all of the other
things going on to-day. Thousands and thousands of dollars are spent
for this condition, and to a certain degree some of it is taken care
of but it does not get at the root. When we come to maternal mortality
we find also huge funds that are spent in nurses going into the homes
of the poor, telling the mother of eight children how to have her
ninth. (Laughter.) Most of us know that that mother wants to know
how not to have her tenth. That is the welcome assistance that they
can give that woman, but that will be the last stone to be turned.
Also our child
labor--we make laws in Washington against child labor, hoping we will
wipe that out of existence. For 50 years they have been trying to
wipe child labor off the books in the United States, but they have
not succeeded and they will never succeed until they establish birth
control clinics in those districts where these women are, where they
put in birth control clinics, like they have in Holland--in every
industrial section in the United  States where women can come
to trained nurses and physicians and get from them scientific information
whereby they may control birth.
Now we look upon
all these things just about in the same way. We try to palliate most
all of them. Take one instance--our immigration laws. The United States
Government makes the most rigid laws. It scans over the vessels carefully
to see that no one should enter who is an idiot, who is insane, and
who is a pauper. They see to it that anyone who enters is not an idiot,
is not insane and is not a pauper. They make those rigid laws and
rules for those who shall come in, but after you are once on the inside,
you can produce and re-produce and repopulate the earth with syphilitic
and diseased and insane people, as far as the government is concerned.
This is the short-sighted side of our whole life. We are very generous
and sympathetic but we are oversentimental, and the time has come
to use our minds and to, apply our intelligence to life and to the
conditions of life as we find them today.
Now Mr. Russell
has said some things that are very interesting to me. He tells us
that we cannot have pleasure without pain. It is a man who is speaking.
(Laughter and applause.)  It is very peculiar that Nature only
works on the one side of the human family when it comes to that law.
She applies all the pain to the woman. It is absurd--a perfectly absurd
argument in the face of rational intelligence (applause) to talk about
marriage being for one purpose.
Now I claim--and
I differ with Mr. Russell on that--I claim that the sex relationship
has distinctly two functions. It has its love function and it has
its maternal and paternal function. One is quite independent of the
other, and one is just as moral as the other, and if it were not so,
then the laws of this country ought to divorce the woman who is not
able to have children. Absolutely! And we know it does not. We know
that the time the children are created that there is not 1 percent
of humanity that is born or created with that thought in mind. Very
few people think at the time of creation that they are going to create.
Most of us are brought into the world by accident and that is exactly
what birth control is going to change. That is going to make humanity
a conscious and voluntary thing.
When we talk of
race suicide, it would take almost a whole afternoon to tell you how
futile that argument  is. We know perfectly well, those of us
who have studied the question that in those countries where birth
control knowledge has been at the disposal of the people that, although
the birth rate has gone down, that the death rate has also gone down.
Consequently the population has been accelerated and there has been
a better population because it has been a better and healthier population.
If Mr. Russell
wants to talk about the race and does not want race suicide he had
better come over quickly to the ranks of birth control. (Applause.)
on Birth Control: Margaret Sanger and Winter Russell (Girard, Kansas:
Haldeman-Julius Co., 1921), 12-29. paragraph numbers have been added,
and the original pagination appears in brackets.