In 1873, the Comstock Act outlawed the distribution of birth control devices and information through the mail and/or across state borders. Information about birth control was considered to be illicit and inappropriate. Margaret Sanger was one of the nurses who took a stand against this.
In the 1910’s she began publishing articles about birth control, many of which were in the magazine The Woman Rebel. She did much of her research in France and England because it was illegal and almost impossible to find information of this nature in the United States. Then, in 1916, she opened a birth control “clinic” in New York, which was later raided. This resulted in the arrest of her and her sister. Upon appeal, due in part to overwhelming support for her and her cause, she and her sister gained as opinion that birth control instruction could be legal if given by a physician for the cure or prevention of disease.
Sanger went on the found the American Birth Control League (ABCL), which was later named the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger and her associates continued to make strides in making birth control readily accessible for women in the United States. In 1960, the FDA approved the sale of oral pills for contraceptive purposes. Then, in 1970, Congress and President Nixon signed Title X of the Public Health and Service Act into law, which made contraceptives available regardless of income and also providing funding for educational programs and research in contraceptive development. This was closely followed by the landmark Roe v. Wade decision regarding legal abortions. During the 1980’s and beyond, however, many legislative roadblocks prevented groups of women from having access to birth control, such a low income women and women of color. Attacks on easy access to birth control continue to this day and the fight goes on.
While Sanger made great strides in the Birth Control Movement, she was also a very controversial and problematic person. She was allegedly involved in the eugenics movement and wanted to use birth control as a means of controlling the reproduction of “lesser populations.” She was quite outspoken about her prejudicial beliefs.
“I consider that the world, and almost all our civilization for the next 25 years, is going to dependent on a simple, cheap, safe contraceptive to be used in poverty-stricken slums, jungles, and among the most ignorant people.”
-Margaret Sanger, 1920
Sanger is a representation of the way in which a movement and an activist can have a beneficial impact while having the wrong intentions. Though her views were skewed and ludicrous, she spurred something that has provided a countless number of people with the right to decide what will happen to their own bodies.
Other information and sources: