“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”
Margaret Sanger was a birth control and sex activist throughout the first half of the 20th century who helped legalize contraception in the United States. She is also credited with creating the organizations that eventually became Planned Parenthood. Sanger believed that in order for women to lead safer, healthier lives and to regain their rights within a marriage and society, they first needed to have the right to decide when they could become mothers. She wished to protect women from unsafe abortions (since abortion was illegal), as well as from spousal abuse, poverty, and the dangers of intentional miscarriage. While she is sometimes criticized for her interest in eugenics, she still worked hand in hand with African American leaders to protect women in all communities. She was also a strong supporter of sexual expression and sexual freedom, believing that sex should be discussed with openness and candor.
Here are some of her most profound statements:
“Against the State, against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.”
“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.”
“Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.”
“Eugenists imply or insist that a woman’s first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her first duty to the state. We maintain that a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of the time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother.”
For more on Margaret Sanger, check out some of these new books and their authors’ interviews on NPR’s Fresh Air!