Return to page: 1
During January and February of 1926, Sanger and her co-workers personally interviewed 40 senators and 14 representatives. None agreed to introduce a bill to amend the Comstock Act. Fresh from this unanimous rejection, Sanger issued an update to her followers: Everywhere there is general acceptance of the idea, except in religious circles. . .The National Catholic Welfare Council [sic] (NCWC) has a special legislative committee organized to block and defeat our legislation. They frankly state that they intend to legislate for non-Catholics according to the dictates of the church.
There was no such committee. But 20 non-Catholic lay or religious organizations joined NCWC in opposition to amending the Comstock Act. This was not the first time, nor was it to be the last, that Sanger sought to stir up sectarian strife by blaming Catholics for her legislative failures. Catholic-bashing was a standard tactic (one that Planned Parenthood still finds useful to this day), although other Christian groups now also come in for criticism.
Eight years later, in 1934, Sanger went to Congress again. Reporting on the first day of the hearings, the New York Times noted, "... the almost solidly Catholic opposition to the measure. This is now, according to Margaret Sanger. . . the only organized opposition to the proposal."
Sanger wrote a letter to her "Friends, Co-workers, and Endorsers" that portrayed the opposing testimony as the work of Catholics determined ... not to present facts to the committee but to intimidate them by showing a Catholic block of voters who (though in the minority in the United States) want to dictate to the majority of non-Catholics as directed from the Vatican in social and moral legislation ... American men and women, are we going to allow this insulting arrogance to bluff the American people?
For Sanger, the proper attitude toward her religious critics featured character assassination, personal vilification and old-fashioned bigotry. Her Birth Control Review printed an article that noted: "Today by the Roman Catholic clergy and their allies . . . Public opinion in America, I fear, is too willing to condone in the officials of the Roman Catholic Church what it condemns in the Ku Klux Klan.
A favorite Catholic-baiter of Sanger's was Norman E. Himes, who contributed articles to Sanger's journal. Himes claimed there were genetic differences between Catholics and non-Catholics.
Are Catholic stocks . . . genetically inferior to such non-Catholic libertarian stocks and Unitarians and Universal . . . Freethinkers? Inferior to non-Catholics in general? . . . my guess is that the answer will someday be made in the affirmative. . . and if the supposed differentials in net productivity are also genuine, the situation is anti-social, perhaps gravely so.
Sanger sought to isolate Catholics by creating a schism between them and Protestants, who had held parallel views of birth control and abortion for centuries. She welcomed a report from a majority of the Committee on Marriage and the Home of the General Council of Churches (later the National Council of Churches) advocating birth control. This committee was composed largely of social elite Protestants, including Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. A number of Protestant church bodies publicly repudiated the committee's endorsement.
The Rev. Worth Tippy, council executive secretary and author of the report, told Sanger in April 1931 that: ... the statement on Moral Aspects of Birth Control has aroused more opposition within the Protestant churches than we expected. Under the circumstances, and since we plan to carry on a steady work for liberalizing laws and to stimulate the establishment of clinics, it is necessary that we make good these losses and also increase our resources. Could you help me quietly by giving me the names of people of means who are interested in the birth control movement and might help us if I wrote them.
Sanger immediately wrote Tippy that she would be "glad to select names of persons from our lists whom I think might be able to subscribe." Tippy replied to Sanger a week later, offering to give her some names for fund raising and thanking her for the offer of "names of people who are able to contribute to generous causes and who are favorable to birth control." He also related that they had expected some reaction from the "fundamentalist groups," but nothing like what had happened.
Protestants repeatedly stated their unity with Catholics in opposing Planned Parenthood's initiatives. During Sanger's attempts to reform New York state law, another Protestant stood with Catholics. The Rev. John R. Straton, Pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church of New York City, said: "This bill is subversive of the human family . . . It is revolting, monstrous, against God's word and contradicts American traditions."
Sanger's attack on Catholics appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from the class politics of Planned Parenthood. The Rev. John A. Ryan wrote: ... their main objective is to increase the practice of birth-prevention among the poor . . . It is said that the present birth-prevention movement is to some extent financed by wealthy, albeit philanthropic persons. As far as I am aware , none of these is conspicuous in the movement for economic justice. None of them is crying out for a scale of wages which would enable workers to take care of a normal number of children.
Sanger's sexual license was another motivation for her Anti-Catholic sniping. A Sanger biographer, David M. Kennedy, said her primary goal was to "increase the quantity and quality of sexual relationships." The birth control movement, she said, freed the mind from "sexual prejudice and taboo, by demanding the frankest and most unflinching re-examination of sex in its relation to human nature and the basis of human society.
It was in 1939 that Sanger's larger vision for dealing with the reproductive practices of black Americans emerged. After the January 1939 merger of her Clinical Research Bureau and the ABCL to form the Birth Control Federation of America, Dr. Clarence J. Gamble was selected to become the BCFA regional director for the South. Dr. Gamble, of the soap-manufacturing Procter and Gamble company, was no newcomer to Sanger's organization. He had previously served as director at large to the predecessor ABCL.
Gamble lost no time and drew up a memorandum in November 1939 entitled "Suggestion for Negro Project." Acknowledging that black leaders might regard birth control as an extermination plot, he suggested that black leaders be place in positions where it would appear that they were in charge as it was at an Atlanta conference.
It is evident from the rest of the memo that Gamble conceived the project almost as a traveling road show. A charismatic black minister was to start a revival, with "contributions" to come from other local cooperating ministers. A "colored nurse" would follow, supported by a subsidized "colored doctor." Gamble even suggested that music might be a useful lure to bring the prospects to a meeting.
Sanger answered Gamble on Dec. 10. 1939, agreeing with the assessment. She wrote: "We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten that idea out if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." In 1940, money for two "Negro Project" demonstration programs in southern states was donated by advertising magnate Albert D. Lasker and his wife, Mary.
Return to page: 1
LEARN was officially established in 1993 at the African American Pro-Life Planning Conference in Houston, Texas. One of the primary goals of LEARN is to facilitate a strong and viable network of African American and minority pro-life/pro-family advocates.
L.E.A.R.N. Northeast is part of the Life Education And Resource Network (LEARN), a national network of Christian pro-life/pro-family advocates who are dedicated to protecting the pre-born and promoting traditional family values.
This article first appeared in the January 20, 1992 edition of Citizen magazine and can be found on the LEARN website (link closed). Read the article on the Physicians for Life website. Reprinted with permission.