Women’s right activist Margaret Sanger: Founder of the birth control movement

Women’S Right Activist Margaret Sanger: Founder Of The Birth Control Movement

Margaret Sanger was an advocate for women’s reproductive rights, a feminist and a vocal eugenics enthusiast.

Born into an Irish working-class family on September 14, 1879, Margaret Sanger was one of the 11 living children her mother had. She witnessed her mother’s slow death, worn out after 18 pregnancies and 11 live births. The event traumatised her and left a huge impact on her life as she went on to become a nurse and midwife in the years before World War I. During her early nursing years in poor neighbourhoods of New York City, Margaret saw women being deprived of their health, sexuality and ability to care for children already born. Contraceptive information was suppressed by clergy-influenced, physician-accepted laws that it was a criminal offence to send it through the mail. However, what bothered her the most was the access to such information to the educated, well-off class, and a complete denial of the same to others. It was this injustice that inspired Sanger to defy church and state.

She decided to disseminate the knowledge among the masses through a series of articles called “What Every Girl Should Know,” in her own newspaper The Woman Rebel. Later, she spread the information in the neighbourhood clinics with a hope to put power into the hands of women.

Sanger wanted to empower women to make their own reproductive choices. She increasingly focussed her efforts on minority communities, because that was where, due to poverty and limited access to health care, women were especially vulnerable to the effects of an unplanned pregnancy. She believed birth control (the term coined by her) was the fundamental women’s rights issue. “Enforced motherhood,” she wrote in 1914, “is the most complete denial of a woman’s right to life and liberty.”

On Oct. 16, 1916, Sanger opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States. Since contraception was a criminal offence there were multiple cases filed against her. Sanger had to fly to Europe for a year to avoid severe criminal penalties. After her return, the case was dismissed as she continued to push legal and social boundaries. Soon she founded American Birth Control League (which became, in 1942, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America) and organized the first international population conference.

In her 80s Sanger finally saw the first marketing of a contraceptive pill, which she had helped develop. In 1965, a year before her death, Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraception, even by married couples. It was later extended to unmarried couples in 1972. Thereby, constitutionally guaranteeing the right to privacy, which later made abortion a safe and legal alternative for women.

Featured image: Wall Street Journal


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