Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Fruits of Rebellion

Birth control has liberated many women—and men—from the burdens of unplanned parenthood. In that sense it can be called a liberal reform. But in many significant ways birth control has served conservative ends. Nothing more pointedly illustrated the potentially conservative implications of her cause than the enthusiastic reception that those eugenicists interested in biological control of allegedly inferior immigrants first gave to Margaret Sanger. The Protestant churches also found conservative utility in birth control when they endorsed it as an instrumentality to aid in the preservation of the family. And the federal government finally gave its quiet support to birth control in the interests of social control in the depression and conservation of human resources in wartime. 1.

Mrs. Sanger herself, after her early immersion in radicalism, spent the rest of her life preaching not to the poor but to the middle class. Though after World War I birth control reformers continued to be concerned with the plight of the prolific poor, in time that concern proceeded less from sympathy with the lower class than from anxiety in the middle class. The poor—especially the Negro and alien poor—became primarily a problem. Birth control, as the means to implement eugenic ideas, seemed the proper solution. But that hope, ultimately, proved chimerical. The Americans who came increasingly to practice birth control

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1.
Though the government faced a drastic rubber shortage at the beginning of the war, the War Production Board on January 24, 1942 permitted contraceptives, for both men and women, to be manufactured at 100 percent of the 1940-41 production level. Tileston v. Ullman, 26 A.2d 582 at 591 n ( 1942).

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