The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective

By Donald T. Critchlow | Go to book overview

DONALD T. CRITCHLOW


Birth Control, Population Control, and Family Planning: An Overview

So great is the skill, so powerful the drug, of the abortionists, paid to murder mankind within the womb.

— Juvenal (a.d. 60? to 140), Satire VI 1

The cultural fission created by the controversy over birth control and abortion, as Juvenal's satiric comment above indicates, has a long and bitter history. The emergence of the modern state, however, transformed cultural differences into political acrimony as reproduction rights became public policy. In the United States, reproductive rights in the post World War IIperiod became a matter of political controversy when the federal government began to fund family planning programs domestically and abroad in the 1960s.

The origins of the modern family planning movement in the United States emerged from three distinct, although often overlapping, forces. First, in the early twentieth century, Margaret Sanger and other feminists initiated family planning in their call for the legalization of birth control. The emergence of the black civil rights movement and the woman's movement in the 1960s gave impetus to the "rights" aspects of this cause. Second, a eugenics movement emerged in the Progressive Era to demand that the native stock of Americans be strengthened by limiting "deviant" populations and reducing the social burden of crime, prostitution, and illegitimacy—social ills often associated with "mental idiocy"—through birth control, sterilization, and immigration restric-

I would like to acknowledge Thomas Curran, Hugh Graham, James Hitchcock, Mark Neely, James Reed, and James Sharpless for reading this essay.

-1-

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