A taped interview with Mike Wallace, dating from 1957, is very revealing look into the woman who founded what is now known as Planned Parenthood. I regret that I’m unable to post the video directly here, but it is not available in its entirety through YouTube or other similar venue.
I’ve experienced many feelings and thoughts, watching this video, last night and today. The most striking is the difference in television journalism over the past 52 years; Wallace pushes for facts and revelations, not for the emotional fervor toward a predetermined ideology; there is no hero worship here – and no demonizing of either Sanger nor the Catholic Church – on the part of Mr. Wallace.
Younger viewers of this interview may not have any concept of the moral and social climate of the U.S. in the 1960s. Until the 1930s, all churches in America – and all decent people had some connection with a religious organization of some description – were opposed to contraception. There was considered something scandalous and indecent, even unnatural, in the very idea of separating sex (and only marital sex was acknowledged) from procreation. Wallace addresses this, in his pursuit of a discussion of Natural Law, during the course of the interview.
In the 1930s, the Church of England made the startling acquiesence to allow birth control. The politics of this decision are complex. Within a decade, other mainstream Protestant churches had also begun to relax their prohibitions on birth control; the Methodist Church I grew up in, in the 1960s, was swiftly transitioning into treating birth control as a personal matter between married couples, not the province of the Church. By the 1980s, even evangelical groups had adopted this attitude, and only certain fundamentalist congregations and the Catholic Church maintained that birth control was sinful.
Moreover, despite current popular entertainments testifying to the contrary, the expectation of society was that decent people reserved sexual intimacy for the covenant of marriage – or the civil equivalent thereof. The power and profundity of sexual intimacy was recognized as too intense to be treated recreationally, or engaged in outside of marriage. Those who broke the rules were severely looked down upon. Promiscuity was considered not only personally irresponsible, it was a threat to the very fabric of family life and society.
Pay attention to the video. I think Sanger’s refusal to answer certain questions reveals a great deal about her political savvy. She knows she’s a controversial figure, advocating a controversial policy change – not only in the area of birth control, but also in her admission that reserving sex for marriage is foolish and unrealistic. Much of our own cultural upheaval and confusion, today, we owe to the work of this one woman and her followers.