Margaret Sanger, in her own words

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.

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5 Responses to Margaret Sanger, in her own words

  1. Christina says:

    You can also read Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization online.

  2. Laura says:

    Christina, I appreciate your providing this information. Right now I have neither time, energy or stomach for this, but it’s important enough I’ll look at it anyway. Thank you.

  3. CJackson says:

    Great article; interesting video.

    Don’t mean to nitpick – but the Church of England actually decided in favor of birth control at the 1930’s Lambeth Conference.

  4. Laura says:

    you are right, of course. I’ll correct at once 😉

  5. Brittany says:

    I enjoyed your thoughts on the interview. My husband and I watched most of the interview last night (April 12, 2011 – DE) after a Facebook friend of his posted her distaste for the recent defunding of Planned Parenthood (and he was looking for backup to refute her arguments). We too were remarking about how aggressive and provocative Wallace was–those considered provocative today pale in comparison with the overwhelming tendency for political correctness. I absolutely agree with pretty much everything you said but particularly your observation of her hesitations. She is clearly highly intelligent and well informed, but in my opinion misguided and extremist in her conclusions–don’t belittle the impact of the loss of her mother and the resulting childhood–those are deep and lasting scars.

    Sadly, I think there is little chance of convincing anyone who supports Planned Parenthood on grounds of morality–they filter this information and process it in an entirely different way. You just cannot argue Christian based morality with those who do not respect Christianity or any other religion. My thought is that the only way to really gut the naysaying argument is by pointing out that if they feel so strongly about the cause, they can contribute to it. If Planned Parenthood really offers the quality “product” that many praise it for they will survive and thrive on a free-market structure. There is no controversy surrounding the benefit and nobility of breast cancer research, but contribution to that cause is NOT federally mandated. Those who are so touched and inspired to contribute and participate in fundraising efforts on their own free will. While PP supporters may staunchly disagree with pro-lifers, can they really deny that there is legitimate grounds for debate? And would they happily pay their tax dollars to support any activity that they strongly disagreed with?? The Federal government has no right to force me to pay for abortions when I am so fundamentally against it–that infringes on my rights as a Christian. Supporters may not agree with me on the morals and assessments, but surely they can at least respect my rights to my own opinion and that it is wrong to force me to participate in something that is contradicts my beliefs.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

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