Margaret Sanger

Although the editors of Available Means did not see fit to include the information that my instructor imparted, that information colors my impression of Margaret Sanger. According to my instructor, Sanger was a proponent of eugenics. She believed that reproduction should be limited, and that reckless reproduction was an ill that should be eliminated. She favored sterilization of less desirable classes of people in order to control the population. And, as has been the case with other prominent white women of this era, she considered blacks to be among the less desirable.

Again, the question emerges - how do we deal with the objectionable views from the past? Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, a detail the editors did include in the introduction to her piece. It was originally named the Birth Control Federation of America. Both of those names take on a different light with the ideas of eugenics attached to them. When I think of birth control, I think of a personal choice and a personal, individual action. But in the context of trying to limit less desirable populations from reproducing, birth control takes on an ominous air. Who exactly is controlling birth?

And yet, Sanger's era was different from the one we live in now. She was arrested for distributing information on birth control, and served time in jail. While there are still institutions in America that object to birth control, I have never heard of anyone being prosecuted for distributing information on it. The internet allows the distribution of all kinds of information, regardless of what any given person might think of that availability. Unless, of course, the government censors the internet.

"Letter to the Readers of The Woman Rebel" is the piece of rhetoric included in the book. It is a short piece, written before Sanger fled to Europe in 1914. Women are still not able to vote, and so they must rebel in order to bring about change. They must take the rights to their own bodies, because no one will give it to them. Sanger uses repeated questions as a rhetorical strategy, and in that way, the letter could work as a speech as well, a litany that seeks the response to each question a resounding "No."

Freedom includes freedom to self-determine the course of one's own body. Without stepping into the grounds of whether a woman should have a right to abortion, what is bodily autonomy? If Sanger was determined that some people should not be allowed to reproduce, then how would that be freedom for those deemed worthy of sterilization? The ideas circle back to the idea of equal creation. If all people are created equal, then none have any less right to reproduce than any others. Atrocities such as those that Sanger cited in her letter, of women seeking abortion from quacks who killed many who came to them for succor, should not have been allowed to continue. On that, I will agree with her.

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