Following the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines
For many years, back to biblical times and before, women had no semblance of reproductive rights. Reproducing, and raising children seemed to be the roles women fell into, while men hunted for food, and later worked, for the family’s survival. As a result, women were at a disadvantage to decide what they wanted out of life. Distracted by the many demands of raising children, as well as the stress of being overworked themselves had little time to focus on anything else. Margaret Sanger began to learn of these differences between men and women, as well as the poor and wealthy class, and wondered why women were not in more control of their reproductive capacity, regardless of their class.
Sanger had personal experience the trials of a poor, large family. As one of eleven children who watched her mother die from being overworked, she saw firsthand what a life without birth control could do. Moreover, she was left to care for her siblings. Once she left home, she became a nurse, and was able to observe many of the diseases she encountered were a result of sexual intercourse. They were diseases that could have been avoided if only people were educated about their bodies and sex. As she plumbed the depths of this topic further, she discovered women, specifically poor women, were never given information about their bodies, pregnancy, or how to prevent it.
Horrifyingly enough, Sanger discovered physicians were happy to give wealthy women alternatives, sometimes, but would often tell women of the poorer class they were bound to having children or remaining celibate. Abortion made one a monster in the eyes of society, therefore, in order to have one a woman had to take her reproductive rights into her own hands in a different way. Typically, this meant visiting a doctor who had no experience, was using an unsterilized facility, or strange and unsafe methods in order to induce an abortion. Each of these scenarios are believable, however, as Sanger describes seeing tears of joy run down women’s faces when they hear an unwanted pregnancy was, indeed, a stillborn.
Rather than call it birth control, which it rightfully is, Sanger refers to the contraceptive as a way for women to control birth. The simple switch of words seems to change the power they have, showing that women must take back control of their wombs, their bodies, and their lives. Physicians in 1917, at the time of the essay’s publication were primarily male. Similarly, all politicians setting boundaries on a woman’s right to her body, or to procreate or not were also male. Essentially, a woman had no rights to her body or birth control and there were no females speaking publically on behalf of the female collective until Margaret Sanger spoke out. She pointed out women of the poor, working class, already caring for five and six children were conveniently too exhausted to be outraged by the injustices being perpetrated upon their gender politically or otherwise. Celibacy and raising children were the only two options at the time and these, as Sanger pointed out, were not options at all, as they both often led to ruin depending on the income of the family. It was time for a change.
Knowledge about the control of birth, or birth control would put the power back into the hands of women. Sanger intended to put it back into the hands of all women. She noted the statistics concerning infants and children of the lower class, noting many of the deaths, neglect, and handicapped children born into families who cannot afford them or do not want them could be avoided through the use of education and control. Her aim, though often seen as misguided or cruel, was to rid the world of unwanted pregnancies before they happen and to give control of reproductive rights to the woman. Of course, this was a struggle against the opposition before Sanger began the battle, during her life, and even now, after she has died. It is a mystery as to why. Women get pregnant, are forced to carry a child, and are typically the primary caregivers. While gender roles concerning childcare are in the midst of a shift, presently, the fact remains men cannot have children and men cannot get pregnant. Men do not endure abortions or child labor. Why, then, were men allowed to make any decisions concerning birth control during that time or now remains to be seen.
In sum, Sanger saw firsthand what happens when women are not in charge of their own reproductive capacity. It began when she was very small, and she witnessed it take her mother’s life. Later, professionally, she realized the lack of birth control given to women was destroying their lives, as well as the lives of their children. She witnessed it spreading like any of the diseases she encountered linked to a lack of sexual education. As a result, she dedicated the essay to raising awareness about female control over reproductive capacity, as well as what the possible results could be when such a thing was lacking. Sanger, as we know, went on to attempt large feats for the female community, continuing to speak on behalf of those who could not, and crusading for female reproductive rights in all aspects.