Sept. 14 marked the 135th birthday of Margaret Sanger, the pioneer for women’s rights and contraception. If she were here today, she would be horrified that we’re still fighting some of her old battles.
Sanger led the birth-control movement in America in the early part of the 20th century. She was the founder of Planned Parenthood, and she fought endlessly to promote women’s rights over their own bodies.
Her work as a nurse, and her mother’s early death, which she attributed to a high amount of pregnancies, served as a motivation for her cause.
She began her crusade in 1912 by publishing columns in a socialist magazine on sex education and birth control under such headlines as What Every Girl Should Know and What Every Woman Should Know.
In 1914, with the publication of The Woman Rebel, her newsletter promoting contraception, Sanger was forced to flee the United States to escape a possible five-year jail sentence on obscenity charges.
Charges were dropped in 1915, and Sanger returned the following year, opening the first birth control clinic, a move that would land her and her sister in jail for 30 days. Sanger appealed her conviction, and the court ruled that doctors could give information about birth control methods and provide contraception to female patients for health reasons.
In 1920, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which would later become Planned Parenthood.
It’s easy to envision that in her time, Sanger would endure much controversy. But it’s hard to believe that almost 50 years after her death, we would still be fighting her battles.
Unfortunately, that is the case.
Many Republican-dominated states have been passing unconstitutional, anti-abortion bills that are causing women’s health clinics to shut down in devastatingly high numbers. And Republicans in Congress have introduced bills to defund Planned Parenthood, which would limit women’s access not only to abortion but to cancer screenings and birth control information.
Sanger would be appalled. As she said, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”
Margaret Sanger was a woman of great courage and foresight. We need more like her if women in the United States will finally be able to call themselves free.
Chaleigh Craft wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.