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Culture Of Life 101 . . . “The Dizzying World Of Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review”

August 27, 2014 Featured Today No Comments

By BRIAN CLOWES

(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of 900 of the best quotes from The Birth Control Review, which is more than 300 pages long and is organized by topic, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.)

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The most common themes of Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review (BCR) were eugenics and contraception, with hatred of the Catholic Church running a close third.
Planned Parenthood’s loathing of the Catholic Church is nearly a century old, and springs mostly from its realization that the Church is its primary opponent.
As one editorial in The Birth Control Review revealed, “Our experience of the last ten years of constant fighting has been that of all the reactionary groups in the country the Roman Catholic Church is the most politically pernicious and menacing to any progressive movement.”
Another writer asserted: “Religion, in its organized forms, is the archenemy of the birth control movement throughout the world. . . . That they are out of touch with current opinion and modern thought, seldom if ever occurs to them, as they wave their venerable superstitions in our faces.” Margaret Sanger herself said that “today the chief warfare against Birth Control is waged by the Roman Catholic clergy and their allies.” She recounted that “very early in childhood I associated large families with poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness, cruelty, quarreling, fighting, debts, jail — and the Catholic Church.”
Then, as now, the people who demanded tolerance for their own views accused the Catholic Church of “fiendish cruelty,” forcing women to “choose between perpetual adoration and perpetual pregnancy,” plotting to “apply the thumbscrew and the rack to all those who believe in a woman’s right to practice voluntary motherhood,” and that the Church demanded that “women shall be bent and broken on the torture rack of ignorance.”
Frequent BCR contributor and science fiction writer H.G. Wells raved that “Rome is the source and center of Fascism. . . . Why do we not bomb Rome? Why do we allow these open and declared antagonists of democratic freedom to entertain their Shinto allies and organize a pseudo-Catholic destruction of democratic freedom?”
Such nonsense was warmly welcomed in the pages of The Birth Control Review not once or twice, but hundreds of times.
Many of these statements were simply the result of profound and blinding ignorance, which allowed people to make blanket statements that made no historical sense. For instance, one doctor alleged: “All religions have always considered woman as a breeding machine and nothing else.”

Conspiracies Galore

The anti-Catholics who wrote for The Birth Control Review perceived the Catholic Church as the root of all their troubles, and feared a papist conspiracy lurking around every corner. They were every bit as paranoid then as the “pro-choicers” are now.
One writer claimed that the Church wanted to rule the world by making everyone live by Catholic teachings (sound familiar)? Another hoped that the Church’s “dastardly attempt to destroy our liberties” would fail and complained that she was trying to “deprive Americans of the right of free speech and the free discussion of their laws.” George Hallett was convinced that Church leaders “have most of the legislators enslaved.” Finally, Margaret Sanger griped that “the influence of the Roman Catholic Church was seen everywhere…the Church apparently dominates American courts of justice and political life today.”
One writer for The Birth Control Review wrote that “the Catholics are directing our legislators to act according to their will. We have all been troubled by the fear that this Catholic threat to our free institutions would materialize if Catholics were given positions of power in our government.”
Imagine the reaction if the word “Jew” appeared in the above quote instead of “Catholic.” But somehow, such anti-Catholic bigotry seems perfectly acceptable to Planned Parenthood.
Frequent contributor Norman Himes claimed that the Pope ran Massachusetts and that “we shall soon have the iron heel of Romanism upon our throats even as it treads upon the freedom of Italian citizens today.” Himes also believed that Catholic “stock” was inferior to that of Unitarians, Universalists, and Freethinkers, and that all rights (including the right to life) are bestowed by the state and can be revoked at any time.
Of course, the Catholic Church was attacked by Protestant denominations that had surrendered in the fight against birth control. One submission from the magazine The Protestant said that “it is limitation of the birthrate, and not the means by which the limitation is accomplished, that the Papacy is fighting. Its demand is for large families and large Roman Catholic voting populations. It is the fact, not the methods, of birth control that angers it.”
There were charlatans and turncoats then as there are now. One minister claimed that birth control was “good religion.” Another alleged that “the eugenic ideal may become a distinct aid to Jesus’ dream of His kingdom on earth, and may well be integrated as a general religious concept.”

Here We Go Again

One of the worst afflictions of the Church over the past century is failed priests who soothed their own guilty consciences by attacking the Church. Former priest L.H. Lehmann wrote articles that are almost identical to those that appear in Catholics for (a Free) Choice literature today:
“At the bottom of the Papacy’s attitude towards sex, as in its attitude towards everything else in the domestic and public life of men and women, is its unceasing reach after supreme control of the bodies and souls of all men. . . . Although universal power and dominion be foreign to the mind of Christ, history is writ large with the record of shame brought upon the fair name of Christianity by this unceasing reach of the Roman Church after undisputed dominion over all men and nations.”
Writers for The Birth Control Review used exactly the arguments that CFFC and other pro-abortion groups use today. One editorial claimed that “the coercive attitude of the National Catholic Alumni Federation protest is far more serious, threatening as it does the American principle of freedom of opinion and the separation of church and state….The real issue centers in the Catholic disregard of the principle of freedom of conscience upon which the country was, supposedly, founded.”
Another charged: “Instead of separation of church and state with equal rights for all religious denominations, they are asking that the religious tenets of one church shall be by law binding on all the men and women of America….Let the Catholic Church guide its own people, but let it not dominate the lives of those who are not in its fold.”
Another editorial proclaimed that “the Roman Catholics say that Birth Control is immoral. We claim that for us Birth Control is of high moral value. We do not ask to constrain their consciences, let them cease to attempt to constrain ours.”
The Culture of Death thinks that “separation of Church and state” really means “where the state advances, the Church must retreat.” And so, we have constant efforts by pro-abortion groups to force Catholic hospitals and doctors to perform abortions and sterilizations and distribute contraceptives.

What Will Replace Religion?

One book review in The Birth Control Review said that “the main argument is a simple one, that many features of orthodox religion in themselves are bad and that the old religious culture pattern is hopelessly inconsistent with modern science and with a progressively secularized culture. Crush the infamous thing and away with the rubbish.”
If this “infamous thing” is to become “rubbish,” what will replace it? Francis B. Summer says that “science now aims at nothing less than the establishment of a new religion, without priest or dogma, the sole aim of which is the happiness and ennoblement of humanity on earth, and Neo-Malthusianism, though not the whole, is the chief factor in that religion.”
Another writer called science “the only possible savior of mankind.” Science as savior hasn’t done too well for itself, has it?

Who Wins In The End?

Although the editors of The Birth Control Review preferred articles submitted by dissenting “Catholics,” they were kind enough to occasionally allow authentic Catholic writers to submit opinion pieces. Seen from a vantage point nearly a century later, these articles are eerily prophetic.
For example, one Fr. Fulton Sheen commented on the Federal Council of Churches capitulation on birth control, writing that “since a week ago last Saturday we can no longer expect them to defend the law of God. These sects will work out the very logic of their ways and in fifty or one hundred years there will be only the Church and paganism. We will be left to fight the battle alone — and we will.”
Fr. Sheen was absolutely correct. Since 1960, the membership of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has risen 43 percent, and the memberships of all pro-life churches has increased by 38 percent. Meanwhile, the combined membership rolls of pro-abortion churches in the United States have plunged 34 percent. Most interestingly, those timid and lukewarm churches that have proclaimed that they are “neutral” on abortion have lost 81 percent of their members since 1960.

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