Published in Catalogue, 2016
The 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood may have passed you by but it’s worth taking notice. The American women’s health establishment that has come to represent the liberation and care of modern women by its admirers as much as it has been branded the ultimate representation of female immorality and anti-life reprobates by its antagonists.
In a time where the US Republican presidential nominee has suggested “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions in a legislated pro-life country, tens of thousands of people flood the streets of Warsaw to rally against a bill threatening to strip women of all abortion rights, and the Australian legality of the procedure still ambiguously toes the lines of pro-life favour, it’s important we reflect on where Planned Parenthood first originated and how, in any given society, the right to abort reflects the unimpeded power of women to be autonomous, intelligent, ambitious humans with the same economic, social, and personal pursuits of fulfilment as men.
Margaret Sanger, women’s rights activist, coiner of the term “birth control” and widely regarded historical badass paved the way for Planned Parenthood in 1921 when she established The American Birth Control League. Sanger was an Irish-American woman born in 1879 who had witnessed her mother’s passing at fifty to tuberculosis, supposedly contracted after giving birth to eleven children and surviving seven miscarriages. Sanger became furious in grief and blamed her father resolutely for allowing his wife to suffer so profoundly in the name of procreation.
Sanger subsequently escaped her family home to study nursing and in doing so, cared for thousands of immigrant women too poor to afford abortions, turning to back-alley abortions that would inevitably put them in hospital. Sanger’s career in nursing solidified what she had already suspected in earlier life: the lack of contraception and absence of legalised abortion was oppressing women.