[Editorial on the Protestant Church and Birth Control Law]




"Editorials", Birth Control Review, Nov 1925, pp. 307-08


This unsigned editorial was written during Sanger's tenure as editor of the Birth Control Review, but it is not certain that she is the author."


Protestant Episcopal Church
Birth Control Review




The daily papers this month have given widespread publicity to the report of a committee of the Protestant Episcopal Church, convening in New Orleans which condemns the theory and practice of Birth Control as "hostile to the family." The committee presenting this report was composed of six bishops, two clergymen and a lay delegate. While the account published by the daily press is fragmentary and no adequate answer is possible until the full report is at hand, there is evident a painful lack of clear, constructive or courageous thinking. The attitude of this committee is a familiar one-glib condemnation of contraception, and an equally thoughtless insistence upon the paramount importance of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. As for the "unfit" and mentally defective the committee urges the enactment of state legislation forbidding the marriage of such persons.

It would be manifestly unfair to enlightened members of the Episcopalian clergy to accept this report as representative of the best opinion of the Protestant church concerning Birth Control. Readers of these pages will recall the recent courageous sermon delivered in Brighton, England, by the Bishop of Birmingham, in which that leader of religious thought pointed out that Birth Control is not only consistent with the fundamental tenets of Christian ethics, but that in the present situation of the world community, with its chaos and conflict, it is moreover the imperative duty of every thoughtful Christian courageously to participate in our battle for individual and racial regeneration. It is not necessary to reiterate here the courageous words of William Ralph Inge, the Very Reverend Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Nor is it necessary to recall that ever-growing list of enlightened and brave members of the Episcopal clergy who have come out without subterfuge or equivocation in defence of contraception.

Birth Control, as anyone who has taken the trouble to probe beneath the surface of the marriage problem knows, is not inimical to the best interests of marital or family relations. On the contrary Birth Control, as Lord Dawson of Penn so vigorously pointed out to the Bishops of England in an assemblage not unlike the recent convention at New Orleans, is one of the first requisites to happy marriage. The consummation of marriage effected without fear and the establishment of a creative, life-giving, joyful relationship between the husband and wife--such are the foundations upon which permanent monogamy is established. Only thus can the divorce "evil" be combatted and cured in any constructive fashion. And likewise only by Birth Control--the instrument which empowers parents to determine when and where and under what conditions they shall bring children into this world--can permanent, happy, healthy, wholesome family relations be established. These facts are so "idiotically obvious" that it must bore the readers of the BIRTH CONTROL REVIEW to find them repeated here. But it is precisely these axioms of racial hygiene which have been overlooked by the high dignitaries of the Protestant Episcopal Church, who are crying aloud against the marriage of mental defectives and for stricter divorce laws.

The position against Birth Control evidenced in the committee's report is obstructive. It stands in the path of progress--the progress of the splendid awakening within the ranks of the Protestant clergy which may be observed on all sides. The younger men are coming to see that in this great twentieth century task of human liberation and racial rebirth, the Church cannot afford to assume an attitude of arrogant paternalism. The clergy, as the finer more courageous churchmen well realize, must descend from its throne, must join the ranks, and battle for the Lord in tangible concrete effort, translating its religious and ethical truths into contemporary human terms. And first of all, and last of all, it must learn to understand human nature. In understanding, the Protestant Episcopal Church will no longer condemn it, but lead it onward toward the City of God.

Education in contraceptive hygiene will, we believe, be gradually disseminated. It will spread so gradually, so quietly and withal so steadily that even those of us most profoundly interested may never know the full extent of our influence. To aid in this dissemination one of our main tasks must be to remove the most outstanding obstacles in the path of this beneficient stream. For the first time we are extending our work this year to campaign for an amendment to the notoriously obstructive Section 211 of the Federal Penal Code. This is the ignominious law passed in 1878 under the influence of Anthony Comstock. It has never been amended. The most lamentable effect of Section 211 is that it hinders the free circulation among reputable physicians and scientists of data and technical information concerning the progress of contraceptive science abroad and at home. In Europe the results of clinical research are given out to physicians and scientists working in the same fields of investigation. Splendid work is accomplished, and investigators are kept in touch with the achievements of colleagues in other countries.

Lamentably, the reports of clinical research in contraception, as well as all discoveries and improvements in the instrument of Birth Control are refused transmission by the United States mails. Thus an obsolete law, enacted under the sinister regime of the prurient Comstock, stands in the path of scientific and humane progress.

Friends of Birth Control may extend real help toward the removal of thsi shameful Section 211 by writing vigorous protests against its injustice and recommending no less vigorously the support of the proposed amendment to their Senators and Congressmen. November is the month in which these letters should be written. Let us find out exactly how those who have been elected to represent the men and women of the United States stand in this matter.

Courage expresses itself in many ways. There is the exceptional spectacular act of heroism which stands out like a bright light on a dark night against the background of undistinguished conduct, or even, sometimes, of cowardice or pettiness. Such acts of heroism shine by contrast. They bring publicity, praise and medals for valor. The soldier whose every-day behavior may be the very opposite of medal is rewarded by distinguished service medals and thus bribed, like a child, into renewed bravery. Then there is the unexpected adventurous courage of the criminal, often driven to desperate straits by circumstance. Far finer than the courage that is commended by daily newspapers or appeals by its underlying melodrama to the writers of fiction is a type of courage that seems to us peculiarly feminine in quality. Feminine, I mean, in its modesty, its steadfastness, the day-in and day-out type of courage that seeks neither publicity nor the cheap reward of gold medals or public recognition. This is a heroism totally devoid of hysterical enthusiasm, a heroism steady-footed and never marred by any sign of depression or ignoble collapse.

There are thousands of women whose lives are the expression of this silent, inarticulate bravery, women who would not know what you were talking about if you praised their indomitable courage. This type of courage, indomitable, invincible, elemental, is incarnate in our own Kitty Marion. For years, in point of fact ever since we have been publishing this REVIEW, she has sold it on the streets of New York. Firmly planted and holding aloft our printed challenge to prejudice as a living Statue of Liberty, the proximate liberation of suffering womankind.

Standing there immutable, untiring and sure of herself and her conviction in the endless changing eddies and currents of human traffic in overcrowded thoroughfares, the object of ill-concealed curiosity, at times bitterly denounced by the enemies of Birth Control, Kitty Marion has held aloft with telling dramatic gesture the of Birth Control. She has been a beacon light for lost mothers seeking in desperation some way out of the labyrinth of torture to which the laws and the prejudices of legislators have subjected them.

Her absence has made us appreciate more sharply than ever before the significant and finely poised heroism of Kitty Marion. For three summer months she has been away, her vacation taking her to England where, in the militant suffrage movement she had served so valuable an apprenticeship. But now the mothers passing in the hurried eddying tides of Broadway traffic are again seeking her out. They are telling their neighbors and friends of the reappearance of the brave indomitable torchbearer again at her various posts. And we who have during these past months missed Kitty Marion welcome her return and greet her as a true heroine of the Birth Control movement.