When Margaret Sanger opened her “birth control” clinic at 46 Amboy St., in Brooklyn, not only were contraceptives practically unheard of, they were illegal.
Then again, it was October 1916, and the world wasn’t exactly the most enlightened place at the time. Women weren’t even allowed to vote, so why would anyone think they should decide when — and if — they would bear children?
Abortions were something literally done in back alleys, yet they weren’t exactly something Sanger supported. In fact, she felt abortions should be rare, and the best way to make them rare was to promote contraception.
Despite efforts by the government to shut her down, Sanger’s efforts to promote reproductive health grew. In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League. It was through that she ordered a diaphragm from Japan, which was immediately confiscated by U.S. Customs.
That action prompted a lengthy court battle that ended with the 1936 decision by an appeals court that the government could not intercept anything — even contraceptives — that originated from a doctor.
This essentially paved the way for contraceptives to become legal, and after World War II, Sanger’s American Birth Control League adopted a new name — Planned Parenthood.
For nearly a century, this non-profit organization has provided critical health services to women from all walks of life through 600 different health clinics around the country. Their work remains focused on reproductive care, which does indeed include contraceptives, but it also provides education vital to staying healthy in any relationship.
Yet critics of the organization have just one focus: abortions. Conservative politicians have made Planned Parenthood the poster child of abortion, fighting to rip away vital federal funding — even though no federal funding is used for abortions, except in rare cases. Like what Margaret Sanger advocated for in her lifetime.
These politicians justify their efforts to attack Planned Parenthood by saying they protect life. Yet, it seems they care more about a fetus than the lives of people — especially women — who have already been born, and wish to ensure that what happens to their body is completely up to them, and not someone else.
Wading into the abortion debate has always been tricky, and so many of us would prefer to stay as far away from it as possible. And it’s a good debate to have.
But turning health clinics designed to help women live better lives into collateral damage to try and drive your point home isn’t working. It damages — and even destroys — more people than it helps.
Want to live in 1916? Invent a time machine. Women are not inferior, and never were. And we must stop treating them like they don’t matter. Because they do.