Friday, April 24, 2015

Personhood - Part 2

Margaret Sanger
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8).

When dealing with the issue of personhood in light of abortion, we can’t ignore the question of babies in the womb with clear signs of mental or physical deformity detected before birth. Abortion in these cases is also disturbing, but may be necessary in the long run to insure the continued upward progression of our race. The more we discourage reproduction, by abortion or sterilization, by persons having genetic defects or undesirable genetic traits, the cleaner and more refined our gene pool will become. Over time, we won’t have to deal with the downsides associated with disability and low intelligence, particularly the cost associated with the care of disabled and moronic people. Besides, have you ever seen a retarded person? That is certainly no kind of life. How cruel we are to force those poor wretches to endure the hell that is their existence. 

Sorry, I must have buttoned my SS tunic up too tightly and cut off the circulation to my brain…there, that’s much better. 

Eugenics and genetic engineering is despicable, as it is in direct opposition to our Christian morality, as well as the founding principles of our society. As Americans, we have rightly spent considerable time, talent, and treasure to push this idea to its rightful place along the fringes of civilization. At the height of the eugenics movement at the turn of the 20th century, many notable figures thought the idea of engineering an ideal citizen was the way of the future. Among them were George Bernard Shaw[1], Woodrow Wilson[2], Teddy Roosevelt[3], and of course, Margaret Sanger. Ms. Sanger was a proponent of what is called “negative eugenics” - what I falsely advocated above – and her activism culminated in an organization called the American Birth Control League, which is today Planned Parenthood. 

The entire mission of Ms. Sanger, and the other birth control and abortion rights pioneers of the 1920’s, was based on the idea of negative eugenics, which is nothing more than discouraging reproduction by persons having “genetic defects” or “undesirable genetic traits”. Writing in the Birth Control Review, Ernst Rudin summarized well the goal of the abortion and birth control advocates of the day in his article, “Eugenic sterilization is an urgent need” – We must prevent multiplication of this bad stock (Rudin 1933)[4]. What was considered bad stock? For starters, the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, and the poverty-stricken. In an article written for the “Birth Control Review,” Ms. Sanger wrote[5]:

As an advocate of birth control I wish … to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the 'unfit' and the 'fit,' admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation.... On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective (Sanger, The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda 2003).
In a 1939 letter discussing the Negro Project, explaining how to make in-roads with the black community in order to provide positive information to blacks regarding birth control and sterilization she wrote:

“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members (Sanger, Letter from Margaret Sanger to Dr. C. J. Gamble 1939).”
To be clear, Ms. Sanger was not advocating forced sterilization of all blacks or, as some disingenuous pro-life advocates maintain, genocide, but rather a propaganda campaign using black doctors, ministers, and other community leaders to convince those of bad stock to voluntarily sterilize, abort, and use birth control. I shudder to think, however, how people would react if some conservative political icon from days past was discovered to have come up with anything called “The Negro Project”, let alone to have advocated targeting the black community in America with contraception, sterilization, and abortion to eliminate their bad stock. I am cynical to be sure, but here is where it pays off to be a progressive. 

It is one thing to advocate that people make responsible decisions and plan as best they can to have children so that they can afford them and provide for them. It is quite another to advocate the monstrosity of negative eugenics. Who decides what is detrimental and what is beneficial? We might not have a problem agreeing that hemophilia could be classified as detrimental to the person and/or society as a whole. A study of gay brothers, however, has led some scientists to believe that several genes might effect sexual orientation (Tanner 2014)[6]. What happens when someone decides that homosexuality is an undesirable genetic trait to be eradicated? Or brown eyes? Or insert trait you want to see eradicated here? We don’t have to guess, we need only to look at the Nazis. 

In 2001 doctors in Britain aborted a 28 week old fetus because testing indicated that the baby would have a cleft lip and palate (Abortion Review 2011)[7]. One could hardly argue that this child would have a low quality of life, especially in the UK, with their wonderful health care system. Nevertheless, because of its undesirable genetic characteristics, the pregnancy was terminated. Left unchecked civilization runs the risk of sliding back into “eugenics gone wild” – the classification of individuals and their families, people such as the poor, the mentally ill, the blind, homosexuals and even entire racial or ethnic groups as degenerate. This is a place I do not wish to go, and an ideology against which I will fight vigorously. 

The modern reproductive rights establishment has its roots, through Margaret Sanger and others, in the 20th century eugenics movement. This is evidenced, not only by history, and the writings of Sanger herself, but also in the issue of terminating pregnancy solely for the reason that the child suffers from mental or physical deformity.

Are the vast majority of pro-choice people fascists, or Fabian socialists? Certainly not. I do believe, however, if confronted with the similarity of Sanger’s “negative eugenics” and the thought process that gave birth to the Holocaust, they would, being reasonable, certainly reconsider their view of the subject. I am certain that many people have probably not even made this connection, as it is downplayed and denied by the activists, and those of us who point it out are generally demonized for the sin of using Margaret Sanger's own material to illustrate what she believed. 

The severely handicapped, the infirm, the helpless, and the aged are all persons in the sight of God with life given by Him and to be ended only by Him (Concordia Publishing House 1991)[8].

Works Cited

Abortion Review. "UK: 'Cleft palate' cleric back in the news." Abortin Review. March 23, 2011. (accessed April 21, 2015).

Baker, Stuart E. Bernard Shaw's Remarkable Religion: A Faith That Fits the Facts. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Kaelber, Lutz. "New Jersey." Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States. 2009. (accessed April 21, 2015).

Roosevelt, Theodore. "T. Roosevelt letter to C. Davenport about "degenerates reproducing"." DNA Learning Center. January 3, 1913. (accessed April 21, 2015).

Rudin, Ernst. "Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need." Birth Control Review, 1933: 111.

Sanger, Margaret. "Letter from Margaret Sanger to Dr. C. J. Gamble." Genius. December 10, 1939. (accessed April 19, 2015).

"The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda." The Public Writings and Speeches of Margaret Sanger. 2003. (accessed April 21, 2015).

Tanner, Lindsey. "New Study Suggests Genetic Link for Male Homosexuality." The Huffington Post. November 11, 2014. (accessed April 19, 2015).

End Notes

[1] Shaw was a proponent of Socialism and Eugenics all his life. Shaw used satire to mock proponents of eugenics who went to inhumane extremes as has been done in this work, and quotes are often taken out of their satirical context to paint him as a monster. His stance on the idea that the impure and defective should be bread out of the human race, however, was the point he was illustrating by his satire. Shaw’s statements on eugenics were consistent throughout his life: he maintained, first, that better breeding was essential and, second, that only the Life Force could be trusted to select the pairs (Baker 2002).

[2] New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson signed a sterilization law in 1911. By 1913, however it was the first such statute in the nation to be declared unconstitutional. In Smith v. Board of Examiners the New Jersey Supreme Court found that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment (Kaelber 2009).

[3] “You say that these people are not themselves responsible, that it is ‘society’ that is responsible. I agree with you if you mean, as I suppose you do, that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum” (Roosevelt 1913).

[4] “Eugenic Sterilization is an Urgent Need,” Birth Control Review, April 1933, page 102.

[5] “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” October 1921, page 5.

[6] “New Study Suggests Genetic Link for Male Homosexuality,” Huffington Post, November 17, 2014.

[7] The glamorous cleric [Joanna Jepson] first came to public attention when she spoke out against a late abortion that had been carried out in 2001 - the termination of a 28-week-old fetus with a cleft palate. Doctors are permitted to carry out abortions beyond the 24-week legal limit if they believe a baby’s disability is serious enough, but Joanna argued that a cleft palate was a minor physical flaw, not a severe abnormality (Abortion Review 2011).

[8] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1991, p. 78.