Part of the From Margaret to Cecile: Planned Parenthood’s 100 Years of Scandals Series
Margaret’s Views on Abortion
When Margaret Sanger first started Planned Parenthood, there was no intention for her organization to sell abortions. In fact, both Margaret and her friend, psychologist Havelock Ellis, were public in their belief that abortion was a societal failure and a “crime” rather than a triumph or right.
Margaret wrote in her birth control booklet, Family Limitation, that proper use of birth control should eliminate the need for an abortion. “No one can doubt that there are times where an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent conception. This is the only cure for abortions.” (Italics original)
In her autobiography, Margaret wrote that the first thing she taught her clients when she opened the Brooklyn clinic in 1916 was that abortion was wrong. “To each group we explained simply what contraception was, that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life, that contraception is the better, the safer way.” She also wrote that abortion leaves women “physically damaged and spiritually crippled.”
Ellis was a close associate of Margaret’s and a controversial figure in the early days of psychology. He heavily influenced Margaret in her thoughts on sex and sexuality. He was an irreligious man and thought that morality was fluid, but in an article he wrote for Margaret Sanger’s The Birth Control Review , he details abortion as unhealthy for women and society:
“It may be admitted that women have an abstract right to abortion and that in exceptional cases that right should be exerted. Yet there can very little doubt to most people that abortion is a wasteful, injurious, and almost degrading method of dealing with the birth rate, a feeble apology for recklessness and improvidence. A society in which abortion flourishes cannot be regarded as a healthy society. Therefore, a community which takes upon itself to encourage abortion is incurring a heavy responsibility.”
It is not certain if Margaret and others would have changed their minds and encouraged abortion if it were legal. Abortion at the time was dangerous to the mother (always fatal for the preborn child), and many women lost their lives in clinics and at home due to botched abortions and the absence or scarcity of antibiotics. However, what is evident is that avoiding unintended pregnancies was Sanger’s solution, not abortion. There was an emphasis on personal responsibility towards pregnancy, something not markedly emphasized by Planned Parenthood today.
The Birth Control Pill and Abortion
Based on Margaret’s philosophy, abortion should have theoretically become obsolete in the U.S. after the development of the birth control pill in the 1950’s. According to the arguments of the early birth control movement’s advocates, abortions should not exist in a world where every woman has access to contraception. However, that didn’t happen: abortion became legal within 20 years after the development of “the pill.” The number of women seeking abortions went up exponentially over the next couple of decades, at the same time the availability of birth control increased.
Cecile’s Views on Abortion
During her 12 years at Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards has likely been one of the most effective voices in selling abortions as healthcare and a birth control option in the U.S. Under her leadership:
- Abortions have increased by 11%
- Abortions now account for 13-14% of all client visits
- 3,542,823 abortions have been committed since Cecile became president, a 71% increase in comparison to the abortions under the previous president, Gloria Feldt (1996-2005)
- Last year, Planned Parenthood brought in approximately $160,700,000 from abortions
In 2014, Cecile publically revealed that she aborted her own child and encouraged other women to share their abortion stories to help de-stigmatize the practice. Cecile disclosed in an Elle magazine article that she decided to abort her fourth child, but the details that she provides are vague: “It was the right decision for me and my husband, and it wasn’t a difficult decision. Before becoming president of Planned Parenthood eight years ago, I hadn’t really talked about it beyond family and close friends.”
Cecile’s revelation appeared to be a reaction to a growing movement of women who wanted to celebrate their abortions on the web and social media. Pro-life advocates say this allows women to try and justify their decisions by sharing their abortions stories publically with a positive spin. Cecile shared with a local Iowa newspaper that, “The exciting thing to me now is that young people are telling their stories and they are living out loud. More women are telling their abortion stories, and I told mine.”
Those who believe legalized abortion advances the cause of women’s rights celebrate the fact that it has become synonymous with “reproductive health” at Planned Parenthood under Cecile Richards’ leadership. This is a major departure from Planned Parenthood’s origins under the leadership of Margaret Sanger, where abortion was recognized for what it was: a “crime.”