Pelosi Getting Award Named for Woman Who Called Children 'Human Weeds'

Penny Starr | March 27, 2014 | 11:21am EDT
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (AP)

( -- Planned Parenthood on Thursday will give House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) its Margaret Sanger Award, named for a woman who advocated eugenics and who described some children as "human weeds," while arguing that to grow a "beautiful garden of children," you "have got to fight weeds."

In that same speech from 1925, Sanger explained that parenthood should be legal only under certain conditions: a minimum age for parents of 23 years, a "space out between births," "economic circumstances adequate," and "spiritual harmony between parents."

Furthermore, parenthood would be precluded if there were "subnormal children already in the family," said Sanger.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, is giving Pelosi the award because of her “leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement over the course of her career,” said Cecile Richards, president of the organization, which is the largest abortion provider in the United States.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood traces its origins to 1916 when Sanger opened a birth control office in Brooklyn, N.Y.  Several years later, 1922, she established the American Birth Control League to address issues such as "world population growth, disarmament, and world famine," and in 1923, Sanger opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in Manhattan to provide contraceptives to women.

The American Birth Control League subsequently merged with the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau and later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.

In 1925, Sanger expressed her support for limiting human reproduction in a speech at the Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in New York. (Thomas Malthus was an 18th century British economist who believed in population control, particularly by limiting reproduction in the so-called lower classes of society.)

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

In the speech, “The Children’s Era,” Sanger first talked about how the 20th century could produce "a beautiful garden of children," but only if the breeding and rearing of children were viewed with a gardener's eye.

"You have got to give your seeds a proper soil in which to grow," she said. "You have got to give them space and the opportunity (if they are to lift their flowers to the sun), to strike their roots deep into that soil. And always -- do not forget this -- you have got to fight weeds. You cannot have a garden, if you let weeds overrun it. So, if we want to make this world a garden for children, we must first of all learn the lesson of the gardener."

Sanger then described what she termed trainloads of "unwelcome" and "unwanted" children, many of them "without pedigrees."

"Trainload after trainload of children are coming in, day and night -- name less refugees arriving out of the Nowhere into the Here," she said.  "Trainload after trainload -- many unwelcome, unwanted, unprepared for, unknown, without baggage, without passports, most of them without pedigrees."

She continued, “These unlimited hordes of refugees arrive in such numbers that the reception committee is thrown into a panic--a panic of activity. The reception committee arouses itself heroically, establishes emergency measures: milk stations, maternity centers, settlement houses, playgrounds, orphanages, welfare leagues and every conceivable kind of charitable effort.”

“But still trainloads of children keep on coming--human weeds crop up that spread so fast in this sinister struggle for existence, that the overworked committee becomes exhausted, inefficient and can think of no way out,” Sanger said.

And when Sanger and her supporters "protest against this immeasurable, meaningless waste of motherhood and child-life; when we protest against the ever-mounting cost to the world of asylums, prisons, homes for the feeble-minded and such institutions for the unfit," she said, "we are told that we are making an 'emotional' appeal."

The remedy, Sanger argued, was "to free women from enforced, enslaved maternity. There can be no hope for the future of civilization, no certainty of racial salvation, until every woman can decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother and when and how many children she cares to bring into the world. That is the first step."

Immigrant family at Ellis Island.

In conclusion, Sanger said children "should be brought into the world only when they were welcome, invited and wanted; that they would arrive with a clean bill of health and heritage; that they would possess healthy, happy, well-mated and mature parents."

Parenthood would be precluded and made a crime, said Sanger, if certain conditions were present with the spouses. These included "transmissible disease"; "temporary disease"; and "subnormal children already in the family."

In addition, the rules for parenthood should include "space out between births"; "23 years as a minimum age for parents"; "economic circumstances adequate"; and "spiritual harmony between parents."

In the speech, Sanger also warned against “reckless breeding.”

“Our opponents declare that children are conceived in love, and that every new-born baby converts its parents to love and unselfishness,” Sanger wrote. “My answer is to point to the asylums, the hospitals, the ever-growing institutions for the unfit. Look into the family history of those who are feeble-minded; or behind the bars of jails and prisons.”

“Trace the family histories,” she said,  “find out the conditions under which they were conceived and born, before you attempt to persuade us that reckless breeding has nothing to do with these grave questions.”

Some of the other writings by Sanger that express her views on eugenics include the following:

-- In an article entitled “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,"  published in February 1919 in The Birth Control Review, Sanger argued that while birth control advocates and eugenists  both want the “elimination of the unfit,” eugenists promote reproduction of the “fit” while the birth control movement wants to limit reproduction across the board as a means of overall population control.   (Sanger started The Birth Control Review periodical and it was published from 17-17 to 1940.)

She wrote, “We who advocate Birth Control, on the other hand, lay all our emphasis upon stopping not only the reproduction of the unfit but upon stopping all reproduction when there is not economic means of providing proper care for those who are born in health. The eugenist also believes that a woman should bear as many healthy children as possible as a duty to the state. We hold that the world is already over-populated. Eugenists imply or insist that a woman's first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her duty to the state.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and President Barack Obama. (AP)

“We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother. To this end we insist that information in regard to scientific contraceptives be made open to all. We believe that if such information is placed within the reach of all, we will have made it possible to take the first, greatest step toward racial betterment and that this step, assisted in no small measure by the educational propaganda of eugenists and members of similar schools, will be taken.”

-- The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger include portions of a speech given by Sanger on Aug. 5, 1926 at the Institute for Euthenics at Vassar College.  It was also published in The Birth Control Review in October 1926.

This speech, “The Function of Sterilization,” proposes how the practice can lead to “race betterment.”

Sanger states,   “The Question [sic] of race betterment is one of immediate concern, and I am glad to say that the United States Government has already taken certain steps to control the equality of our population through the drastic immigration laws.

“There is a quota restriction by which only so many people from each country are allowed to enter our shores each month. It is the latest method adopted by our government to solve the population problem. Most people are convinced that this policy is right, and agree that we should slow down on the number as well as the kind of immigrants coming here.

“But while we close our gates to the co-called ‘undesirables’ from other countries, we make no attempt to discourage or cut down the rapid multiplication of the unfit and undesirable at home.”

Human baby in the womb. (AP)

In the speech, Sanger also states: “It now remains for the United States government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or a yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit."

In the portion of the speech preserved, Sanger concludes:  “There is only one reply to a request for a higher birth rate among the intelligent, and that is to ask the government to first take off the burdens of the insane and feeble-minded from your backs. Sterilization for these is your remedy.”

-- Sanger’s article “Birth Control: Yes or No” was published in Fairplay on Sept. 20, 1919 and portions of the text are missing. This is the third of a three-article series, “Prudence and Purity in Sex Matters.”

Sanger says, “Yes, but how about the unfit -- the mental defectives who ought most of all to avoid offspring -- would they know enough to use the knowledge if it were given to them?  The great majority of mental defectives are not in institutions, but are at large in the community. No defective can produce normal offspring. These people are therefore a serious menace to community health.

“Experts such as Dr. H. H. Goddard of the Vineland Training School for the Feeble Minded, have expressed the very definite opinion that large numbers of defective people are capable of understanding and acting upon contraceptive information, and that they should be taught. The institutions for feeble-mindedness and insanity are increasingly overflowing.

(AP Photo)

“The supply of defectives should be cut off at the source. Mere governmental economy demands this -- even if there were no other reasons. To use public funds needlessly for the care of the unfit instead of for education and opportunity for the normal is criminal stupidity.”

Sanger also states that “family limitation” does not necessary mean small families:  “It must never be inferred that advocates of family limitation are necessarily urging small families as such. It is true that relatively few parents can give successful care to large families, but all who can ought surely to have as many as they want.”

-- Sanger's article, “Will Birth Control Diminish It?” was published in Eugenics on March 23, 1929.  In the piece, Sanger states, “The garden of humanity has been choked by the destructive forces of uncontrolled and misdirected procreation.”

The article further states,  “To say that birth control runs the risk of excluding from life geniuses as well as defectives is to imply that chance is a better guide than intelligence. The total number of geniuses in the whole of human history is much less than one thousand. The total number of defectives could never be computed.

“The damage they have done to civilization cannot be counterbalanced by the benefits we have derived from genius. The garden of humanity has been choked by the destructive forces of uncontrolled and misdirected procreation. Small wonder that the potentialities hidden in the human species have so seldom flowered in genius.

“Father McClorey [who wrote the opposing view in the magazine] may think it better to abandon the garden to the weeds, naively confident that geniuses will make their appearances regardless of heredity and environment. But no student of genetics, no one who has even superficially observed the achievements of scientific horticulture and animal breeding, can consider seriously that the road to human perfection can ever be attained by abandoning scientific control and reverting to a childish reliance upon the blind forces of uncontrolled procreative instincts.”

According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s  latest annual report, covering fiscal years 2012-2013, affiliated clinics performed 327,166 abortions and provided more than 1.5 million “emergency contraceptive kits,” which contain drugs that can induce abortion.

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