At the beginning of the twentieth century, abortions were legal in few states. New York City public care nurse Margaret Sanger witnessed the disastrous effects of self-induced abortions that women performed when they became pregnant and could not foresee feeding another mouth in poverty. Abortion was an evil weapon; a last result.
While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization” (Sanger).
Sanger advocated for smart family planning and founded Planned Parenthood in 1916. She transformed the language of sexual discourse and believed that women should be educated about all possible ways of preventing pregnancy.
In the 1910s, modernist poet Mina Loy reinvented the language of womanhood, voicing her opinions on sex and its role in the life of a woman. While she never expressed an explicit attitude for or against it, in her “Feminist Manifesto” she presented pro-birth control sentiments, maintaining that women who were not emotionally mature, or who were not in a pleasurable and healthy sexual relationship, should not have children.
While Sanger and Loy lived on opposite continents and traveled in different professional and social circles, both wished to change the way women thought about their lives.
Today, birth control is widely available in the United States and Europe. The topic of debate has shifted to abortion. “Pro-life” butts up against “pro-choice.”
These terms cannot apply to the issues that Sanger and Loy were grappling with some 100 years ago. Margaret Sanger despised abortion. To make people understand that improved methods of family planning were necessary, she knew she would have to scare them, make them realize that unnecessary pregnancies should not occur in the first place. Mina Loy wished to humble her readers in a similar way, make them realize that giving birth was not to be taken lightly; it was hard and painful. She also wanted women to be conscious of themselves when choosing to have sex, become pregnant and give birth. So, what did these women have in common? They instilled fear and rethought the concept of motherhood.
- Margaret Sanger, 1916. Digital image. Five College Archives and Manuscript Collection. Five College Finding Aids Access Project, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2016. <https://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss43_bioghist.html>.
- Mina Loy (1882-1966). Digital image. The Modern American Poetry Site. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2016. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/index.htm>.
Loy, Mina, and Roger L. Conover. The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996. Print.
“Roe v. Wade and Beyond.” Frontline. WGBH Education Foundation, 19 Jan. 2006. Web. 4 Dec. 2016. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/clinic/wars/cases.html>.
Sanger, Margaret. “Birth Control Review.” Birth Control or Abortion? 3.4 (1918): n. pag. Microform. Margaret Sanger Microform (2003): s70:809.