Margaret Sanger – the Legalization of Birth Contro

The Comstock Act of 1873 constructed a tragedy between women and their rights to birth control legalization. This act was a set of laws that restricted the use of any contraceptives such as medication for prevention of pregnancies after interactive sexual intercourses, which led to many women harming themselves in an attempt to terminate their pregnancies. With these laws in place, women still wanted access to these contraceptives. However, many were unreliable. Required to care for their children, women were unable to learn or get jobs on their own. Margaret Sanger saw this as a threat to women in society. She acted upon the Comstock Act which led to the establishment of the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Forced to flee to Europe after being given a fine, she continued her studies there. With much hard work and perspiration, Margaret Sanger and other men and women activists triumphed over the reinterpretation of the Comstock Act and the legalization of birth control. The Comstock Act was passed by Congress in 1873 which made it illegal to sell or distribute contraceptives in the United States, to mention it through writing, through the mail and the United States Postal Service, or ship them from overseas. The main goal of this was to avoid any promotion of contraception and abortion and to diminish the influence of using materials of the general population in hopes of ending pregnancies. In addition to that, preventing the practice of pre-marital sex was another intention of passing this law. This may have been one of many disadvantages for women (Connecticut and the Comstock Law).

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Even though many have thought about birth control and it has been an idea since ancient times, it was not always a major concern for people. Many people wished to have a large amount children due to the high death rate of children, which was normal at the time. However, some thought about the future and believed that someday, there would not be enough food to feed them all. As years came by, people started to think more about birth control due to the decreasing rate of child deaths. Throughout this time, the medical care, nutrition, sanitation, and work conditions have successfully improved. These efforts of the people did not satisfy everyone, including some forms of religion and other individuals. In response to this, the U.S. Congress passed the Comstock Law in 1873, which prohibited public access to birth control materials and information for over sixty years. Many states followed up on this and passed their own set of laws regarding birth control restrictions (Birth Control). Women were limited to the amount of participation they gave in society due to unplanned pregnancies. Even where mothers are American-born women, staying at home to look after their children, the amount of money to be spent on the child strongly influences its chance of life and death (Sanger and Goldstein). Mothers had to stay home and care for their children instead of going out to work and earning a living. Not everyone is able to make a livable amount of money in order for their families to survive. Expressed in words, this table asserts that when the family income is under $625 a year, the children born alive die before the first birthday at the rate of 213.5 to the 1,000. In striking contrast when the income is $900 or more, they die only 96.8 to the 1,000. Ample was the expression used when the investigator could not obtain exact information as to the amount, but saw no evidence of actual poverty, (Sanger and Goldstein). Infant mortalities end up becoming higher due to the lack of care given and available for children. Poor conditions at home and their environment led to higher infant mortality rates, ranging from 23% for first born children to 60% for twelfth born children in 1900 (Sanger and Goldstein).

Even with these laws, women still wanted access to birth control. However, the contraceptives were not the best nor very reliable. In the eighteenth century, condoms were made using animal intestines. Not until Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock discovered the process of vulcanization of rubber did people start to use rubber condoms (“”Contraception: past, present and future, 2010). There had been multiple family planning clinics that were available. In the rest of Europe and North America, family planning clinics arose as a specific response to a legal and social situation that made contraception a mystery and denied the poor access to a technology they desperately needed, (Campbell and Potts, 2009). In attempts of ending their pregnancies, women often put their lives on the line. In order to do this, women usually performed illegal abortion procedures on themselves, or by other people. Between the years of the 1950s to 1960s, the number of illegal abortions that have been performed range anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year (Contributors, 2014). Margaret Sanger was a female activist who acted upon the Comstock Laws and for birth control. One of eleven children, her mother died of tuberculosis at the age of 48. After having eleven children and seven miscarriages, within twenty-two years from the first and seven miscarriages. She studied as a nurse and found her life’s purpose and passion after working in New York’s Lower East Side. Margaret Sanger had said in the newspaper The New York calls, ‘The mother allows the children to use newspapers as toilet receptacles – that are thrown out of the windows into the streets – and the vermin – kitchens swarming with – millions of roaches – bed bugs everywhere. Thousands of mothers leave their little children in the care of the older boy or girl (usually not over nine years old) and go to work early in the morning in the factories – to return at night to do the work of the family – the washing, which takes until two in the morning, the next night the ironing, which takes the same time and on and on, day after day, this worn out and half-famished mother continues her burden of life,’ (Mercury, 2013).

Margaret Sanger was was arrested in August 1914 for sending obscene contraceptive materials through the United States Postal Service. This was a violation against the Comstock Law of 1873. Instead of paying the bail, she fled to England instead. There, she continued her studies and research while teaching others about birth control. After her case was dropped in February 1916, she came back to the United States. When she came back, she opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn New York. Women of all socioeconomic backgrounds came to this clinic to be serviced, and within the few weeks of the clinic’s existence, it served 464 women. Margaret and her sister, Ethel Byrne, were arrested and the clinic was forced to close down. Sanger had to close once again after she was out on bail. She and her sister were convicted and spent thirty days in prison after the police permanently closed it down under the public nuisance laws. (Shlager and Lauer, 2001).

Sanger started off by stating the National Birth Control League (NBCL). This league educated women on the prevention of pregnancies. With the help of this league, they published a magazine that she called, Woman Rebel. The magazine was for women who wanted and believed in the practice of birth control. In 1927 Sanger traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to help organize the first World Population Conference, whose aim was to further global acceptance of birth control, (“”Margaret Sanger””).

The First Birth Control Clinic

Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York on October 16, 1916. Sanger, her sister Ethel Byrne, who was a registered nurse, and Fania Mindell, an interpreter from Chicago, rented a small store-front space in Brownsville and canvassed the area with flyers written in English, Yiddish and Italian advertising the services of a birth control clinic, (“”Birth Control””). For just ten cents, women received a copy of What Every Girl Should Know, which was a pamphlet that talked about women’s reproductive system and the different forms of contraceptives that are available. The Clinic served more than 100 women on the first day and some 400 until October 26 when an undercover police woman and vice-squad officers placed Sanger, Byrne and Mindell under arrest. After being arraigned, Sanger spent the night in jail and was released the next morning. She re-opened the Clinic on November 14, only to be arrested a second time and charged with maintaining a public nuisance. Sanger opened the Clinic once again on November 16, but police forced the landlord to evict Sanger and her staff, and the Clinic closed its doors a final time, (“”Birth Control””). They were all convicted to days in prison. Margaret was put on trial and offered a suspended sentence. This, however, was only if she promised to not repeat the offence. She denied this offer and spent 30 days in the Queens County Penitentiary instead (“”Birth Control””). Many forms of contraceptives were made and improved as Margaret Sanger stood up for birth control in 1916; one of them being oral contraceptives. Women were able to gain higher wages due the increase of time they are able to spend in the workplaces. Fully one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are the result of access to oral contraceptives. And while the wage gap between men and women is still significant (particularly for women of color) and must be addressed, access to birth control has helped narrow the gap. The decrease in the gap among 25“49-year-olds between men’s and women’s annual incomes would have been 10 percent smaller in the 1980s and 30 percent smaller in the 1990s in the absence of widespread legal birth control access, (“”Birth Control””).

The Pill is another contraceptive that majorly impacts a woman’s lifestyle. The Pill is easily accessible to women and girls under the age of 21. This means that women who are in college can stay in college and young women who are not yet in college can eventually go to college. College enrollment was 20 percent higher among women who could access the birth control pill legally by age 18 in 1970, compared with women who could not, and women who could access the pill before having to decide whether to pursue higher education obtained an average of about one year more of education before age 30, (“”Birth Control””). The Comstock Act prevented women their rights to choose their lifestyle and the way they live. It kept women from knowing and finding out ways to end their pregnancies or avoid getting pregnant. Contraceptives that began legal were not reliable, causing women to become pregnant even when using them. Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York in protest of the Comstock Laws. She did not stop, even when being put on trial and in prison for 30 days. This tragedy affected women all around the United States from doing things that are important for women to experience. Going to school and getting the proper education was almost impossible for young women who had children to care for. Getting a job was something women suffered from before contraceptives became legal and available for them. Triumphing over this, Margaret Sanger helped for women to finally take a part in American society.

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Margaret Sanger - The Legalization of Birth Contro. (2019, Jul 11). Retrieved December 9, 2022 , from

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