NYT's Collins Praises Margaret Sanger as Birth-Control Savior, Ignores Her Support for Eugenics

May 12th, 2010 6:23 PM
New York Times editor-turned-columnist Gail Collins's Saturday column celebrated the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill and waxed on birth-control activist Margaret Sanger for several paragraphs, without touching on Sanger's racism and support for eugenics. The online headline: "What Every Girl Should Know About Birth Control."

Discussing purity crusader Anthony Comstock, Collins wrote:
One of his targets was Margaret Sanger, a nurse who wrote a sex education column, "What Every Girl Should Know," for a left-wing New York newspaper, The Call. When Comstock banned her column on venereal disease, the paper ran an empty space with the title: "What Every Girl Should Know: Nothing, by Order of the U.S. Post Office."

Sanger was the first person to publish an evaluation of all the available forms of birth control. As a reward, she got a criminal obscenity charge. She fled to Europe to avoid going to jail, and her husband was imprisoned for passing out one of her pamphlets. In the end, he got 30 days, and Anthony Comstock got a chill during the trial that led to a fatal case of pneumonia.
It was the courts that eventually gave women the right to not only have access to birth control, but also information that told them what was available and how to use it. (The first big victory had the memorable name of U.S. v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries.) Sanger, meanwhile, helped bring together the wealthy donors and brilliant researchers who would bring forth the first effective oral contraception.
As noted by the Neo-Neo-Con, Collins managed to write about Sanger, birth-control activist, without hinting at her darker passages. Here's one of Sanger's most notorious proposals, from a 1932 speech:
Keep the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feeble-minded, idiots, morons, insane, syphilitic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred by the immigration laws of 1924.
Collins also heralded Sanger in her 2003 book on feminism, "America's Women - 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines." In an October 2003 piece for the Times magazine (she was editorial page editor at the time) Collins actually called for a statue in Sanger's honor:
For the Lower East Side there are so many potential subjects that it might be better to commandeer an entire city park and create a walk flanked by statues. You'd obviously include some of the women who came out of tenements to lead radical political movements and organize labor unions. It would also be a good place to honor Margaret Sanger, who first became obsessed with the need for effective birth control when she worked as a nurse there.
Collins made no mention of Sanger's dark side.