NL 2011/09

Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) Died 45 Years Ago
Family Planning Was Claimed to Be a Communist Plot

While she began her career as a nurse, Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) soon recognised that she needed money and influence to help the millions of “poor, weak, wasted, frail women, pregnant year after year like so many automatic breeding machines”. However, the Comstock Act, named after Anthony Comstock (1844–1915), an American politician and morale apostle, had been in power in the USA since 1873. This statute made it illegal to send any type of “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials through the mail, and contraception was considered the most obscene subject of all. In effect, this blocked all efforts to inform and educate the public by making them punishable by law.

In her many years of work, Sanger won over a considerable number of wealthy and/or influential supporters. At the same time, her life was dominated by political struggles. In the early 1930s, Sanger’s objective, the liberalisation of family planning, came to be equated with support for Communism: Catholic groups claimed that calls for birth control were a part of a Communist plot to weaken the USA.

As a result, Sanger abandoned her plan to hold a conference on family planning in the Soviet Union in 1932. The subsequent year, diplomatic relations were established between the USA and the USSR, so that Sanger was able to make her planned visit to Leningrad and study the Soviets’ experiences with contraception and abortion.

She remained politically active her entire life. Even at the age of 80, she continued to be outspoken in defending her beliefs, for example in a widely publicised statement made in 1959. That year, her target was the current American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower: against the recommendations of his own government’s committee, he denied giving financial aid to developing countries for birth control. Eisenhower justified this by saying, “This government will not as long as I am here have a positive political doctrine in its program that has to do with birth control. That’s not our business.”

Sanger’s protest was sharp, and she challenged Eisenhower to a public debate. It never took place, but Sanger had achieved her goal: the media highlighted the subject of birth control for several days.


Her greatest success was without a doubt the development of the contraceptive pill in the 1950s, which her efforts and her talent at raising money made possible.



Come and learn about Margaret Sanger and more pioneers of family planning in Vienna's Museum of Contraception and Abortion. Wednesday through Sunday 14 -18 h. Mariahilfer Guertel 37, A-1150 Wien (Austria). Or visit our website on and our facebooksite