Volume > Issue > Planned Parenthood: Seventy Years of Defying the Law

Planned Parenthood: Seventy Years of Defying the Law


By Anne Barbeau Gardiner | October 2016
Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the seventeenth century.

David Goldstein explains in his book Suicide Bent: Sangerizing Mankind (1945) that at one time he was a militant socialist who thought the chief battle to be fought in life was an economic one. But he came to realize that “life’s battle is primarily a moral battle.” Thus, he began advocating for the indissolubility of marriage and the “purity of relationship within the family,” a path that led to his conversion to Catholicism at the age of 35.

Raised in a poor Dutch Jewish family, Goldstein (1870-1958) was received into the Church in Boston in 1905. John Beaumont informs us in The Mississippi Flows into the Tiber: A Guide to Notable American Converts to the Catholic Church (2014) that Goldstein later took up an apostolate called the Catholic Truth Guild and preached a pro-labor Catholicism on street corners in working-class areas across the country. His fight against Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood Federation (which changed its name from the American Birth Control League in 1942) deserves special attention.


Last year, in a series of undercover videos, David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress exposed Planned Parenthood executives and clinicians selling the body parts of aborted babies — a practice that is against the law. But whoever is naïve enough to think that this is the first time the abortion giant has brazenly defied the law should take a long, hard look at what Goldstein reveals in Suicide Bent about Planned Parenthood’s activities during the Second World War.

Goldstein cites from a lead article in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Factory Manager Learns the Facts of Life” (Sept. 1943) that shows just how widespread Planned Parenthood’s illegal activities were at the time. Abortions were common in the war industry. According to Harper’s, “Of 73 plants employing 273,000 people, 64 did something about pregnancy” by bringing in Planned Parenthood to “dispense its services.” Not only did Planned Parenthood’s counselors advise women working in those factories on how to avoid pregnancy by means of contraception, they also told them “what to do to get rid of an unborn child.” The women went along with it because, Harper’s explains, they liked and needed the money they were earning and did not want to be fired for getting pregnant. The plant managers, for their part, wanted to reduce absenteeism, and so they directed pregnant women to “doctors who perform abortions, on the ground that they are therapeutically necessary.” This casts Rosie the Riveter in a whole new light.

As in our own day, Planned Parenthood gave lip service to the law in the war years and then boldly flouted it for profit. Harper’s explains: When asked about abortion, counselors told single women that they could not recommend it because “that would be illegal, for the law declares it to be a criminal offense.” Instead, the counselors urged the women to see “a psychiatrist” who would then determine that “serious mental upsets may attend the birth of a child to an unmarried mother” and arrange for an abortion “under proper medical procedure.”

The counselors also guided married women to abortionists on other fraudulent grounds: “In Rochester, New York, a group of doctors set up a private hospital and performed abortions, legally, therapeutically, and effectively, giving in each case their reasons: death might result from a kidney, heart, or other physical deficiency if the abortion had not been performed.” Thirty years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, these physicians linked to Planned Parenthood and serving the war industry were performing abortions for specious reasons. Those were supposedly the days of back-alley and coat-hanger abortions, but Harper’s paints a rather different picture. As in our own day, abortions were included in “general health programs,” and the magistrates gave a wink and a nod.

Commenting on the Harper’s article, Goldstein says that “the extent to which women in [the war] industry have become murderers of the unborn is seen in the writer’s declaration that, ‘In one industry medical certificates for (sick) insurance revealed twenty-two and a half abortions to each one thousand applicants for benefit, and this figure reveals only a small part of the total.'” In the early 1940s, he notes, “abortion rings are doing a land-office business.”


Abortions were rampant during the Great Depression as well. Goldstein observes that in 1934 the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection reported that an alleged seven hundred thousand abortions were committed per annum. A study of ten thousand women showed an average of one abortion for every two and a half births. In New York City, abortions were the cause of nearly eighteen percent of maternal deaths.

Even seven and eight decades ago, the contraceptive/abortion industry was thumbing its nose at the law and getting very rich doing it. Goldstein cites an article in Fortune magazine (Feb. 1938) which recorded that the birth-control industry was bringing in $250 million worth of business each year and that its drug manufacturers were profiting to the tune of $75 million a year. In today’s money, that could be multiplied by at least ten. Goldstein adds pointedly that in the birth-control clinics of the 1940s, “an abortion racket is carried on in defiance of the law.” So, not much has changed in the past seventy years. The culture of death employed Orwellian newspeak then as now: In those days, Planned Parenthood peddled its poisons as “feminine hygiene”; in these days, it markets its methods of killing preborn babies as “reproductive services.”


Catholics were singled out back then, too, as the archenemies of America’s growing licentiousness. When Archbishop Patrick Hayes of New York delivered a sermon against contraception, The New York Times gave it a full-page spread (Dec. 9, 1935). “There can be no possible compromise,” the archbishop said. “Changing conditions of no age, of no land and no people can modify or destroy the fundamental law of morality that is given to man by God Himself. The Church, therefore, is not free to take any other stand.” He warned that those who in the conjugal act “deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” Self-discipline strengthened by divine grace, he said, was the only basis for a Christian marriage.

Eleven Protestant ministers and two Jewish rabbis responded by publicly criticizing Archbishop Hayes. They said that his opposition to birth control was “out of place in America” and “undemocratic.” The archbishop replied that if it was “democratic” for the thirteen clergymen to advocate an abrogation of the “objective code” of morality, then it was surely “democratic” for him to oppose them. “Since when has it become undemocratic,” he asked, “to speak in defense of the moral law?” Although Catholic teaching on sexual morality is as ancient and perennial as the natural law, the attempt to stifle it as un-American has a long and sordid history.

Goldstein writes that Planned Parenthood could not have succeeded without a growing number of Protestant and Jewish clergymen falling into step behind it. And yet, Goldstein observes, all the forebears of these thirteen clergymen would have branded contraception “as indecent, holding it to be a grave sin.”

According to Rabbi Abraham Cronbach in The Social Outlook of Modern Judaism (1937), the Central Conference of American Rabbis first took “a liberal stand with reference to birth control” in 1929. One year later, at the Lambeth Conference, the Church of England became the first Christian communion to accept contraception as morally permissible. This was a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn, for at the Lambeth Conference of 1914 the Anglican bishops had condemned contraception as “dangerous, demoralizing, and sinful,” declaring that “intercourse should be restricted by consent to certain times at which it is less likely to lead to conception. This is only to use natural conditions.” Again at the Lambeth Conference of 1920 the Anglican bishops spoke of “the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control” and forbade “the use of any unnatural means by which conception is frustrated.” But at the Lambeth Conference of 1930 these same bishops reversed course and agreed, by a vote of one hundred ninety-three to sixty-seven, that “if there is a good moral reason why the way of abstinence should not be followed we cannot condemn the use of scientific methods for preventing conception which are thoughtfully and conscientiously adopted.”

They also claimed that there is nothing in the New Testament against contraception, though Goldstein cites many relevant passages from St. Paul. The Anglican bishops’ mention of “scientific methods for preventing conception” captures Goldstein’s attention: He wonders what difference it makes whether people use Sanger’s “scientific methods” or Onan’s “unscientific” method (Gen. 38), since “God’s natural moral principles are as unchangeable as God Himself.”


The same year the Anglican bishops opened the floodgates to contraception, Pope Pius XI issued Casti Connubii (Dec. 31, 1930). In this encyclical on marriage, he says that the Catholic Church stands unshaken “in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain.” He flatly condemns the use of contraception: “Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” The law of God, he insists, “forbids all acts intrinsically evil,” such as contraception and abortion. He calls abortion a “grave crime.”

Less than three months later, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America produced a report in favor of birth control, calling the practice “valid and moral” (Mar. 21, 1931). This council, representing twenty-two million Protestants in twenty-seven denominations, endorsed the practice but hoped it would “not outrun the capacity of mankind for self-control.” That hope sounds ridiculous now in light of the tsunami of licentiousness that followed, drowning our Western civilization in filth, as it once did ancient Rome.

The Washington Post criticized the council’s report in an editorial, declaring that “it is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of the divine institution of marriage with any modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation or suppression of human birth” (Mar. 22, 1931). To accept birth control instead of self-control, the editor said, would mark the end of “marriage as a holy institution” and introduce “degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality.” He called it “preposterous” to say, as the report did, that the use of contraceptives would be “careful and restrained.”

Of course, not all Protestants fell in line behind Planned Parenthood. Among others, Goldstein mentions Dr. William G. Morgan, president of the American Medical Association, whom Sanger’s Birth Control Review cites as saying that if contraception were to be universally accepted “it would open the door to unbridled dominance of the basest passions…. It would strike a death blow to self-control and to the dominance of the home” (May 1931). How prophetic were these words!


Throughout Suicide Bent, Goldstein cites a number of passages from the New Testament that apply directly to contraception. Some are from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, in which he warns of “God’s condemnation of men and women who gave themselves up to lustful desires” and exchanged the “natural use for that which is against nature” (1:18-26). St. Paul adds that Christ’s law of self-control means “mortifying the deeds of the flesh” (8:13). Goldstein also cites St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, in which he admonishes the Christian to “possess his vessel in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust” (4:4). Men and women are to “chastise” their bodies and bring them “under subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27), since those who “live according to the flesh” meet “spiritual death” (Rom. 8:13). In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul exhorts husbands and wives to shun “all uncleanness” (5:3), and in the Epistle to the Hebrews to let “marriage be honorable in all things, and the bed undefiled” (13:4).

From the Old Testament, Goldstein cites admonitions from the Book of Tobias. There the father warns his son: “Take heed to keep thyself, my son, from all fornication, and beside thy wife never consent to know a crime” (4:12). After he marries, young Tobias tells his wife, Sara, to join him in prayer for three nights before they consummate their union, saying, “We must not be joined together like heathens who know not God” (8:4-5).

Tellingly, Goldstein cites Prof. Moses Jung, the Jewish Chair of the Department of Religion at the University of Iowa in the 1930s, who warned his students against “experimenting with their own bodies and souls” as if they were “guinea pigs.” Dr. Jung observed that psychology was replacing religion in the minds of modern people, and that instead of fearing hellfire, they now had “whole collections of complexes, phobias and fixations” that drove them into “immature and disillusioning relations.” Has anything changed? Could not this very same observation be made today? Here is irrefragable proof that our culture has stagnated in the same fetid swamp for nearly a century. It is surely time for a change!


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