If you’re aiming to convince faithful Christians of the merits of contraception, it’s probably best not to include a defense of Margaret Sanger in your article. Yet that ‘s what author Rachel Marie Stone features in her piece for Christianity Today, “Contraception Saves Lives.” It’s a misleading title for an article in which the majority of space is devoted to defending a woman who championed racist eugenics programs and founded Planned Parenthood, the largest advocate of abortion in America today.
Sanger also made no secret of her belief that many human beings, especially minorities, immigrants, and the poor, were “unfit to live.” She called such people “human weeds” (The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Vol. 1: The Woman Rebel 1900-1928, p 386). She referred to whole classes and races as “undesirables.” And perhaps most notoriously, Sanger wrote, “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it” (Chapter 5, “The Wickedness of Large Families” in Woman and the New Race, 1922).
Sanger’s obvious evils doom Stone’s repackaging endeavor from the start. For it ultimately matters little whether Sanger accomplished some good in a few areas—of course she did. And so did Hitler, who helped in the construction of the autobahn. An ounce of good cannot erase Sanger’s legacy of evil.
That’s why my primary concern with Stone’s piece is not her whitewashing of Sanger’s life. (Most people will see the glaring deficiencies in that effort.) Instead, my greater concerns lie with more subtle errors, no less deadly, that threaten to turn us into the next generation of Margaret Sangers.
Error #1 – Believing That Sex and Children Are Not Connected by Design
Sanger’s founding principles for the organization now known as Planned Parenthood abolish the union God established between sex and children: “We hold that children should be children should be (1) conceived in love; (2) born of the mother’s conscious desire; (3) and only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health.”
When you use warm words like “love,” “mother,” and “health,” you can dupe a lot of people into thinking that your causes are beneficial—when they’re actually a recipe for death. Those principles essentially place human choice at the center of life, locating the value of a child’s life in the decisions of the mom (dad always gets the snub here). The gospel is more beautiful than this, however. It tells us that we are loved and wanted by God, even if our mothers (and fathers) do not want us. God’s decision to love us is not grounded in humanity’s subjective notions of “conditions which render possible the heritage of health.” Instead, God loves us in Christ before the foundations of the world were laid (Eph. 1:5).
God connected sex with bearing children for a reason. By separating what God joined together, we are becoming people who want the privileges of sexual release without the responsibilities that God wisely attached to these pleasures. The end result is not happiness for everyone, but a culture pierced by abortion and pornography—for those are the epitome of fruitlessness, promising sex without the possibility of children. Following suit, our culture’s birth rates are falling every year. We are becoming a culture who hates children, disguising our disgust with words like, “Being a parent just isn’t right for me.” If being a parent isn’t right for someone, then they shouldn’t marry and engage in the primary activity that leads to becoming one. What God joined together, let no one separate.
Error #2 – Believing That Birth Control, by Itself, Will Stop Abortion
Margaret Sanger’s writings show that she treated birth control as a kind of mini-savior. She believed that by reducing “unwanted children” and the “evils of large families” (her words), she could reduce poverty, and thus solve many problems.
It is a line often repeated by certain political ideologies, but it has little grounding in truth. For the tragic reality is that cultures with the highest levels of affluence and access to birth control are cultures with the highest rates of abortion, too. Clearly birth control, by itself, cannot touch the evil in our hearts. So long as we go on thinking that children are only valuable when they are wanted (Error #1), birth control by itself will never solve abortion.
That is why the statistics that Stone offers are ultimately unhelpful. They assume, against the demonstrated statistical trends, that all of the “unwanted pregnancies” would be “solved” by birth control. That simply isn’t true. An unwanted child is still unwanted, even when mom was on the pill. Only now, the child is doubly unwanted because mom really thought she was protecting herself from another blessing from God. Furthermore, many of the statistics cited in the same study have little to do with unwanted pregnancies but with the birth conditions in third world countries. It’s so obvious that it hardly needs pointing out, but those conditions—and all the deaths linked to them—presently remain for every pregnancy, wanted or not.
Error #3 – Believing That Whatever “Works” Is Right
Perhaps the subtlest error in Stone’s article is the pragmatism that underpins the entire argument. Certainly—undeniably—it is a great evil for a 12-year-old girl to become pregnant through rape. Full stop. What, then, is the solution for such tragedies?
Stone seems to place most of her eggs in the birth control basket (following Error #2). Yet it is her justification that is truly problematic. In every case, the reason she opts for birth control as the solution for societal problems is because it “works.” For Christians, however, the sole concern is never merely whether something works. We also want to know: What is the cost of something that works? Does it solve one problem and lead to bigger ones? How do you know it “works”? Who gets to decide what it means to “work” in the first place?
Stone does not address these concerns; perhaps they are off her radar. Instead, the driving concern throughout the article is, How can we reduce the number of deaths related to childbearing? If we believe Jesus was serious about the second greatest commandment, then that is a necessary goal. Christians can and should be pursuing legitimate ways to address these problems. But we must not set a course for loving our neighbor that carries in it the seeds of their own destruction. That is what pragmatism always does.
After all, it was pragmatism that initially halted Sanger from supporting abortion (she opposed it because it was unsafe), and it is pragmatism that has led Planned Parenthood to continue supporting abortion today (claiming that it “works” to help reduce poverty, abuse, etc.). I fear that Stone’s pragmatism, both in this article and in others she has written on the subject, will prove a far greater evil than even the horrific living conditions in underdeveloped countries. For when we adopt the “whatever works is right” view of solving problems in life, we inevitably ignore greater evils along the way, and thereby make our “benefactors” twice the sons and daughters of hell.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook orTwitter.
*This article published 3/13/2015