Gina Christian

Buzzwords have always been a pet peeve of mine, although I confess my own tongue and typing fingers aren’t exactly undefiled in that regard. I’ve been known to promise I’ll “circle back” to issues, “loop in” colleagues on email threads, “leverage” resources and take both a “deep dive” and a “holistic approach” on projects.

But one popular term that’s really grated on my ears and eyeballs over the past decade is “pivot,” often used as a euphemism for changing course quickly due to some sort of setback. Silicon Valley and start-ups have been “pivoting” for several years; executives, politicians, journalists and sports analysts have increasingly joined in the fun.

About a century ago, however, the word “pivot” was used in a truly dangerous and deadly way. In 1922, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger laid out her case for artificial birth control as nothing less than “The Pivot of Civilization,” the very point on which human society rests and turns.

In his foreword, British author H.G. Wells admitted the book’s premise might be a bit overstated — “I do not know how far one is justified in calling (birth control) the pivot or cornerstone of a progressive civilization” — but he commended Sanger for tackling “a question of fundamental importance at the present time.”

And Sanger did so with gusto, declaring in the first chapter that “civilization, in any true sense of the word, is based upon the control and guidance of the great natural instinct of sex. Mastery of this force is possible only through the instrument of birth control.”

What follows in the next 12 chapters is a view of humanity so dismal that most readers — including those who support legalized abortion — would find themselves wanting to pivot, and quickly, from such a toxic text.

Despite some lofty and even rapturous phrases here and there, Sanger essentially reduced humans to two basic instincts, hunger and sex, which she termed “the great central problems” of mankind’s condition. And both had to be addressed in tandem, she argued, since “civilization (can) not solve the problem of hunger until it recognize(s) the titanic strength of the sexual instinct.”

That instinct, she said, was to blame for rampant poverty among what she rightly described as “underpaid and half-starved workers,” on whose behalf she railed against the “industrial injustice” that provoked “a bitter struggle for bread,” and still does — not because there isn’t enough food, but because disaster, waste, conflict and other obstacles prevent equitable access to it, according to the United Nations.

Like other reformers of her time, Sanger deplored infant mortality and child labor, drawing on statistics and anecdotes to underscore such evils, which she said proved “the American nation officially places a low value upon the lives of its children.”

But Sanger’s proposed remedy (couched amid the text’s many false dilemmas, contradictions and other logical fallacies) was rather unorthodox.

“Uncontrolled breeding and child labor go hand in hand,” she said. “The brutal truth is that CHILDREN ARE CHEAP (capitals original). When overproduction in this field is curtailed by voluntary restriction, when the birth rate among the working classes takes a sharp decline, the value of children will rise. Then only will the infant mortality rate decline, and child labor will vanish.”

In Sanger’s mind, a market correction was required: children, whom she said should be “conceived in love (and) born of the mother’s conscious desire” were ultimately commodities to be regulated, “and only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health.”

That last point was a major one for Sanger, a eugenicist who despised the “notorious fecundity of feeble-minded women” and stated “there is but one practical and feasible program in handling the great problem of the feeble-minded. That is, as the best authorities are agreed, to prevent the birth of those who would transmit imbecility to their descendants” — including my own mother, a beautiful and talented woman who also suffered from schizophrenia. As Sanger would have it, neither Mom nor I deserved to draw the breath of life, since we stood to pollute the human bloodline with our deficiencies.

In fact, said Sanger, “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective,” since their “offspring” are “a menace to the civilized community even when not actually certifiable as mentally defective or not obviously imbecile.”

She even warned that “drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society if it continues to complacently encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism.”

Charity, in the form of social services provided by churches and other philanthropic institutions, was of no help in the matter, said Sanger, who denounced such outreach as “cruel” and “paternalistic.” 

Besides, she observed, “benevolence … encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents,” who in her view were “the most dangerous elements in the world community, the most devastating curse on human progress and expression.”

She was particularly appalled by “gratis medical and nursing facilities to slum mothers,” since the sites “(encouraged) the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder … a dead weight of human waste.” 

For Sanger, Marxism was “too limited, too superficial and too fragmentary” to tackle the issue of “reckless breeding,” especially given that many adherents equated having more children with having more party members to fight for the cause. 

Eugenics was a better approach, said Sanger, as long as proponents avoided a “cradle competition” by trying to outbreed the “inferior classes” — the goal being to focus on a “qualitative as opposed to … quantitative” strategy for the continuation of the human race.

Above all, the perpetuation of human life had to be throttled “especially at the point of creation where all the various forces are concentrated,” she maintained. “Conception must be controlled by reason, by intelligence, by science, or we lose control of all its consequences.”

After a century of Sanger’s large-scale experiment in population control — which currently translates into the worldwide slaughter of 73.3 million unborn children each year, not counting those prevented from being conceived in the first place — those consequences refuse to be altered, because human life, and all life, is a gift from God, in whose hands alone are its beginning and end. 

Claiming to promise freedom for body and spirit, Sanger merely repeats the ancient lie by which our first parents were deceived in the garden of Eden: that we are a law unto ourselves, and that we can wrest from our Creator the sovereign power that is his. 

If ever there were a moment to pivot — in humility and repentance, seeking God’s mercy — it is now.

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Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.