Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights by Angela Davis

Chapter 12 from “Women, Race & Class” published 1981, Vintage Books. by Angela Davis.

Granted, when some Black people unhesitatingly equated birth control with genocide, it did appear to be an exaggerated — even paranoiac — reaction. Yet white abortion rights activists missed a profound message, for underlying these cries of genocide were important clues about the history of the birth control movement.


By 1919 the eugenic influence on the birth control movement was unmistakably clear. In an article published by Margaret Sanger in the American Birth Control League’s journal, she defined “the chief issue of birth control” as “more children from the fit, less from the unfit.”27 Around this time the ABCL heartily welcomed the author of “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy” into its inner sanctum.28 Lothrop Stoddard, Harvard professor and theoretician of the eugenics movement, was offered a seat on the board of directors. In the pages of the ABCL’s journal, articles by Guy Irving Birch, director of the American Eugenics Society, began to appear. Birch advocated birth control as a weapon to
“… prevent the American people from being replaced by alien or Negro stock, whether it be by immigration or by overly high birth rates among others in this country.”29


The abortion rights activists of the early 1970s should have examined the history of their movement. Had they done so, they might have understood why so many of their Black sisters adopted a posture of suspicion toward their cause. They might have understood how important it was to undo the racist deeds of their predecessors, who had advocated birth control as well as compulsory sterilization as a means of eliminating the “unfit” sectors of the population.


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