Birth Control, Religion and the Unfit

Birth Control, Religion and the Unfit

Charlotte Perkins Gilman writes on the benefits of birth control, a practice which does not interfere with the pleasures of the unfit but saves society from their reduplication.


Earnest persons, studying social difficulties, find them gravely complicated by "the unfit." The unfit are common enough, from those of mere average incapacity, like ladies living on alimony, to admitted defectives living on our taxes. They are notonly passively injurious as not earning their own livings, but actively injurious as consuming the livings of useful people.

We are mortified atour moronic average, alarmed at the increasing numbers of those far below it. Further, we find that the unfitter they are, the more lavishly they fulfil what some religionists assure us is the divine command to increase and multiply and replenish the earth. Confronted with this difficulty, We propose to check the undesirable in- crease by the simple device of sterilizing the unfit. Unfortunately, when urging necessary legislation on the subject, we meet notonly religious objections, but those of the unfit who are voters.

On further thought, seeking to antedate the disadvantageous reproduction, we seize on the benefits of birth control, a practice which does not interfere with the pleasures of the unfit but saves society from their reduplication. Again we are met by the indifference of the unfit as voters, and mere ignorance and stupimdity are likewise often backed by the enormous power of religion.

Every religion believes itself to be the Truth, and warmly desires to increase its membership, not intelligence and ability being requisite, but numbers. On no account does it wish to check the increase of constituents, and low mentality among converts offers, no obstacle. What terrors has our moronic level, the average intelligence of twelve- year-olds, to those who believe that of such is the kingdom of heaven?

Thus we find individual fundamentalists strongly opposed to any prudential checks to the increase of population, and in particular the immense authority of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church forbidding as a sin the use of contraceptives. Members of this faith notonly are forbidden to practice birth control themselves, or even to study the facts and figures as to its social necessity, but they are urged to preventother people from studying the question.

In a recent State convention of the League of Women Voters, when the committee on social hygiene had placed the subjectof birth control on the proposed program of study, it was announced even before the discussion opened that the Roman Catholic members of the league would resign if it was favored. This was a foolish move. No one was asked to practice birth control or be instructed in it. No one was required to belong to this social-hygiene group, which proposed to study the economic and political aspects of a question which is forcing attention all over the world and demanding legislative action in this country. Any disapproving members were quite free to vote against its adoption on the program. But was it not unwise to seek to preventother people from studying it through the threatof a wholesale resignation by members of one church?

It was unwise in stirring up religious prejudice. Unwise in reviving the old menace of church interference, and revealing the new menace of the increasing power of that church in this country. Unwise in opening up the inference that it preferred its members to vote without information, and that it desired unchecked increase in membership, no matter how unfit.

Quite apart from these special views lies the real importance of the question, both personal and social. Personal is the protest of the woman, who after all is more immediately concerned in the matter of birth than the man. Must she, if worn, exhausted, usually tortured, often killed in the process, bear children regardless of her own wish or ability, to the detrimentof the entire family? Or may she choose, saying " Not this year," or "Not till we can afford it," or "Six is enough"? Deepest of all is the interest of the child, who has a right to vigorous parents and a well-cared-for youth. Improvement in our human stock is visibly needed.

But strong as is the personal claim for an intelligent parenthood, the social need is stronger, both in economics and in politics. In China and Japan we may see these effects well illustrated. With the more peagful people the pressule of population results in a "saturated solution" of humanity, a mass of malions living or the verge of starvation and pushed over it by any large disaster as of flood or famine. With the more warlike Japanese we see an intelligent and competent people increasing beyond the maintenance capacity of their small mountainous country. Living on imported food, they are impelled, like England, to conquer and colonize in countries unable to resist them. Either this, or they must crowd and starve and die in economic suffocation, or they must limit their population.

Every country must sooner or later confront the same alternatives: crowd and starve, fight and die, or limit the population. Since it is not difficult to estimate what number a given country can support, and what average family will maintain that number, and since we may so maintain it without pain, danger, or even loss of pleasure, our descendants in a wiser age will marvel that there was any hesitation before so plain a duty.

The main obstacle is religion. Believing that we are divinely commanded to multiply, we have yet failed to do the simple example in multiplication which shows so clearly the results. If in our year 1 there had been butone couple alive, if they had but four children and died at about forty, at that modest rate of gain the end of a century would have shown a twelvefold increase, twenty-four people. Call it tenfold, for greater ease, count your centuries two thousand, and by the tenth you find two hundred billion. By our own time we should have opened the twentieth century with a nearly packed earth of two quadrillions of people. As we have but a little under two billion, and as we began a long way back of the year 1, it becomes painfully evident that we have died like fish spawn.

Child-bearing is not so easy and painless as birth control. Throughout all our history women have been urged and compelled to bear enough children to meet the constant waste of life which their numbers necessitated. It is a method worthy of the blind force we call nature, but shamefully unworthy of the intelligence of human beings. It is for women, the bearers and rearers of children, to decide on the numbers needed. Where nations need a larger population, women should bear more; if the country is crowded, they should bear fewer; parents above the average, parents to be proud of, should give the world as many children as they can.

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