March 13, 2017San Francisco Review of Books: Interview: Alexander Sanger says "firm determinati...: This is the final article of my discussion with Alexander Sanger. The first , second , and third pieces are available on-line. Story ...
March 10, 2017San Francisco Review of Books: Interview: Alexander Sanger explains how his grand...: This is the third of four articles spanning my discussion with Alexander Sanger. The first and second pieces are available on-line. ...
March 09, 2017San Francisco Review of Books: Opinion: Margaret Sanger -- Humanitarian, Republic...: Margaret Sanger: Humanitarian, Republican, American Hero Commentary by Joseph Ford Cotto Few people seem to attract the level of derisi...
Interview: Alexander Sanger says "efforts to shut down Planned Parenthood" threaten "women’s health at large", explains why
This is the second of four articles spanning my discussion with Alexander Sanger. The first piece is available on-line.
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Who was Margaret Sanger?
"Margaret Sanger devoted her life to legalizing birth control and making it universally available for women," PBS said of her in its American Experience series. "Born in 1879, Sanger came of age during the heyday of the Comstock Act, a federal statute that criminalized contraceptives. Margaret Sanger believed that the only way to change the law was to break it.
"Starting in the 1910s, Sanger actively challenged federal and state Comstock laws to bring birth control information and contraceptive devices to women. Her fervent ambition was to find the perfect contraceptive to relieve women from the horrible strain of repeated, unwanted pregnancies."
This is merely the tip of the iceberg, though. Sanger's activism was borne from observation, which led her to believe that the larger a family is, the less resources its members will generally enjoy. By promoting population stability, she reasoned, the world would be made a better place.
As the overwhelming popularity of contraceptives, prophylactics, and, to a lesser extent, abortion as well as sterilization evinces, Sanger was on to something. Planning a family, rather than falling victim to nature, proved an immensely beneficial effort -- perhaps the most integral element of rising above generational poverty.
No wonder that Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood.
It is also hardly surprising that she was met by the forces of reaction -- politicians, religions, and others who wanted to maintain the status quo. With an ever-growing group of people kept ignorant by circumstance, traditional authorities were able to profit off misery and prevent the masses from taking life into their own hands. Sanger offered them a powerful tool in building a brighter future, which aggravated the cloud manufacturers to no end.
"My grandmother was arrested when she first opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916," Margaret's grandson, Alexander, explains on his website. "At that time, birth control was illegal and reproductive rights did not exist. Two generations later, we are still fighting for the right to talk frankly with women about their reproductive health care and options regarding pregnancy and to give them the services they need."
Though she has been dead for nearly half a century, controversy over her legacy rages on; manufactured by the philosophical descendants of Comstock supporters.
"My grandmother was arrested when she first opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916," Margaret's grandson, Alexander Sanger, explains on his website. "At that time, birth control was illegal and reproductive rights did not exist. Two generations later, we are still fighting for the right to talk frankly with women about their reproductive health care and options regarding pregnancy and to give them the services they need."
The junior Sanger continues in his family tradition. As the International Planned Parenthood Council's chair, he travels the world -- parts of it tourists hardly ever visit -- to promote family planning. While his job is far from easy, he and his coworkers see the results of their efforts in real time; smaller, stabler, more educated family units.
Sanger recently spoke with me about many issues relative to population stability and his grandmother's legacy. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Over the last few years, there has been a massive push against abortion rights. Among other things, this has included the defunding of many Planned Parenthood programs. What is the socioeconomic cost of making abortions less available to those in need of them?
Alexander Sanger: First, I’d like to say that the efforts to shut down Planned Parenthood are not only a threat to abortion rights, but to women’s health at large. Millions of women, men and young people use Planned Parenthood each year--for many of them, Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider they can afford to see. And it’s important to note that every poll shows the majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood and strongly oppose these attacks--nearly half of Trump’s own supporters don’t want to see Planned Parenthood defunded.
Those hurt the most would be those struggling to get by and also individuals who already face tremendous barriers to accessing health care--especially people of color, low-income people and those who live in rural areas. Without Planned Parenthood, many patients would have nowhere else to go for care-- not just abortion services but preventative care like breast and cervical cancer screenings and reliable contraception which reduces the need for abortion.
Cotto: Religious belief seems to be a key aspect of many people's opposition to reproductive rights. From your perspective, is this actually the case, or simply a stereotype?
Sanger: I think its a generalization to say that opposition to reproductive rights is only driven by religious beliefs. For example, I currently sit on the board of International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere Region, a network of local organizations that provide sexuality education and reproductive health care throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that has historically been predominantly Catholic. There was much resistance when we first began distributing contraception, but today, several of our local members work in partnership with faith-based organizations to provide information, education, and services.
I think that deep-rooted sexism is at the core of opposition to reproductive rights, and our society’s double standard when it comes to women’s sexuality. These types of antiquated attitudes come in all shapes and sizes and religions, and we actively try to break these down through our educational programs. And I believe we will one day.
February 13, 2017
Dana Genshaft’s, Chromatic Fantasy set to the music of Dave Brubeck’s Chaconne from Chromatic Fantasy premiered Friday night at the NYU Skirball Center. Ms. Genshaft was looking - actually squinting - at the sun one day and saw all the colors of the rainbow wavering before her. The ensuing ballet and her search for the right music sprung from this moment. Six dancers - three men, three women - from the ABT Studio Company dressed in different chromatic colors weaved in and out of the music, at times with it and at others at a contrapuntal rhythm. Pairs swapped with ease and trios emerged only to dissolve quickly. The dance propelled, though there were quieter sections, and the colors flowed. A work of beauty and energy resulted.
This work is Genshaft’s first for ABT. Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of ABT, to his and its credit, is making a concerted effort to commission new works by female choreographers. Last fall it premiered Jessica Lang’s, Her Notes, set to the music of Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix. It was a total success and has been added to the ABT repertoire. Other commissions by female choreographers are in the works at ABT, which is determined to smash the glass slipper. Genshaft more than proved her chops on a program that also featured such luminary choreographers as Frederick Ashton, Helgi Tomasson, Kenneth MacMillan and Liam Scarlett. That she was the only female choreographer is worthy of note only because usually there are none on the programs of any American ballet company. Genshaft was previously a soloist at San Francisco Ballet and teaches choreography in the school there. She is richly deserving of more commissions, including from her home company, which has yet to recognize her home grown talent. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie and ABT for doing so. And kudos also to ABT for commissioning its star, Marcelo Gomes, who gave the New York City premier of his ballet set to Kabalevsky Violin Concerto.
The gender disparity starts early in ballet. The Saturday afternoon performance was family friendly and there were, by my guess, over 100 children in attendance. I counted three boys. The rest girls. Change needs to come at all levels of ballet.
Note: the author is a trustee of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which funds commissions of choreographic works by emerging female choreographers.
January 26, 2017
January 20, 2017When I was in college in 1966, a dear friend who I had not seen in a year told me she was pregnant and needed an abortion. She was desperate-and broke. Abortion was illegal. I asked around and got the name of a physician in Washington, D.C., called him, made the arrangements and raised the money for my friend. The doctor turned out to be professional and everything went as smoothly as it could given the circumstances, but I decided that I would do everything I could to ensure no other woman went through what my friend endured. In a way, the experience awakened my social conscience.
I gave my first reproductive rights speech in 1969. I have devoted the last 30 years of my professional life to reproductive and sexual freedom and rights with Planned Parenthood of New York City and with International Planned Parenthood Federation. I was at Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, where women were put at the center of the development agenda and in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, where Hillary Clinton proclaimed that Women’s Rights were Human Rights. Women around the world today are in the same position my friend was in this country in 1967. There weren’t a lot of men in Beijing but I was proud to be there and to speak at the NGO Forum on the role of men in women’s rights. We are all in this fight together.
And I am proud to join women and men from throughout the country, throughout the world in our collective roar for women’s rights.
I’m in a Planned Parenthood health center. Men are in the waiting room, as well as women and infants. Primary care, including dermatology, urology, and pediatric care, are offered to all comers. But that is not all. In one adjacent building, there is a cooking class and an adjacent café where the teen (and some adult) budding cooks sell their culinary creations to the public. In another building, teens are learning to cut and style hair; next door teens are measuring customers for made-to-order clothes; and in yet another space, teens are rehearsing a play about responsible decision making and warning against illegal abortion. Nearby are the classrooms of a primary school for the orphan children of the neighborhood. A steam bath in another building has a steady stream of customers from the community.
This is Planned Parenthood? Or have I wandered into some alternative universe?
I’m in Fes, Morocco at the Complexe Lalla Fatima Zagra Laazizia, run by Moroccan Family Planning Association, or, more properly, the Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale (AMPF). AMPF is the Member Association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Morocco. Founded in 1971, AMPF saw that providing sexual and reproductive health care had to be done in the context of empowerment of women and of disadvantaged young persons, male and female. Family planning had to be part of life planning and life opportunity and needed community support so as to be seen as integral to the futures of girls and boys, women and men. AMPF decided it had to be embedded in the community to succeed. No isolation for them. No services only below the waist.
No women only. In this it has succeeded.
The nation of Morocco is among the most liberal in the Arab world and is developing rapidly. According to the United Nations, the population is approximately 35 million people, and the birth rate is 2.6. The birthrate in the Arab world is 3.5. According to the World Bank, maternal and infant mortality are declining rapidly in Morocco and the Arab World, with maternal mortality in Morocco at 121 (down from 317 in 1990), versus 156 in the Arab World (down from 289 in 1990). Thus, Morocco had had above average maternal mortality in 1990 and now is lower than average. The under-5 mortality is 28 (down from 239 in 1990). In the Arab World it was 37 in 2014 versus 249 in 1990.
While the life expectancy at birth is 73 years for men and 75 years for women, the educational and economic disparities run in the other direction. According to the UN, 59% of boys are enrolled in secondary school but only 53% of girls. These rates are slightly less than the Arab World at 64% and 58% respectively. In University, the ratios even out with about one-quarter of both young men and young women enrolled. The greatest disparity is in labor force participation, where only one-quarter of women are participating, whereas three-quarters of men are.
Birth-control is available for free in government health clinics and abortion is widely practiced, but is legal only in cases of danger to the health of the woman and in cases of rape, incest or fetal defect (these latter exceptions were added this year.) The contraceptive prevalence rate is 68%, with the modern contraception rate being 58%. The percentages for the Arab world are 51% and 43% respectively.
The Moroccan Family Planning Association operates 30 sexual and reproductive health centers and, in addition, has seven mobile health units. It offered over 1.7 million reproductive health care services last year.
The MFPA clinic and complex in Fes is located in a disadvantaged neighborhood called Sahrij Gnaoua. The Complexe serves the 70,000 inhabitants, where the birth rate is about five children per woman. The illiteracy rate is 55% for women and 35% for men. There is only one Ministry of Health center for this entire population and one doctor from the private sector.
The Complexe enables women to make choices about their lives, gives young girls and boys opportunities for the future, campaigns against gender-based violence, and creates a social enterprise model and mutual aid partnership between the clinic and all its programs and the entire neighborhood.
The Complexe is a model for how reproductive health care services can be part of an entire fabric of a neighborhood and garner community and nationwide support. They partner with 65 community groups and do sex education programs in the community schools. Women sit in the hammam and discuss sex and ways to prevent intimate partner violence. There is no opposition. No picketing. No harassment. It is one of Morocco’s great success stories. There are lessons to be learned here.
Alexander C. Sanger, the grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council.
Mr. Sanger speaks around the country and the world and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.
The new book by Alexander Sanger published by PublicAffairs
Purchase from Amazon.com
Click here for full book information
With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.
“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.”
—Governor Christine Todd Whitman
» Much more on Beyond Choice, including an excerpt, discussion guides, reviews
Hypatia, Indiana University Press
Tina Morlock, Oklahoma City Pioneer
» Advocate: Abortion does involve morality
Paul Swiech, The Pantagraph
» Planned Parenthood founder: Republican Party is pro-choice
Elaine Hopkins, The Journal Star
» Women's Studies seminar covers controversial topic
Jamie Smith, The Daily Vidette
» Luncheon promotes teen responsibility
Dahlia Weinstein, Rocky Mountain News
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