Putting a Focus on Reproductive Rights
Grandson of pioneer for birth control says past issues resurfacing
by: Claire Hughes
Alexander Sanger fears he may soon be facing battles too similar to the ones his grandmother fought.
As with the law recently passed in Texas that restricts women’s access to reproductive health services, Sanger foresees the kind of society that birth control activist Margaret Sanger confronted in the decades before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women have a legal right to abortion.
“There is going to be a growing underground of illegal and unsafe family planning and abortion services. This is my fear,” Sanger said.
Sanger, who chairs the International Planned Parenthood Council, will present his perspective on the status of women’s reproductive rights on Saturday at the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville.
The abortion rights movement has been on hold for decades, going back to the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, Sanger said. Recent polls show that more than half of Americans believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. About a quarter believe it should be legal without restriction, and a fifth believe it should never be legal.
“This is identical to 1975,” Sanger said. “We have not moved the needle one iota after 40 years of pretty heated — sometimes violent — opposition to abortion rights and our arguments that Roe was a good decision.”
One change that abortion rights advocates need to make, Sanger said, is to replace the decades-old rallying cry of “choice.” While the movement has long promoted a woman’s “right to choose” an abortion — and advocates are called “pro-choice” — the term has become loaded with unintended political meaning, Sanger said. In addition, the concept can lack necessary weight, as when it’s used by, say, a mobile phone company trying to sell its wireless network.
“My problem with ‘choice’ is that it hasn’t worked for the last 40 years.” Sanger said.
He suggested a focus on women’s autonomy and human reproduction instead.
Women who have had abortions must go public with their private stories, Sanger said. Gay people gained acceptance by coming out of the closet and telling their families, friends and colleagues about their sexuality. Acceptance of abortion will also increase, Sanger said, if more Americans understand that they likely know someone who has had the procedure.
Still, Sanger conceded, women’s abortion stories are unique and complicated — not the sort of thing that’s easy to wrap into a slogan.
“In each case the common denominator — in my reading and my conversations with women around the world — is they’re not ready to be mothers at this particular time,” Sanger said. “They want to be mothers, they want to care for the children they already have. And they want to time childbearing to give their children the best chance in the world.”
Male partners need to stand by the courageous women who tell these stories, he said.
“Here I am a man telling women what they will be saying and not saying,” he said. “I’m acutely sensitive to that.”
His grandmother is his inspiration to keep pushing for reproductive rights, Sanger said. Margaret Sanger opened the country’s first birth control clinic, in Brooklyn, and established the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood. Alexander Sanger recalled her visits from her home in Arizona to his childhood home in Westchester County.
“She was always on the move. She was no sooner arriving at our house than she’d be getting on the train to another meeting or another speech,” he said. “She was a very powerful and extraordinary woman.”
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How to attend
What: Alexander Sanger will speak at the Carey Institute for Global Good
When: 7 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: The Carey Institute, 63 Huyck Road, Rensselaerville, on the campus previously occupied by Rensselaerville Institute.