• U.S.

Medicine: Birth Controllers on Parade

5 minute read

Up Capitol Hill last week marched a cohort of Birth Controllers for their annual harangue before unheeding Congressmen. At the head of the column strode Mrs. Margaret Sanger in green cloth, and Mrs. Thomas Norval Hepburn in black.

Mrs. Hepburn is the wife of a Hartford physician, the mother of famed Actress Katharine Hepburn, the cousin of Alanson Bigelow Houghton. An ardent worker for Causes, she once picketed the White House for suffrage. Following the well-tried formula of the past three years, Birth Controller Hepburn induced a Congressman, this time old (72) Representative Walter Marcus Pierce of Oregon, to introduce a bill exempting the medical profession from the Federal ban on the shipment of contraceptive information and material. Four times before in the last ten years had a House Committee heard arguments on similar legislation and four times before had done nothing. The fifth time promised only the same.

The Judiciary Committee’s big chamber lacked room for the Birth Controllers. So all paraded to the huge marble caucus room in the House Office Building. News photographers prepared to take pictures. Comely Mrs. Hepburn, like her actress daughter, objected. Her dissent provoked a vote by the Committee: for photographs, eight; against, three. Mrs. Hepburn disappeared during the picture taking.

With a gallery of special-interests and hangers-on breathing heavily, Mrs. Hepburn started the show by attempting to anticipate Congressional skepticism and Roman Catholic slurs. “We are not connected,” she insisted, “with any commercial interest* We are here because Mrs. Sanger in her nursing experience of 20 years became convinced that Birth Control was necessary for the welfare of women. . . . Race suicide talk is just as ridiculous as was that of those who said, when we women wanted the vote, that it would destroy the home.”

Mrs. Sanger. slim and tense, recited her old piece to the glum, fidgeting Committeemen: “The forgotten woman can have her child’s teeth and adenoids cared for at clinics. She can send her children to get free luncheons. She can do nothing for her own most pressing problem.”

A little riot developed when Religion’s spokesman for Birth Control, Rabbi Edward L. Israel of Baltimore, exclaimed: “If you members of the Committee think birth control is immoral, then pass a law that will drive contraceptives out of every home in the nation.”

Up hopped Committeeman John Camillus Lehr of Monroe. Mich., to shout: “I want it to appear on the Committee’s record that there has never been a contraceptive in my home. I have six children.”

Representative Pierce: “I also have six children.” Mrs. Hepburn: ”I also have six children.”

Rev. Charles Edward Coughlin, radiorator of Detroit’s Shrine of the Little Flower, utterly antagonistic to Mrs. Sanger’s movement, brought down the house: “The Negroes are out-begetting the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic races in this country. So are the Poles. . . . Distribution is what we need. There aren’t enough hungry mouths in this country to consume the wheat we raise.”

The gallery: “Booh! booh! booh! boo-oo-ooh!”

Father Coughlin: “I’ll take care of them over the radio.”

London’s Dr. Norman Haire, copresident of the World League for Sexual Reform, in Manhattan: “Father Coughlin doesn’t care how much the children suffer on earth, so long as they are prepared to pick up their little harps and sing Hallelujah.”

Next day, with a fresh rose in his lapel, Johns Hopkins Gynecologist-Naturalist-Botanist-Historian-Professor Howard Atwood Kelly, 75, piously denounced “a certain mechanical meddling with married life which is abhorrent to me. . . . Think of an elaborate conference on Birth Control in the Mayflower Hotel! Such a thing would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. And a great social gathering, too, at which details were talked over. Disgusting! … I have nine children, and 14 grandchildren. . . .”

Dr. William Gerry Morgan, onetime president of the American Medical Association, telegraphed his “continued vigorous opposition” to let-up on the Federal law which pronounces it a crime for doctors to send out birth control information or material by mail.

Cried Dr. Prentiss Wilson, Washington obstetrician: “The American Medical Association comes into the debate with un clean hands. It has refused as a political organization to study that which as a medical society it lists as one of the major problems confronting women.”

The House Judiciary Committee decided that it had heard enough Birth Control talk for this season, closed the hearing, pigeonholed the bill.

Mrs. Sanger rented a Washington house from which she planned to campaign all winter.

Although the women got nothing but publicity out of their parade to Congress, their propaganda and a gradual change in U. S. mores had produced local results throughout the land. Examples:

1) One hundred and forty birth control clinics in 66 cities of 27 States.

2) Thirty States which have no limiting statute on the dissemination of contraceptive information.

3) Sixteen States which with varying restrictions specifically permit the medical profession to give out information on contraception.

4) Only one State (Mississippi) which specifically forbids doctors to give the information.

5) Only one State (Connecticut) which specifically forbids the use of contraceptives.

6) Commercialization of contraceptives has ceased to be clandestine. Stella Bloch Hanau of the Birth Control Review says that in the vicinity of New York alone 300 manufacturers are making contraceptives of one sort or another. Peddlers hawk material on subway platforms. A 1932 survey of western Florida showed that one form of contraceptive was being sold in 376 gasoline stations, garages, restaurants, soda fountains, barber shops, pool rooms, cigar stands, news stands, shoe shine parlors, grocery stores. Slot machines for dispensing exist in several states. Contraceptives are now advertised in suchmagazines as Outdoor Life, Eagle Magazine, Illustrated Mechanics and Locomotive Engineers’ Journal.

*In the Mayflower Hotel where the birth controllers last week conducted an American Conference on Birth Control & National Recovery. was on exhibit a room full of 100 brands of contraceptives, shipped illegally from Manhattan.

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