Marie Stopes International (MSI) has changed its name in recognition of the need to break association with the pro-eugenics views of Marie Stopes. The abortion and contraception provider will go by the name MSI Reproductive Choices. There had been debate in the organisation for some time about a name change, and they were spurred to action by the Black Lives Matters movement and subsequent discussions.
Marie Stopes was an author and prominent women’s rights campaigner. She opened Britain’s first clinic offering birth control advice to married women in 1921, in the face of fierce opposition. Her argument for contraception was in part that ability to space apart children would improve maternal and child health physically and mentally, with more food, care and space for each child and reducing the punishing physical effects of pregnancy and birth.
Increasingly through her life, her support for contraception was intermingled with eugenics. She called for new laws that allowed the “hopelessly rotten and racially diseased” to be sterilised, wrote fiercely against inter-racial marriage, and disowned her son for marrying a partially-sighted woman.
Pre-war eugenics was popular in bourgeois feminist, left, and liberal circles. Many of its leading advocates were found among the stars of the left.
The Fabians advocated eugenics. George Bernard Shaw stated “the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man”, even suggesting, those who didn’t meet the requirements be dealt with by means of a “lethal chamber”. Positive eugenics meant encouraging those assumed to have greater intellectual ability, physical health and moral worth to have more children, while negative eugenics sought to urge, or even force, those deemed inferior to reproduce less often or not at all. Support for eugenics dropped after the Holocaust, when the horrors of the belief in genetic superiority were displayed with monstrous clarity.
Our support is not for controls on reproduction, but reproductive freedoms, the rights to dignity, information, and bodily autonomy and integrity. Our socialist future will require rational planning, but not top-down planning with state coercion taking hold in ever more areas of our lives as the Fabians envisioned. We should beware of politics that pushes betterment without emancipation.