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I received an email from a young woman age 18, all excited about having sex for the first time, but afraid. She lives with her parents, who disallow her having sex in their home, because they don't want to communicate "If you get pregnant, we'll be there to help raise the child."

Okay, that's a boundary, but it got her thinking, and she asked me, "Do you think it's okay for me to have sex, even if I'm not ready to be a mother?" Here's how my brain reacted to this question: (mumbling).

Obviously this is a powerful question, here's why it isn't "don't have sex or be parenthood ready": many, many people have worked, taken risks, and died to ensure the human right to access birth control, specifically Margaret Sanger who you should know may have been as manipulative and racist as she was ambitious and effective.

It was the turn of the century, 100 years ago birth control was illegal, talking about it illegal, using it illegal. This video would mean my arrest, and maybe even yours, with a 5 year prison sentence or $5,000 fine. Contraception had been legal, but in 1873, Comstock laws passed somehow, that suddenly made it illegal to prevent pregnancy or study how to do it. As in, even some medical textbooks were banned.

Personally, Sanger felt these laws killed her mother, who died in her forties from what she believed were complications related to 18 pregnancies. Professionally, there was also grief; Sanger worked as a nurse in New York City, where she witnessed the costs. Unintended, unwanted pregnancies, households with more children than resources to care for them, women ill or dying from trying to perform their own abortions, relationships strained and sucking, and people going to jail for manufacturing, selling, and/or distributing the much needed contraception and any information about it.

The options for women were to put their lives at risk to terminate their pregnancies, have the children, or abstain from sex, and even then, the law did not protect the married ones from being raped by their husbands.

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote from jail "One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." I think grief and action is a form of curiosity, and Sanger set to work. She went to the library to find information about contraception, as in against conception, and when there was nothing available, she created them. First, as a sort of sex columnist for the New York Call, then with her own monthly newsletter called The Woman Rebel, which informed readers about censored topics, like sexually transmitted infections and contraception. Yes, this was illegal. She got in trouble. Big trouble. Or would have, except that Sanger fled the country and headed for Europe. There she studied from other sexual justice leaders, learned about diaphragms, and still managed to distribute 100,000 copies of another safer sex publication in the States.

So you get it, we're talking about one of the most influential people in establishing your right to access contraception, and this includes the right to decide whether or not and when you get pregnant, get infections, possess, sell, and/or use contraception for whatever reasons, legally and by medical professionals if needed. Plus, knowledge about how. But it wasn't without more strife.

Sanger set up the first birth control clinic in the country. (Gasps) Yeah, within 2 weeks she was arrested for maintaining a "public nuisance," oh and for fitting diaphragms to women, all of her condoms were confiscated, and many thought she was Satan. Margaret kept going though, eventually scoring legal victories like the right to condoms for sexually transmitted infection prevention; they were still prohibited for pregnancy prevention. Then there was also her other publication called The Birth Control Review, which pushed law buttons again. The establishment of the American Birth Control League, which gained almost 30,000 members in three years and became the foundation of Planned Parenthood as we know it. And the founding of the first legal birth control clinic. Yeah! Margaret Sanger, with her enormous fanbase and powerhouse comrades continued efforts to publicize and tear down the injustices.

In 1938, they influenced the win of the United States versus One Package, the US Circuit Court of Appeals case which permitted physicians to mail birth control and info. By the '40's, there were 300 birth control clinics and 80% of American couples were buying condoms regularly.

You'd think that Margaret could breathe a sigh of relief and retire. She tried to in Tuscon, Arizona, but the idea of a simple oral contraceptive motivated her to ask biologist and researcher Gregory Pincus to develop it. A request, by the way, that she backed with $150,000 that she fund-raised. And it worked! Enovid was approved in 1960 and within a few years over two million women were taking it. The law followed the public and deemed it a right to privacy that married couples could access birth control. Though it wasn't until 1972 that it was legal for all Americans to access birth control. Americans: birth control isn't universally accepted nor legal, but it exists in large part to Sanger. You don't have to be a mother to have sex here at least, and for those of you in other places I hope there is a Sanger or you become one who safely disobeys unjust laws.

Stay curious and feisty!

Margaret Sanger, like other leaders in the Civil Rights movement, other people for that matter, was complicated. Some of her beliefs are still very controversial, and are used by birth control opponents to drown her efforts and shame birth control access. Like her racist statements and drive for genetic purification. Martin Luther King, Jr., a black man, civil rights leader, and one of the first recipients of the Margaret Sanger Award responded to these criticisms: There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger's early efforts. She launched a movement which is obeying a higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning.