Marie Stopes, Eugenics and Abortion

Marie Stopes, a contraceptive and abortion pioneer, was in favour of eugenics. This is a beloved trope of anti-abortionists, who argue that everything Planned Parenthood is tainted by this original sin.

marie-stopes-in-her-laboratory-1904-via-ms-australiaStopes’ politics are not a comfortable fit with the ideologies of the modern age. The Guardian’s Zoe Williams goes as far as arguing that Stopes’ politics were “slightly to the right of Hitler’s, just because her definition of defective is so broad”.

However, as Williams points out, it was Stopes’ work, not her ideas, which were influential. Isaac Newton believed that there was a secret code hidden in the Bible, but it’s his insights, not his dead-ended obsessions that he’s remembered for.
Successful people, though celebrated, will often have dark sides. Winston Churchill was considered a racist even by the standards of his own time. John Lennon was a wife-beater.
Chuck Berry videotaped women urinating, without their consent. Roman Polanski raped a teenager. Mark Wahlberg attacked a Vietnamese man so violently that he was charged with attempted murder.
Unfortunately, Stopes was not alone in celebrating eugenics. HG Wells and George Bernard Shaw both supported the idea of eugenics, with Wells praising the forced sterilisation of the Abyssinian people.

There’s logic in deciding you’d rather not give money to Wahlberg and Polanski. Celebrations of those who have passed should be tempered by an acknowledgment of their dark sides. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the good they did.
If Stopes’ views taint the work Planned Parenthood does now (none of which relates to eugenics and the majority of which is nothing to do with abortion) then shouldn’t the same apply to Wells’ and Shaw’s fiction? If Marie Stopes’ views and motives are reason not to work with, or fund, Planned Parenthood, then shouldn’t similar boycotts be targeted against sales and adaptations of War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and My Fair Lady?

Left-wingers should not uncritically admire Stopes. But right-wingers should not use her beliefs to blacken the reputation of those who have built on her work.

Author: Mulder and Scully

Left-wing politics bloggers trying to make sense of the world. Green, Chomskyite, uncertain, pro-debate, anti-woo, Keynesian, sceptical, angry, hopeful. #PoliticsForBeginners

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