Population Control and the Great Depression, 1930–1939

Simone M. Caron

in Who Chooses?

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780813031996
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039220 | DOI:
Population Control and the Great Depression, 1930–1939

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This chapter discusses the impact of the Great Depression on the issue of population control. The economic severity of the Depression increased attention to reproductive policies. While concern over the fertility of “defectives” continued, a new public commentary focused on the high fertility of families on relief. In this context the distribution of contraceptives could save not only the race but also taxpayers' money. Similarly, sterilization would save state money in institutional care for the socially, physically, and mentally “unfit” or “undesirable” and their potentially defective offspring. While the federal courts lent a mantle of respectability to contraceptives and sterilization, no similar push occurred for abortion. Women continued to obtain this procedure, but no groundswell of activism to change its illegal status occurred. Many state officials, however, looked the other way as women sought abortions to control their fertility in the midst of economic devastation. Proponents of selective growth did not tout abortion as a solution to the nation's problems, relying instead on birth control and sterilization to shape the population along lines suitable to the white elite power structure. Many women took advantage of the newly eased restrictions on birth control to suit their own purposes, namely, to limit their family size. This climate of growing acceptance spurred the establishment of birth control clinics. Activists in Rhode Island opened the first such clinic in New England.

Keywords: reproductive policy; fertility; contraception; sterilization; abortion; birth control

Chapter.  16159 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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