Alan F. Guttmacher: a wolf in sheep´s clothing

Many Pro-Life advocates are familiar with the work of the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies abortion and contraception. Abortion data collected by the Guttmacher Institute is considered very reliable (more so, for example, than abortion statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control) because the organization is sympathetic with abortion and works closely with abortionists and abortion mills to obtain data. The Institute’s namesake, Alan F. Guttmacher, is a little-known figure among many Pro-Lifers.

The late Dr. Guttmacher’s resume boasts several brow-raising pastimes: Signer of the Humanist Manifesto; demanding unfettered abortion access); Member of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization; Vice President of the American Eugenics Society; and President of Planned Parenthood.  His undertakings don’t sound very pro-woman, yet self-proclaimed feminists remember him fondly. For example, Planned Parenthood bestowed on him the Margaret Sanger Award in 1972, proclaiming, “Throughout his career, his motivation was to end discrimination in medical care based on class or race.”

However, in her book Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy, renowned eugenics researcher Dr. Angela Franks recalls a statement made by Guttmacher himself which casts suspicion on that notion: “As a physician in private practice I have done occasional sterilizations on adolescent females brought to me by their parents for sterilization because of serious mental retardation.” Planned Parenthood’s characterization of Guttmacher does not line up with his own admission; how does one “end discrimination in medical care” while simultaneously sterilizing women who have not voluntarily requested the procedure?

Further compounding this contradiction is the following statement by Guttmacher: “No woman is completely free unless she is wholly capable of controlling her fertility…” Yet, he had no qualms about allowing the fertility of those he perceived to be “unfit” to be controlled by others, as we saw in his admission above. Herein do we begin to sense the true impetus behind Alan F. Guttmacher’s pursuits. Like Margaret Sanger, Guttmacher’s understanding of freedom is not the self-evident kind. Dr. Franks explains:

Yet, like Sanger, “voluntariness” did not preclude various forms of covert or outright pressure. In the end, “freedom” for Guttmacher was only the freedom to use contraception. His concept was expansive enough to include employing financial incentives and disincentives to pressure the poor into sterilization, including sterilization bonuses and tax-law revisions which would penalize large families, saying, “A thousand-rupee [sterilization]bonus would easily solve India’s problem in a few years.”

Incentivizing the poor and starving, however, is coercive. Guttmacher’s visions may sound like draconian, patriarchal whims of yesteryear, but in reality they are more alive today than ever before. In modern-day India, poor women are being monetarily incentivized to undergo sterilizations. In November, more than a dozen women died following a mass sterilization in India, where women were compensated to the tune of 1,400 rupees (only four hundred more than Guttmacher suggested half a century ago), or roughly $10US. And the man who fostered this idea among his contemporaries is to this day being hailed as a champion of women’s rights.

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, we published a story about the nephew of Alan F. Guttmacher. Alan E. Guttmacher (whose father was Alan F.’s twin brother) is involved in a controversy over experimentation on premature babies, but has brushed off criticism from federal ethics panels and parents alike.