Sensible change of name for family planning organisation

Undated file photo of Dr Marie Stopes

Undated photo of Dr Marie Stopes. - Credit: PA

The Marie Stopes family planning organisation is now MSI Reproductive Choices. Is this a part of the woke culture or a sensible change?

Marie Stopes was an interesting person. She set up the first British family planning clinic in London in 1921 and so was considered a trailblazer; a hero ahead of her time. 

But like so much of history, the truth is more complicated. 

One hundred years ago family planning was closely tied to eugenics; the belief that we are not all born equal but some races are inherently superior. 

In the 19th century Francis Galton suggested that we should encourage couples to breed who have 'desirable characteristics' and discourage 'undesirables', a human version of breeding racehorses.  

Although highly offensive today, these views were not unusual in the 1920s. Churchill believed that eugenics could solve the 'race deterioration' reducing crime and poverty. In 1904, the writer H.G. Wells called for the sterilisation of failures.

Marie Stopes had met Galton when she was a child and was impressed. She set up the 'Society for constructive birth control and racial progress' as she was concerned about a 'steady evil which has been growing for a good many years'. 

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There had been a reduction in the birth rate of 'the thrifty, wise, well-contented and generally sound members of our community' but 'reckless breeding from the C3 end (lowest social class), semi-feebleminded (and) the careless'. 

She had even suggested that children of racially mixed marriages should be sterilised at birth to ensure 'racial purity'.

The controversy reached Devon in the late 1920s when a family planning clinic was set up in Exeter.

This ‘shocking news’ was discussed at the Torquay and District Medical Society on March 27, 1930, when papers on birth control were presented.

Dr Noy-Scott spoke against contraception and quoted many authorities who also disapproved.

On the other side of the argument was a Dr Edward, who advocated birth control and even offered to help set up a birth control clinic in Torquay. 

He gave examples of the methods used in the birth control clinics in London but pointed out that many of these methods often failed. The contraceptive pill was still 30 years away.

Frighteningly Dr Halliwell referred to the use of x-rays to produce sterility. The dangers of radiation were not understood. Should, he argued, the medical profession take a more scientific interest in contraception?

But the subject of eugenics was not far away. Dr Craig 'pointed out the folly of allowing the mentally unfit to become pregnant'.

Opposition to birth control was widespread but not always due to concerns over eugenics. Would it lead to promiscuity and even sex outside marriage? 

The Church of England condemned birth control at the 1908 and 1920 Lambeth conferences and only gave approval in some circumstances in 1930.

When the NHS was founded in 1948 no GP was obliged to offer family planning and this even applied when I was working, although I do not know a single GP who did not offer family planning advice. 

Family planning clinics were strictly for married people right up until the 1970s.

The Nazi regime took eugenics to its horrific logical conclusion. They encouraged the breeding of the 'Aryan' race but banned marriages of Jews, Romani and black people to keep the race 'pure'. The horrors of the holocaust made it clear where eugenics could lead, and it fell out of favour. 

Although the evils of the holocaust shocked the British population, the seeds of the Nazi racism could be seen in the attitudes of the British before the war.

I can see why the Marie Stopes International will now just be called MSI but we should all look at ourselves.

Which side of the debate would I have supported at the Torquay Medical Society in 1930? I hope I would have passionately opposed eugenics but I cannot be certain. I was brought up in a different time.