Margaret Sanger was one of the most prominent birth control activists in American History. Her motivation arose from events from her childhood when her mother died on her eleventh unwanted pregnancy. Her passion for birth control only increased as she worked as a nurse and dealt with many patients that suffered from repercussions from back-alley abortions. After she was arrested for offering diaphragms to patients in order to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, she turned to political activism. After the success of women’s suffrage, she created the American Birth Control league in 1921, which later became the Planned parenthood foundation.1 Although her fight for birth control started in America, she also sought to bring these rights to women all over the world, so she launched her international tour. Her first target was eastern countries, in fact, “believing that the East needed her message, she made a great propaganda tour of China and Japan in 1922 and introduced the ideal of conscious control of parenthood for the first time into those countries” (Julian Huxley).2 Sanger fiercely believed in a woman’s right to their bodies and the increasing necessity of population control which is why the trip to the East was essential for her to accomplish.
Her international tour was initially expected to begin in Japan, but the Japanese government banned her arrival due their opposing ideals. The government had strict policies which actively promoted the reproduction of human life and was adamantly against birth control and abortion. However, Sanger was persistent in delivering her message, so she developed a way to essentially trick the government. She officially claimed her destination was China and procured a Chinese visa, then, she requested to sail to Japan as a temporary stop in order to get to China. During her journey, she contacted the future prime minister of Japan and the Japanese ambassador to the United States and explained the importance of her message to the Japanese people. The press got a hold of her mission and sparked a lot of interest among the people in her and her message. Because of these steps, by the time she arrived in Japan she had so much support that the government allowed her to prolong her stay and deliver her lectures with the condition that she did not mention birth control. However, because of the initial push back from the government, the discussion of contraception became popular without her having to actually mention it in person.3
Sanger ended up giving several lectures and promoted women’s rights to their bodies as well as the issues of population control. A prominent Japanese women’s activist named Shizue Kato aided her in getting many opportunities such as interviews, meetings, magazine covers and much more.4 Shortly after Sanger’s departure from Japan, Shizue Kato created the Japanese Birth Control Study Group and published pamphlets that Sanger wrote and published in America, “it is her intention in the future to place her vast knowledge and experience at the disposal of the very young but vigorous movements for birth control that are growing up in the densely populated counties of the East” (Julian Huxley).5 Although the Japanese government still prohibited the act of gathering to promote birth control, there was no official Japanese policy against the use of birth control so they couldn’t prevent the widespread use or sale of contraceptives.
Sanger's visit left a prominent impression in Japan and set the wheels in motion for women's birth control rights to be achieved. Shizue Kato spearheaded the movement in Japan and followed in Sanger’s footsteps as she developed a similar movement as the one Sanger created in America. Not only was Kato majorly influenced by Sanger, but Sanger’s name was present in any major progress in the birth control movement as a whole in Japan, such as during the opening of the first clinic in Japan. Although Sanger did not return to Japan until 1937, Kato did a brilliant job in fighting on her behalf and became a worldwide known women’s activist as well.6 However, when Sanger did eventually return she was unhappy with the progress due to the effects that the second Sino Japanese war had on the movement. In fact, months after Sanger’s trip, the Japanese government shut down the birth control clinic and arrested Kato for her role in progressing women’s rights. Unfortunately, the women’s movement was postponed until after the war ended.
Although there are many controversies surrounding Margaret Sanger concerning her motivations to start planned parenthood, there is no doubt she wanted the global liberation of women. She irrefutably fought for the right that women should have to control their own bodies and had the compassion to bring these rights to every country that she could reach. She also understood the importance of building up the idea of activism in each country in order to continue the fight after she left. Her effect in Japan mimics the effect she had on countries all over the world as she successfully spread her message globally and catapulted women’s reproductive rights.