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This quote appeared on my Facebook feed. It was attributed to Margaret Sanger who founded the organization that later became Planned Parenthood.

"The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it"

Did Margaret Sanger say or write this? It was a pro-life anti-Left post.

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Indeed she did. The full quote comes from her 1920 book Woman and the New Race, and is as follows:

The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it. The same factors which create the terrible infant mortality rate, and which swell the death rate of children between the ages of one and five, operate even more extensively to lower the health rate of the surviving members.

The quote isn't about abortion - Sanger was actually opposed to abortion, except in cases where it would save the woman's life - but about ensuring you don't have more children than you can afford to look after comfortably. Sanger's autobiography includes the following leaflet that she distributed ahead of the opening of her first birth control clinic:

MOTHERS!
Can you afford to have a large family?
Do you not want any more children?
If not, why do you have them?

DO NOT KILL, DO NOT TAKE LIFE, BUT PREVENT

As the original claim attempts to draw a link between Sanger's views and the modern-day Planned Parenthood, it should be noted that Planned Parenthood now disavow a number of Sanger's views.

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    I think perhaps you should source your claim "Sanger was actually opposed to abortion ..." – fredsbend Jun 15 at 16:50
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    Since the question notes that the originating claim seeks to make an association between these views and the Planned Parenthood organisation, it is probably also worth noting that the present-day organisation explicitly disavows various views Sanger held. – Will Jun 15 at 16:52
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    It seems likely that this statement was somewhat metaphorical. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 15 at 20:46
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    @fredsbend she wrote “abortion is the destruction of life. Every high-minded respectable doctor shuns those looking for abortion" and “I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.” – DavePhD Jun 15 at 23:14
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    @The_Sympathizer This is an example of hyperbole, not a recommendation. She didn't say "morally correct" she said "merciful" where mercy means to reduce suffering. – barbecue Jun 16 at 21:20
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F1Krazy's answer is correct, but does not perhaps do enough to provide the full context of the quote. For that, let me quote the whole paragraph, and the one following it, from pages 62–64 of Woman and the New Race (thanks to shoover for the link!).

For further context, let me note that the title of the chapter from which the quote is taken is "The Wickedness of Creating Large Families" and that, immediately before the paragraph from which the quote is taken, Sanger has written about the extremely high infant mortality rate in large families, quoting results from a study published in 1913 showing that e.g. 60% of all 12th-born children in the study died before reaching the age of one year, and noted that even many of those who survived their first year would surely die in the later years of their childhood. Then follows these paragraphs (emphasis mine):

"Many, perhaps, will think it idle to go farther in demonstrating the immorality of large families, but since there is still an abundance of proof at hand, it may be offered for the sake of those who find difficulty in adjusting old-fashioned ideas to the facts. The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it. The same factors which create the terrible infant mortality rate, and which swell the death rate of children between the ages of one and five, operate even more extensively to lower the health rate of the surviving members. Moreover, the overcrowded homes of large families reared in poverty further contribute to this condition. Lack of medical attention is still another factor, so that the child who must struggle for health in competition with other members of a closely packed family has still great difficulties to meet after its poor constitution and malnutrition have been accounted for.

The probability of a child handicapped by a weak constitution, an overcrowded home, inadequate food and care, and possibly a deficient mental equipment, winding up in prison or an almshouse, is too evident for comment. Every jail, hospital for the insane, reformatory and institution for the feebleminded cries out against the evils of too prolific breeding among wage-workers. "

In other words, Sanger is definitely not advocating for infanticide here. What she's arguing is that not only is a high rate of infant death a natural consequence of having excessively large families among the poor (due to poverty and crowded conditions leading to malnutrition and a high rate of infectious disease — a fact that would surely have been even more true 100 years ago than it is today) but that even those children of large poor families who don't die young will often suffer so much from their bad childhood that arguably (and perhaps somewhat hyperbolically) having died young might have been a more merciful outcome than growing up poor, sick and malnourished because one's parents had more children than they could adequately house, feed and provide for.

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  • Hmm I'm not so sure about your "natural consequence". Yes if all children are exactly the same age feeding them becomes a challenge, but the reason why poor families often are large is because children will have to help the family earn their living quite early on. Especially historically. Do you or she have any proof for the statement that high number of children cause poor living conditions and not the other way around (low living conditions create high number of children)? Otherwise I'd be careful with stating this as fact. – Frank Hopkins Jun 17 at 16:57
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    @FrankHopkins Generally speaking those with the land to produce will do well with many children. Those working and living in city can no longer employ their children in the US. The result in the United States is that very few families have the luxury of owning a piece of land they can work and are prevented from seeking employment for their young children. – N-ate Jun 18 at 0:34

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