Eugenics & diversity, perpetually at loggerheads.

By janine white: culture editor

Marie Stopes was a controversial person and a leader for social change.

Through her compelling and convincing vivaciousness, Stopes published several books. One of which was ‘Contraception (Birth Control) Its Theory, History and Practice, which became the birth control manual for family planning clinics across the world.

During a time when prevention was considered unnatural, dangerous and race destroying, Stopes succeeded in becoming the founder of the first family planning clinic in London. This was swiftly followed by five more clinics throughout the United Kingdom within nine years and then ventured out to other countries globally. Stopes was considered a pioneer for family planning and women’s rights.

In 2008, a bust statue was put on display in the London clinic. The quote provided by Dana Hovig; Chief Executive at MSI, to one publication was “Marie was a remarkable pioneer for family planning and women’s rights and we are marking the 50th anniversary of her death by coming together to celebrate her life and work,”

In 2015, she was shortlisted as one of twenty, to have her statue erected in Manchester, celebrating influential women in history.

Marie Stopes was clearly considered to be someone who had encouraged, fought for and delivered considerable social change.

At the time, around 3,000 mothers became injured or disabled during childbirth or pregnancy. Abortions and miscarriages were more common than live births in some towns and pregnancies were occurring one after another for upper, middle and ‘lower’ classes.

Throughout November 2020, there was considerable coverage in the media about the clinics changing their name from Marie Stopes International to MSI Reproductive Choices, so that they could cut ties with its founder and pioneer.

According to MSI, the views that Marie Stopes held were in ‘stark contrast’ to the values of the clinic and it was important to show the public that there is no real connection.

How could the woman shortlisted to be to be immortalised as a statue in Manchester only five years ago, become perceived with such sudden contempt? Eugenics is the scientific name for using science to create a superior race. It has always been public knowledge that Stopes supported Nazism and wrote love letters to Adolf Hitler. She kept company with other members of the Eugenics Society and wrote articles on this obsession.

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Within the contraception manual, Stopes included endorsements from several major names. Sir William Bayliss states in his recommendation, that the book is suggesting there be limitations on childbearing for those with ‘hereditary disease of body and mind’ and ‘the mentally defective’. Sir James Barr states that ‘we have no moral right to allow him to perpetuate his kind, and thus saddle the next generation with the maintenance of a race of degenerates.’ Followed by ‘Those who produce the mentally and physically defective commit a crime against society.’

Within the book Stopes puts emphasis on the women’s right to prevent her death and disability. Throughout her work, she was open about her views on eugenics and selective breeding. Between 1918 and 2020 she was celebrated and admired for the amazing work that she has done for women, despite her links.

Therefore, have these links really become important enough to wipe out the good that she has done or is there an alternative perspective?

There are some researchers who believe that businesses are taking a stand on social, environmental and political issues to meet the expectations of society. This is known as brand activism. One survey found that 64% of consumers reward firms who appear to be engaged in activism.

Simon Cooke, the current Chief Executive at MSI Reproductive, states that it is the events of ‘Black Lives Matter’ that have led to the decision to rebrand. That Stopes views on eugenics are incompatible.

Although this appears to be an influential move for activism, all five of the executive team at MSI Reproductive are Caucasian. Therefore, the brand is only on the outside and not embedded within the culture of the organisation. So why are they using this ‘brand’ now?

MSI Reproductive have been calling for more funding from the NHS for several years due to spending cuts on sexual health. In 2019, Johnathan Lord, MSI’s Medical Director stated that preventative measures to avoid pregnancy are not available due to the current lack of finances.

In September this year, figures were released to show that abortions were on the increase, at almost 40% higher than previous years. Dr Jonathan Lord reiterated a lack of funding and the inability of women to access contraceptive services during the pandemic.

He states that some funding has been put in to help access via online services, which have allowed the vulnerable to get support while not having to inform violent partners and family. They made a plea to the Government to ensure that funding for this becomes permanent.

As this statement was released immediately prior to the name change press release, is there an inner hope that the government will reward the company for their brand activism? Is Marie Stopes being condemned to gain funding or is it truly due to the eugenic link?

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