(CNSNews.com) – Britain’s Royal Mail is under fire over a decision to honor a birth control pioneer and eugenicist who shared views on racial purity with the Nazis.
Marie Stopes is one of six female pioneers commemorated in a series of postage stamps named “Women of Distinction,” which will be on sale from mid-October.
Pro-life campaigners are outraged at the decision, given the controversies surrounding Stopes, who died in 1958.
The Scottish-born Stopes in 1921 opened Britain’s first family planning clinic, which has grown into the world’s biggest private abortion provider, Marie Stopes International.
Critics say Stopes’ published views were racist and offensive. She referred to the “puny and utterly unsatisfactory” children of the poor: “Our race is weakened by an appallingly high percentage of unfit weaklings and diseased individuals.”
Interested in “selective breeding,” she founded an organization called the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress, and in 1935 – according to published accounts – Stopes attended a Nazi-hosted population conference in Berlin.
“Few people seem aware of the true nature of Marie Stopes, particularly her role in the eugenics society and the appalling discriminatory statements she made on poverty and disability, let alone her responsibility for the deaths of millions of unborn children,” Josephine Quintavalle of Britain’s ProLife Alliance said in response to queries.
“As a role model on any front, she is an absolute disgrace and in particular she is an offense to womankind.”
Quintavalle said the decision to honor Stopes on a postage stamp was “hardly surprising, given the culture of the U.K.”
She recalled that in 1999, 41 years after Stopes’ death, readers of Britain’s liberal Guardian newspaper voted her “Woman of the Millennium.”
Anthony Ozimic, political secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, also slammed the Royal Mail decision.
“Praising Marie Stopes as a woman of distinction should be as unacceptable as praising Adolf Hitler as a great leader,” he said. “Both promoted compulsory sterilization and thereby the eventual elimination of society's most vulnerable members to achieve what they called racial progress.”
Peter Mullen, an Anglican priest who is Rector of St Michael’s in the City of London, said Stopes was an admirer of Hitler, and he noted that in 1939 she sent the Nazi leader a collection of her poems.
Writing in the Northern Echo, a regional paper in northern England, Mullen said “to describe Marie Stopes as a family planner is rather like saying that Hitler was a kindly European statesman. She campaigned to have the poor, the sick and people of mixed race sterilized.”
Although the Roman Catholic Church was the leading opponent of her activism, she also was accused by rivals in the birth control movement of anti-Semitism.
The other five stamps in the “Women of Distinction” collection commemorate suffragette Millicent Garrett Fawcett, female doctor pioneer Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, civil rights activist Claudia Jones, lawmaker Eleanor Rathbone and Labor Minister Barbara Castle.
A Royal Mail spokesman would not say how the decision to include Stopes among the women was made or comment on the criticism.
He said the stamp “acknowledges the significance of the work of a pioneering woman whose family planning movement had one of the greatest social impacts of the 20th century, and it is this achievement which is being recognized.”
The spokesman said the six women had “defied discrimination to change the lives of other women, achieving both power and influence in the traditionally male areas of politics, medicine and social reform.”
“In all six cases … their revolutionary work challenged convention and changed history,” he added.
Marie Stopes International (MSI) runs programs in almost 40 mostly developing countries, carrying out tens of thousands of abortions a year. It has offices in London, Brussels and Melbourne, Australia as well as a fundraising office in Boulder, Colorado.
MSI says its goal is “the prevention of unwanted births” and describes its mission as, “Children by choice not chance.”
MSI did not reply to an invitation to comment on the Royal Mail decision or to respond to the criticism. On its Web site, a brief biography of Stopes makes no mention of the eugenics controversy.
Harry Stopes-Roe, the son of Marie Stopes, wrote in the Guardian earlier this month that his mother had acted from a sense of duty to those less fortunate.
“In the 1920s, many drew the conclusion that those who cared should take active steps to make the world a better place, and eugenics had been very widely accepted as responsible action from the late 19th century,” he said. “But it was, of course, discredited by Hitler’s evil.”
“If one enters upon historical criticism, however, one should understand the historical context. It was obviously right to put birth control facilities in reach of the poor, as they were the ones in most need.”
Stopes-Roe is vice-president of the British Humanist Association and, according to a brief bio on the Guardian Web site, “he now recognizes over-population as the most important practical moral problem.”
According to her biography in The World of Genetics, it was after Stopes met and was inspired by American birth control activist Margaret Sanger in 1915 that she “began crusading for sexual freedom and birth control.”
Sanger, who died in 1966, was the founder of Planned Parenthood and, like Stopes, supported eugenics and has been accused of racism.
Planned Parenthood says its founder “uniformly repudiated the racist exploitation of eugenics principles,” but also acknowledges that she agreed with some views that the organization finds “objectionable and outmoded.”