Marie Stopes charity changes its name over birth control clinic founder’s links to eugenics 

Abortion service Marie Stopes International is dropping the name of the woman who created Britain’s first birth control clinic because of her advocacy of eugenics.

The charity will instead be known as MSI Reproductive Choices from today.

Miss Stopes, who lived from 1880 to 1958, was an advocate for the sterilisation of people considered unfit for parenthood and was a member of the Eugenics Society.

MSI Reproductive Choices said these views, ‘though not uncommon at that time, are now rightly discredited’, and directly oppose the charity’s values of choice and autonomy. 

The charity said the name change sends ‘a clear signal that we neither adhere to nor condone’ her beliefs around eugenics. 

Miss Stopes was said to have supported Adolf Hitler and in 1939 sent the Nazi dictator a book of her poems enclosed with a letter saying: ‘Dear Herr Hitler, love is the greatest thing in the world.’

Her views on eugenics were also promoted by the Nazis in Germany, and in 1935 she attended a conference in Berlin to promote ‘population science’.

Abortion service Marie Stopes International (pictured in Leeds) is dropping the name of the woman who created Britain's first birth control clinic because of her advocacy of eugenics

Abortion service Marie Stopes International (pictured in Leeds) is dropping the name of the woman who created Britain's first birth control clinic because of her advocacy of eugenics

Abortion service Marie Stopes International (pictured in Leeds) is dropping the name of the woman who created Britain’s first birth control clinic because of her advocacy of eugenics

Miss Stopes (pictured), who lived from 1880 to 1958, was an advocate for the sterilisation of people considered unfit for parenthood and was a member of the Eugenics Society

Miss Stopes (pictured), who lived from 1880 to 1958, was an advocate for the sterilisation of people considered unfit for parenthood and was a member of the Eugenics Society

Miss Stopes (pictured), who lived from 1880 to 1958, was an advocate for the sterilisation of people considered unfit for parenthood and was a member of the Eugenics Society

Miss Stopes set up Britain’s first birth control clinic in 1921 in Holloway, north London, in the face of medical and religious opposition.  

The Marie Stopes Mothers’ Clinic later moved to Whitfield Street, in central London, giving women advice and contraception.

In 1976, on hearing that the clinic was in financial difficulty and due to close, Dr Tim Black purchased the lease to the building, founding the modern organisation.

It became the first of more than 600 Marie Stopes International clinics around the world.

Miss Stopes was also among the founders of the National Birth Control Council which later became known as the Family Planning Association.

Pro-life demonstrators outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, West London, in April 2018

Pro-life demonstrators outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, West London, in April 2018

Pro-life demonstrators outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, West London, in April 2018

Despite services in her name offering abortion care after her death, she had actually been opposed to abortion – which remained illegal until 1967 – during her lifetime.

MSI Reproductive Choices said her legacy has become ‘deeply entangled’ with her views on eugenics and wanted to address the ‘understandable misapprehensions that MSI had a meaningful connection to her and her views’.

Miss Stopes was a member of the Eugenics Society, and she also advocated for the sterilisation of people considered unfit for parenthood. 

Simon Cooke, MSI Reproductive Choices chief executive, said: ‘Marie Stopes was a pioneer for family planning; however, she was also a supporter of the eugenics movement and expressed many opinions, which are in stark contrast to MSI’s core values and principles.

Simon Cooke, MSI Reproductive Choices chief executive, said: 'Marie Stopes was a pioneer for family planning'. Pictured: Marie Stopes in Ealing, West London

Simon Cooke, MSI Reproductive Choices chief executive, said: 'Marie Stopes was a pioneer for family planning'. Pictured: Marie Stopes in Ealing, West London

Simon Cooke, MSI Reproductive Choices chief executive, said: ‘Marie Stopes was a pioneer for family planning’. Pictured: Marie Stopes in Ealing, West London 

‘The name of the organisation has been a topic of discussion for many years and the events of 2020 have reaffirmed that changing our name is the right decision.’ 

The new name also reflects the organisation’s global vision: that, within a decade, no abortion will be unsafe and everyone will be able to access contraception.

Mr Cooke added: ‘Our founders believed that by providing high quality, compassionate and comprehensive contraceptive and abortion care, they could support women’s empowerment, and their vision of reproductive choice for all is just as relevant today as it was in 1976.

‘This decade has opened with many uncertainties, but what we can be sure of is that the need for sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights will remain universal and urgent.’

Marie Stopes, the family planning pioneer who controversially supported eugenics

Marie Stopes opened Britain's first birth control clinic in north London in 1921

Marie Stopes opened Britain's first birth control clinic in north London in 1921

Marie Stopes opened Britain’s first birth control clinic in north London in 1921

Marie Stopes may have been a pioneer for family planning, but her support for the eugenics movement also makes her a controversial historical figure.

Born in Edinburgh in 1880, she later gained a science degree at University College London and had a successful career in palaeobotany – the study of fossil plants.

But her personal experience motivated her to promote sex education and the use of contraception – having experienced a failed marriage which led to her writing Britain’s first sex manual, Married Love.

She opened Britain’s first birth control clinic in north London in 1921 and the Marie Stopes Mothers’ Clinic later moved to Whitfield Street, in central London, giving women advice and contraception.

Miss Stopes was also among the founders of the National Birth Control Council which later became known as the Family Planning Association.

Despite services in her name offering abortion care after her death, she had actually been opposed to abortion during her lifetime.

She is described as a writer and family planning pioneer by English Heritage, which erected a blue plaque in 2010 at her first London home at 28 Cintra Park in Upper Norwood in the south-east of the capital.

Marie Stopes gained a science degree at University College London and had a successful career in palaeobotany - the study of fossil plants

Marie Stopes gained a science degree at University College London and had a successful career in palaeobotany - the study of fossil plants

Marie Stopes gained a science degree at University College London and had a successful career in palaeobotany – the study of fossil plants

On it she is listed as a promoter of sex education and birth control.

But her forward-thinking work in this area is now marred by her views on eugenics – the widely discredited study of the selective breeding of humans to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as ‘desirable’.

English Heritage said many of Miss Stopes’s views, which included encouraging those she deemed most suitable for parenthood to reproduce, while discouraging others, ‘now seem repugnant’.

She was also opposed to mixed marriages, fell out with her only son because he had chosen to marry someone who was short-sighted, and once wrote to a deaf father of four deaf children that he had brought ‘more misery… into the world’, English Heritage said.

As Marie Stopes UK announced a name change to MSI Reproductive Choices, its chief executive Simon Cooke said: ‘Marie Stopes was a pioneer for family planning; however, she was also a supporter of the eugenics movement and expressed many opinions which are in stark contrast to MSI’s core values and principles.

‘The name of the organisation has been a topic of discussion for many years and the events of 2020 have reaffirmed that changing our name is the right decision. As we look to the future, we are reflecting our fundamental focus in our new name, MSI Reproductive Choices.’

Marie Stopes was also among the founders of the National Birth Control Council which later became known as the Family Planning Association

Marie Stopes was also among the founders of the National Birth Control Council which later became known as the Family Planning Association

Marie Stopes was also among the founders of the National Birth Control Council which later became known as the Family Planning Association

The organisation said her ‘rightly discredited’ eugenics beliefs ‘stand in direct opposition to our core principles of choice and autonomy’, and that the name change sends ‘a clear signal that we neither adhere to nor condone her beliefs’.

Miss Stopes died in 1958, aged 77. The acknowledgment around that time by the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops of the necessity of birth control was a vindication of her work, but the idea of using birth control for improvement of the gene pool was ‘utterly discredited’, English Heritage said.

MSI was founded in 1976 by Dr Tim Black, Jean Black and Phil Harvey, with their first clinic opening on the site of the original Marie Stopes’ Mothers Clinic in central London.

The organisation was originally named in recognition of the origins of the building and Miss Stopes’s pioneering work in family planning.

Today, MSI provides contraception and abortion services to women and girls in 37 countries around the world.

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