The Woman Behind The First Birth-Control Clinic Is Now A Comic Star

Artwork by Sabrina Jones. From Our Lady of Birth Control by Sabrina Jones. Published by Soft Skull Press, 2016.
Very few people leave a legacy that's still relevant 100 years later, but that's exactly what Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger did.

The healthcare provider's 100-year anniversary was this past Sunday. It was celebrated by women's reproductive rights activists, healthcare advocates, and even celebrities. But despite the celebratory hashtags, the reality is that 100 years after Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY, Planned Parenthood — and all it stands for — is still a point of contention.

That's part of the reason why cartoonist Sabrina Jones decided to illustrate the activist's life and fight for women's health care in a new comic called Our Lady of Birth Control: A Cartoonist’s Encounter with Margaret Sanger.

Sanger has been hailed as one of the most influential people in women's history, though she's also a controversial figure for her support of eugenics (which Jones addresses in her own work). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Our Lady of Birth Control isn't the first comic to illustrate the life of Margaret Sanger. But it does stand out for weaving together the fight for women's reproductive health in the past and present. It also includes connections to illustrator Sabrina Jones' own fight for women's rights.

Refinery29 spoke to Jones in an email interview to ask about her work, her love of Margaret Sanger, and the ongoing battle for women's reproductive health care — 100 years later.
What inspired you to do a comic-style telling of Sanger and Planned Parenthood?
"I discovered Margaret Sanger while researching the radical scene in Greenwich Village in the 1910s, for a book on the labor movement. Of all the ensuing social and political upheavals, her fight for birth control struck me as one of the most successful, and the one that had touched my fate most profoundly. Without her triumphs, my life would be unrecognizable. Her battles are still being fought, sometimes with laws, and unfortunately also with guns."

What do you admire about Margaret Sanger? What about her inspires you?
"Once Margaret set her goal, she was relentless, and never satisfied with partial victories. Her dream of autonomy and sexual fulfillment expanded to include all women, regardless of race, class, or nationality. She had a formidable will, which she deployed with considerable charm, a soft voice, and a twinkle in her eye. As much as she combated misery, she also had a highly developed appetite for pleasure."
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Artwork by Sabrina Jones. From Our Lady of Birth Control by Sabrina Jones. Published by Soft Skull Press, 2016.
Some politicians point to Planned Parenthood as an example of what's wrong with America, some even pushing for its closure. Why do you believe Planned Parenthood is so important in this country?
"Planned Parenthood today is consistent with Sanger’s original mission: to make reproductive health care affordable to all women, to teach us to take care of ourselves, and to advocate for our right to do so. As a younger woman, years went by when my only contact with the medical profession was to get birth control. That’s why it’s so important to fund reputable clinics like Planned Parenthood that also screen for serious conditions.

"Those who oppose Planned Parenthood because it provides abortion have not learned Sanger’s lesson, that the way to reduce abortion is through contraceptive access and education. Sanger hoped to eliminate the need for abortion, and if she were alive, she would be dismayed at how many people equate her organization with it.

"I suspect that those who want to shut down the clinics don’t simply want to protect the fetus. I suspect they are offended by the degree of freedom and status that women have gained since the advent of modern contraception."

I hope to reach the readers in a more personal place, and inspire them to strive for a more just and humane society.

Sabrina Jones

Lots of your art seems to center on politics and activism. Can you talk about why you mix art and politics?
"Whereas I did my first political art on signs I carried in demonstrations, nowadays I spend more time drawing other people’s activism. My work at the drawing table is informed by having been on the streets, defending access to clinics, and other issues. But the voice I raised chanting with a crowd is different from my voice on the page. I hope to reach the readers in a more personal place, and inspire them to strive for a more just and humane society."

What do you hope people take away from Our Lady of Birth Control?
"We still face ferocious resistance to women controlling our own bodies and destinies, but it was infinitely more entrenched in Margaret’s time. And yet, she took it on with verve and tenacity, knowing the burden of large families in poverty, but also the joy of loving without fear. Her life was a struggle for justice fueled in equal parts by passion and compassion."
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