Roberta SchNeiderman

Roberta and Me

Roberta was the Board Chair of PPNYC for several years while I was President and CEO. She was one of a long line of dedicated, savvy and passionate board leaders that PPNYC was fortunate to have. She was unwavering in her support of abortion rights, marching on Washington, Albany and City Hall with the rest of us. She was a team player, consulting board and staff on all the issues we faced and how to surmount obstacles and move the agency forward collectively. She and I had weekly (or more often) in person meetings, keeping each other informed and working on strategies, both long term and short. Sometimes it wasn’t easy, but we were a team and had the utmost respect for each other. I cherished working with Roberta. And I cherished getting to know her husband Irv, to whom she was devoted. They were a great team.

After I left PPNYC for IPPFWHR, I would go to Roberta’s apartment for lunch. Public radio was always playing in the background. Roberta was always up on the news, politics and how we could hold politicians feet to the fire for abortion rights. She was a trouper until the end.

At With Hall with Mayor Dinkins

At PPNYC Benefit with Mayor Dinkins and Anna Quindlen

Sarah Weddington

Sarah Weddington and I crossed paths several times over the years. The first was at the Carter White House in 1979, at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of my grandmother’s birth. It was a too dicey for President Carter to attend, so he delegated the ceremony to Sarah Weddington, his assistant on women’s issues. Faye Wattleton represented the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and several members of Congress attended, including Louis Stokes and James Scheuer. Sarah made some introductory remarks – she opened stating breathlessly that the President had just declared Mississippi a disaster area (Hurricane Frederic had hit the day before), and I said to myself, well, I’ve been to Mississippi and I knew that already. She was followed by Faye and then my father spoke. He told the story of his mother attacking a judge who was sentencing her for breaking the Comstock Laws. Dad said, “You men made those laws, we women didn’t!” This got big cheer from the assembled guests, which included most members of my extended family.

Sarah was most skilled dealing with the potentially unruly Sanger great-grandchildren. She handed out Roslyn Carter’s recipes for peanut brittle and other peanut delicacies while diplomatically escorting us to the exits.

In the 1990s, I invited Sarah to speak at the annual benefit for Planned Parenthood of New York City. She told of Norma McCorvey and the fight to get her a legal abortion. This was before McCorvey, who I later debated on television, switched to being anti-abortion and then switched back again just before her death. She was eloquent, smart, sassy and with a self deprecating sense of humor. Were are all in her debt.

My uncle Stuart Sanger, my father Grant Sanger (second from left), Faye Wattleton, Sarah Weddington, James Scheuer and Louis Stokes

My father addressing Sarah Weddington

The assembled Sanger family. I’m the fifth from the left.

Poland’s pregnancy registry

The Polish Government is mandating a centralized registry that would require doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government. Authorities deny it will enable prosecutions of women who have miscarriages or abortions. Right. All it will lead to is women not seeing physicians for prenatal care.

Simultaneously, the government is planning to restrict divorces in order to increase the birthrate. The TFR for Poland is about 1.4, slightly below the European average.

How keeping a miserable couple together increases the birthrate is beyond me. Surely giving the couple a legal chance to find new partners is a better strategy.


Russia and China vs. San Marino?

The headline of the day from The Guardian: “Russia’s Population Undergoes the Largest ever Peacetime Decline.” One demographer estimated the decline to be about 1 million since October 2020. A low birth rate (1.5 est.) and high Covid deaths accounted for the overall population decline. Russia’s past efforts to increase the birthrate include subsidies to families with more than two children and attacking “gay propaganda”.

China’s population will soon decline, if it isn’t already, (both Russia and China have suspect demographic figures). Last year, China’s mothers bore fewer babies than any year since 1961. The Covid death rate is unknown. China recently attacked “effeminate men” and prohibited movies showing gay love. It has recently permitted families to have three children, though this will likely have the same effect as the laws a few years ago permitting two children, i.e. negligible.

Aside from attacking gay men and women, both countries are inching to granting subsidies only to those with large families, i.e. apartments.

Both countries are also zeroing in on their abortion laws. Abortion being generally legal in both countries, the authorities are gradually seeking to restrict its availability – sex selection abortion is already prohibited in China. In China, the recent State Council declarations said China would reduce the number of abortions for “non-medical purposes”, though this type of statement has been made before. In Russia, some in the government and the leading Patriarch have called for banning many or all abortions.

National power being dependent on demography, it is not surprising that Russia and China want an increased (or at least a not drastically decreased) population. (see my previous article on white Texas males).

Then we have the non-world power of San Marino, all 33,000 of them, hidden away within the confines of Italy and just as nominally Catholic. 40% of the population turned out to vote in an abortion referendum and 77.3% of them supported allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and in some cases thereafter. This leaves Malta, Andorra and Poland as the European countries banning abortion.

History shows that banning abortion only drives it underground and makes it more dangerous for women. History also shows that men (and alas some women) in power don’t understand History.

Deep into the Heart of Texas (and Mexico)

By Alexander Sanger

In the last week, Texas moved to criminalize abortion, while across the border Mexico moved to decriminalize it. Granted one (Texas) was by act of the legislature and Governor, while in Mexico it was by a unanimous Supreme Court. What is going on politically to account for such a divergent result?

To get to the politics, I argue first get to the demographics. 

It was big news a month ago when the US census date were released, confirming trends that had been apparent for decades. The while US birth rate is on a continuing decline, falling behind that of Hispanics (which is also declining). Hispanics and other minorities are making up a greater percentage of the US population. In Texas, one headline in August 2021 stated that people of color made up 95% of the Texas population boom. In some quarters, in Texas and elsewhere, white fears of becoming a minority are real and not unfounded. In Texas, Hispanics constitute 40% of the population. There was much talk before the 2020 election of Texas turning Blue (i.e. Democratic) – this didn’t happen with Trump holding Texas with 52% of the vote. Still, Texas is getting closer to turning Democratic. White Republicans are panicking. 

Commentators have focused on Republicans using abortion politics to cement white evangelical support (and some conservative Hispanic-Catholic support).

What happens when abortion is criminalized? Again, commentators say poor women, especially minorities, are targeted and most affected, being less able to travel to nearby states where abortion is legal. True. But white, poor women are affected too (and middle-class white women as well), their options hampered. Which demographic is more likely to turn to the back alleys? Which more likely to give birth? Time will tell.

This country has been through campaigns to criminalize abortion before. In the 19th Century, states (and the Federal government through its Comstock Laws) enacted measures criminalizing birth control and abortion, which had been legal since our nation was founded. What led to this?

The main factor, I argue, was demographics and immigration and the threat to white Protestant hegemony from Irish Catholic immigration. Hence the creation of the Know-Nothing Party (the 19th Century version of today’s arch-reactionary Republican Party). The Whites noted that their birth rate was less than the fecund Irish immigrants. Just one quote from those times (1874) from a prominent physician: “The annual destruction of fetuses has become so truly appalling among native American (Protestant) women that the Puritanic blood of ’76 will be but sparingly represented in the approaching centenary.” See my book, Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century for a longer discussion.

The physician was talking about white women’s abortion rates. Not minority or Irish. White. Has anything changed? I argue that the Texas legislature can see the demographic handwriting on the wall as did the 19thcentury physician. How to stop the decline of white population? Stop white women from having abortions. Stop the white wives and daughters of the legislators from terminating pregnancies. Grow the white birth rate. Make abortion illegal and arguably white women will obey, or so they hope. Do the legislators care about minority women’s reactions? Not one whit. Probably they hope minority women will go to back allies and lose, if not their lives, then their fecundity. A double victory for white supremacy.

What happened after abortion was criminalize in the 19th century? Did it work? The US birth rates continued their century-long decline. Women found a way. Too often it was to a back alley. Alternatively, a huge black market in home grown potions and abortifacients grew up, some of which may have worked, but too many of which killed the woman. 

These days there are a legal drugs that cause a miscarriage. These are dispensed in this country and across the border in Mexico. I can see the cross-border trade ballooning in misoprostol and other abortifacient drugs, especially as the Mexican states eliminate their criminal abortion laws. Women will find a way. But too many women will see their health or life damaged or lost and the birth of an unwanted child. 

As for Mexico, more study is needed on their racial politics. They are not post-racial as recent studies have shown. But the stark racial-political division is less evident. 

The Texas legislature is playing a cynical game that it can’t win. Women, though, are the losers.



On September 7, 2021, just days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing Texas to enact one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country, the Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled to decriminalize abortion. Prior to the decision, only four out of Mexico’s 32 states decriminalized the procedure and, despite some exceptions that applied, women and other pregnant people who obtained an abortion ran the risk of incarceration and some remain in jail. In response to the ruling, Giselle Carino, chief executive officer of International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region, issued the following statement:

“The unanimous ruling by the Mexico Supreme Court to eliminate criminal penalties for terminating a pregnancy is a resounding rejection of a dated and dangerous world view and an unmistakable affirmation of the rights, dignity, and freedom of women and people who can become pregnant. The political power that once penalized and incarcerated people for seeking abortion care has now been replaced with the collective power of millions who fight to make abortion safe and legal throughout Latin America and the world.

“This groundbreaking decision is just the beginning. While we applaud the Supreme Court’s decision, we know that the absence of a criminal penalty does not mean abortion is immediately legal. The next step is working to expand safe and legal access throughout Mexico. We only need to look across the border to the United States to be reminded that our rights, even when secured by law, are never fully protected.

“We will continue to fight the barriers that remain and will march shoulder to shoulder fueled by the Green Wave, poised to transform the world bringing a new dawn of reproductive justice for all. Inspired by this historic decision, we will tighten our green bandanas and double down our efforts to advance legislation that will make abortion legal and safe, fight to release those who remain in jail for obtaining an abortion, work to improve the fragmented healthcare system that limits access to care, and replace the silence and stigma that has controlled us with a chorus of cheers for reproductive health and freedom. In Texas, Mexico and around the world, la lucha continua.”

We stand alongside our partners, healthcare providers and the feminist organizations who have fought tirelessly to make this happen through many years of activism and organizing. Below is their reaction to the Supreme Court ruling:

“Today, Mexico’s Supreme Court took a historic step toward the recognition and protection of the rights of women and others who can get pregnant . With this ruling, the court opened the door to the decriminalization of abortion throughout Mexico. GIRE, along with its partners, activists, and other allies will continue fighting until access to legal and safe abortion services becomes a reality nationwide.” – Rebeca Ramos Duarte, Executive Director, Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE)

“As a result of today’s Supreme Court ruling, women will no longer have to go to jail for simply having an abortion. We celebrate the fact that this ruling respects separation of church and state, recognizes freedom of conscience, acknowledges the plurality and diversity of the Mexican people.” – Lola Guerra, Co-Executive Director, Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – México (Catholics for Choice – Mexico)