Marie Stopes charity changes name over birth control campaigner's views on eugenics

·3-min read

A leading abortion provider has changed its name to distance itself from family planning pioneer Marie Stopes over her controversial selective reproduction beliefs.

Marie Stopes International, which provides contraception and abortions to women and girls in 37 countries, will now be known as MSI Reproductive Choices, breaking its connection to the woman who paved the way for mass family planning.

The charity said the name change was because of her comments on eugenics which were in "stark contrast" to its values and would send "a clear signal that we neither adhere to nor condone" her beliefs.

Eugenics is the now widely discredited study of the selective breeding of humans, with the perceived aim of "improving" the human species.

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.

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".

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

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.

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.

"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."

Born in Edinburgh in 1880, it was her personal experience in a failed marriage which motivated Stopes to promote sex education and the use of contraception - and led to her writing Britain's first sex manual, Married Love.

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

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.

But the organisation said many of her 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.

Stopes died in 1958, aged 77.