Marie Stopes International changes its name amid Black Lives Matter protests

A MSI team member at work. Photo by: MSI Reproductive Choices

BARCELONA — As of Nov. 17, the organization known as Marie Stopes International will go by a different name.

In an intentional move to break its connection with Marie Stopes — a woman who “held many opinions which are in stark contrast to MSI’s core values and principles” — the global provider of contraception and safe abortion will now be known as MSI Reproductive Choices, the organization said in a press release.

MSI Reproductive Choices: The story behind the new name (Pro)

Simon Cooke, CEO of the renamed Marie Stopes International, explains why now is “the right time” for a change — even if the organization is sticking with the MSI acronym.

The change is something that’s been “under discussion for some time” and was approved by a board resolution in November last year, CEO Simon Cooke told Devex. However, this year's Black Lives Matter protests and other discussions around racial inequality accelerated the process, he said, and “we decided now was the right moment to do it.”

Stopes, who lived from 1880-1958, was a women’s rights campaigner who opened Britain’s first family planning clinic in London in 1921, offering free services to married women and facing the wrath of the Church and other authorities in response.

However, she also expressed a number of disturbing views around reproductive rights. As a eugenicist, she believed in the practice of improving the human species by breeding out certain hereditary traits and characteristics of the human population. 

MSI was founded in 1976 by three individuals who took over the site of Stopes’ original clinic in London. The trio named the organization in recognition of the building and its history.

As MSI’s presence has grown, however, particularly in fundraising operations in the United States, those not familiar with the organization would often research Marie Stopes and learn of her “extreme views,” Cooke said. “It was becoming difficult for us to explain to people who didn’t know us that … we didn’t have a direct association with her as a person.”

“She was a woman of her time and clearly an acknowledged pioneer in family planning and in various other areas,” he said, but the new name makes “that very clear distinction about our values and those that we don’t support” while indicating the wide range of services the organization provides.

The decision also comes as the organization launches its new 10-year strategy.

“Starting the new decade, we wanted to position ourselves differently … so we’re looking towards the future and not the past,” Cooke said.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    For four years, Emma Smith covered careers and recruitment, among other topics, for Devex. She now freelances for Devex and has a special interest in mental health, immigration, and sexual and reproductive health. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master’s in media and international conflict.