Controversial Origins of Planned Parenthood
A Planned Parenthood (PP) supporter in a letter intended “for all anti-choice, anti-women people out there” writes “Know this: When you go after Planned Parenthood and the people they serve, you go after ME. (1)” On both sides of the fence the issue of abortion is a passionate and polarizing one. We saw it firsthand over the last few weeks when the Susan G. Komen Foundation, after announcing that it would end grants to PP, bowed to the pressure of PP advocates and reversed its original decision. Heated debates flooded the air waves and social medias as PP supporters went full throttle in their fierce defense of the organization vowing to, as the supporter stated in her letter “Stand with Planned Parenthood” But—do they really know who they’re standing up for?
About Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood touts itself as a formidable reproductive and complementary health care service provider, “rooted in the courage and tenacity of American women and men willing to fight for women’s health, rights, and equality. (2)” Their roots stem from founder Margaret Sanger—lauded by Planned Parenthood as “one of the (reproductive rights) movement’s great heroes. (2)” A ‘hero’—a ‘hero’ who’s primary agenda, as stated in many of her writings, was to restrict the birth of minorities, the poor, the handicapped and the mentally ill—or as she termed them, the “unfit. (3)” Margaret Sanger was a Eugenicist (aka Eugenist) when she founded the American Birth Control League (later renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America(4)) on the ideas and resources of the Eugenics movement.
What is Eugenics?
“Eugenics is a term derived from two Greek words: ‘eu’ meaning well/ good and ‘gene’ meaning born. Eugenics can therefore be defined as the selective breeding of people in order to have a more superior population. The term was coined by Sir Francis Galton who not only coined the idea but believed that humans should weed out the unfit people just the way nature weeds out the unfit. (5)” In other words, Eugenicists (aka Eugenists) believed that encouraging the “fit” to reproduce and restricting the “unfit” from reproduction would improve the human race.
Eugenics was also “associated with Nazi Germany. Both the public and some elements of the scientific community associated eugenics with Naziabuses, such as enforced “racial hygiene”, human experimentation, and the exterminationof “undesired” population groups. The practices engaged in by eugenicists involving violations of privacy, attacks on reputation, violations of the right to life, to freedom from discrimination are all today classified as violations of human rights. Its most infamous proponent and practitioner was Adolf Hitler (6)”.
The Controversial Beliefs of Margaret Sanger (PP’s Founder)
While Margaret Sanger has been applauded for her efforts in advancing the reproductive rights of women (she was significant to the legalization of contraception in the U.S.), her beliefs and associations were controversial. She has often been referred to as an elitist and a racist/white supremacist because she dehumanized the poor, the handicapped, the mentally ill and minorities. Her support of eugenics, her efforts to implement practices associated with this belief, her associations and the many controversial remarks that she made, also support this claim. Let’s take a look inside the mind of Margaret Sanger through some direct quotes from her various books and articles.
“Every single case of inherited defect, every malformed child, every congenitally tainted human being brought into this world is of infinite importance to that poor individual; but it is of scarcely less importance to the rest of us and to all of our children who must pay in one way or another for these biological and racial mistakes (7).” (Pivot of Civilization, p. 274)
“The advocates of Birth Control lean toward this method…They frown upon the ignorant poor whose numerous children, brought into the world are…an obstacle to social progress. More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief aim of birth control. (3)” (Birth Control Review, May 1919, p. 12)
”We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members. (8) (Margaret Sanger, in a December 19, 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble. According to PP supporters, this quote has been “taken out of context”(9) and they note that Sanger was “aware of concerns that birth control would pose a threat to the African American community. Consequently, she was determined to alleviate these concerns by involving the African American community in the formation of birth control clinics in the South” (9).
Even if the quote may not reflect her true intentions, her association with the Klu Klux Klan, knowing its purpose and actions, point to her beliefs in white supremacy.
“I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan...I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses…I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak…In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered.” (10) (Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, P.366.) (Photo shown of Margaret Sanger at KKK rally (11))
“The lack of balance between the birth-rate of the “unfit” and the “fit,” admittedly the greatest present menace to the civilization…. The example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit…. On the contrary, the most urgent problem to-day is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” (Pivot of Civilization (7))
“Eugenics seems to me to be valuable in its…diagnostic aspects…seeking to re-establish the dominance of the healthy strain over the unhealthy…over the unfit” (Pivot of Civilization (7))
“The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” (Woman and the New Race (12))
In Sanger’s Defense
As a nurse, Sanger witnessed botched self induced abortions resulting in death and sufferings endured by frequent pregnancies. She was motivated to help reduce these afflictions among all women through birth control methods and sex education. After reviewing her writings, her 1957 interview with Mike Wallace and general recollections on her life, it seemed that Sanger had sincere intentions toward helping women however her statements speak directly to sinister, ulterior motives which cannot be overlooked. Good fruit does not excuse bad fruit and sincere intentions can never right a wrong. Sanger’s beliefs regarding population control, eugenics and white supremacy are wrong and are anti-American. Her quotes speak for themselves yet they fall on deaf ears since the Planned Parenthood (PP) organization continues to honor Sanger by giving out awards in her name each year (PP Website-PPFA Margaret Sanger Award).
While PP has acknowledged some of the controversial beliefs that Sanger subscribed to, it has stated that “they’re irrelevant to what the organization currently does” (13). States Pamela Merritt from RH Reality Check in her article on ‘Women of Color and the Anti-Choice Focus on Eugenics’, “Sanger’s personal beliefs on eugenics were and are wrong and do not hold any place in the mission of reproductive justice or reproductive health care providers. We do not associate the Ford Motor Company with anti-semitism, despite the well documented history of its founder Henry Ford in collaborating with Nazis and we should not associate contemporary reproductive health care providers or the reproductive justice movement with eugenics because of some views expressed by Margaret Sanger” (14) .
Two things come to mind when I read Ms. Merritt’s argument: (1) Ford Motors is a private organization and (while it did receive a government loan in 2009(c)) does not receive annual funding from the government i.e. as a pro-lifer, my tax dollars does not keep Ford in business. As a consumer, I can always boycott Ford if I strongly disagree with their value system. I can’t do that with PP—I don’t like the fact that my hard earned money goes to support an abortion organization—yet I have no choice in the matter. (2) What if Hitler (who shared Sanger’s eugenist views regarding the Jewish community) had started an organization that was still around today; and this organization was doing some good deeds in spite of its origins; and it was being funded in some way by our government—would there not be a public outcry? Of course there would be! I can already hear some of you saying that comparing PP to Hitler is not a fair. After all, Hitler intentionally killed 6 million innocent Jews. Here’s a statistic for you—since 1973 PP has assisted in the killing of over 50 million innocent lives. (15)
Why are the origins of Planned Parenthood so important?
Pro-life supporters are consistently criticized for bringing up eugenics and its role in the early beginnings of Planned Parenthood. Why are the origins of Planned Parenthood so important? As a society, we constantly examine the past of people and organizations that we support regardless of its significance to who or what they are today. Why should this be any different? Notably, PP is a government funded entity; full transparency is essential and awareness of their affiliations, present and past, are especially important. Whether their origins are relevant or not to what PP is today is for you to decide. Like anything else, I believe in knowing the history, vision and goals of any organization that I would ever consider wholeheartedly “standing by” (to echo the words of the Pro-choice PP supporter).
The irony of this situation is that, unlike the organization she founded, Sanger was opposed to abortions. If PP should subscribe to any of its founder’s views, it should be this one. Sanger wrote, “while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.“(12). In her autobiography, Sanger noted “abortion was the wrong way no matter how early it was performed, it was taking life” (10)
1) “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” letter: https://secure.ppaction.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=pp_ppol_I_Stand_with_PP_2012&s_src=IStand_0212_c3_ppfb
3) Sanger, Margaret, The Birth Control Review, May, 1919
7) Sanger, Margaret, Pivot of Civilization, 1922
10) Sanger, Margaret (1938). Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography. New York: W. W. Norton.
12) Sanger, Margaret, Woman and the New Race, 1920
13) Huffington Post, Rick Santorum: Planned Parenthood ‘Not Far’ From Its Origins Of Racism And Eugenics, 4/28/11, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/28/rick-santorum-planned-parenthood-racism-eugenics_n_855126.html
14) Merritt, Pamela, “Women of Color and the Anti-Choice Focus on Eugenics” , February 12, 2010, http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/02/12/women-color-and-antichoice-focus-eugenics
(a) The Mike Wallace Interview – Margaret Sanger, 9/21/57
(d) Source of Thumbnail photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-29808, 1922, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MargaretSanger-Underwood.LOC.jpg