History Highlight: Proponents of eugenics, population control, and abortion opposed immigration

Abortion advocates are attempting to paint the pro-life movement as racist by using the issue of immigration to claim that the motivation behind making abortion illegal is derived from an effort to increase the births of white babies. But this entire premise is absurd on its face, given the fact that for decades, abortion — which is tethered to eugenics — has disproportionately targeted Black Americans and other minorities. But even more to the point, the original promoters of the anti-immigration movement were aligned with the same eugenic movers and shakers that brought us abortion and Planned Parenthood.

According to the Harry H. Laughlin papers at Truman State University, “The American eugenics movement greatly influenced U.S. policies regarding immigration. Policy writers were interested in the eugenics movement and immigration because the nativist side of eugenics focused on keeping the American race ‘pure’ from immigrants who were seen as ‘unfit.'”

Eugenics movement focused on preventing the ‘unfit’ from reproducing… and from entering the country

The very first anti-immigration group, the Immigration Restriction League (IRL), was founded in 1894 by three Harvard College graduates — Charles Warren, Robert DeCourcy Ward, and Prescott Farnsworth Hall — in response to an increasing sense of invasion of the United States by ‘undesirable immigrants’ that threatened their sense of the American way of life, according to Harvard College’s Houghton Library.

The League’s goal, wrote researcher Adam S. Cohen, was “to keep out groups they regarded as biologically undesirable. Immigration was ‘a race question, pure and simple,’ Ward said. ‘It is fundamentally a question as to… what races shall dominate in the country.’ League members made no secret of whom they meant: Jews, Italians, Asians, and anyone else who did not share their northern European lineage,” Cohen added.

The League was founded in Boston, but quickly spread to many other cities across the United States — and they chose Hall, who originally proposed calling the League the ‘Eugenic Immigration League,’ to be Chairman of the Committee on Immigration of the Eugenics Section of the American Genetic Association.

Image: Immigration Restriction League Prescott F Hall Secretary 1904 National Archives

Immigration Restriction League Prescott F Hall Secretary 1904 National Archives

“Segregation” to prevent “inferior stocks”

In Hall’s Eugenics, Ethics And Immigration, he wrote, “The attempt to improve race stocks in recent times has, therefore, taken the form, not of killing off the less fit, but of preventing their coming into the State, either by being born into it or by migration. Eugenics includes, not only the prevention of unfit, but the conscious attempt to produce the more fit; indeed, it is in the latter sense that the word is most often used. Strictly speaking, however, it must include all attempts to improve the physical equipment of the individual in so far as he acquires it by heredity. The recent emphasis upon eugenics is a direct outcome of modern science.”

“The fact is, that our immigration laws, as at present administered, do not screen out the unfit so as to preserve the status quo, to say nothing of promoting eugenic improvement,” Hall also wrote.

In his book “Fatal Misconception,” author Matthew Connelly cites Hall as stating, “The moral seems to be this: Eugenics among individuals is encouraging the propagation of the fit and limiting or preventing the multiplication of the unfit… Immigration restriction is a species of segregation on a large scale, by which inferior stocks can be prevented from both diluting and supplanting good stocks….”

Anti-immigration laws crafted by eugenicists

Eugenicists’ influence within the early anti-immigration movement was confirmed by University of Virginia historian Paul A. Lombardo, who wrote:

In 1911, Immigration Restriction League President Prescott Hall asked his former Harvard classmate Charles Davenport of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) for assistance to influence Congressional debate on immigration. Davenport recommended a survey to determine the national origins of ‘hereditary defectives’ in American prisons, mental hospitals and other charitable institutions. Davenport appointed ERO colleague Harry Laughlin to manage the research program.

Laughlin was a founding member and president of the American Eugenics Society and the architect of the 1924 anti-immigration act. Laughlin joined others of his day in promoting forced sterilization and even authored a model eugenics sterilization law. In 1933, Laughlin’s ideas were published by Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, and in 1938 he became part of the Citizen’s Committee on Planned Parenthood.

In 1936, Laughlin “received an honorary degree from the Nazi-controlled University of Heidelberg as ‘a pioneer in the science of race cleansing,’” according to Lombardo. Smithsonian Magazine identified Laughlin as “[o]ne of the primary examples” of how eugenics played a role in immigration law.

In 1920, Laughlin appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, where Lombardo says “he argued that the ‘American’ gene pool was being polluted by a rising tide of intellectually and morally defective immigrants – primarily from eastern and southern Europe.” Laughlin’s research “culminated in his 1924 testimony to Congress in support of a eugenically-crafted immigration restriction bill,” where Lombardo claims the “resulting law, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, was designed consciously to halt the immigration of supposedly ‘dysgenic’ Italians and eastern European Jews, whose numbers had mushroomed during the period from 1900 to 1920… The 1924 Act ended the greatest era of immigration in U.S. history.”

Truman State University’s special collections website points out that the 1924 anti-immigration act “set an annual ceiling on the number of immigrants allowed entrance into the U.S., regardless of origin, except Arians, who were totally excluded,” they claimed.

Image: Harry Laughlin author of Immigration Act signed Committee for Planned Parenthood

Harry Laughlin author of Immigration Act signed Committee for Planned Parenthood

Margaret Sanger board director concerned about the “rising tide of color”

Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, who believed that “non-white races must be excluded from America,” was connected to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and authored a book titled, “The Rising Tide of Color.” Stoddard was a journalist and Exalted Cyclops of the Massachusetts chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He served on Sanger’s National Council, her American Birth Control League (ABCL) Board of Directors, and the conference committee of the First American Birth Control Conference.

According to an article published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

Stoddard testified to Congress on immigration issues in the 1920s and 1930s. He supported restricting immigration to the United States, and he particularly opposed the admission of groups he considered to be ‘undesirable’ or racially inferior. On one occasion, Stoddard referred to refugees from the Middle East who were fleeing violence as ‘parasitical’ and ‘mongrel’ people who would be ‘very undesirable immigrants.’ He also supported laws that would exclude Asians from entering the United States.

Author Matthew Connelly wrote of Stoddard, “Stoddard claimed that white men were responsible for their own demise, because they had reduced famine and disease and had thus removed checks to population increase among other races.”


Sanger herself expressed concern about immigration. Writing in “Plan for Peace,” published in her Birth Control Review (BCR), she advocated a “Population Congress” which would “keep the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feebleminded, idiots, morons, insane, syphilitic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred by the immigration laws of 1924.”

Image: Plan for Peace by Margaret Sanger

Plan for Peace by Margaret Sanger

‘Abortion rights’ leaders concerned about certain kinds of immigration

Former Population Council employee Shannon Harvey once alleged on Twitter that a Population Council VP had expressed concerns about African immigration into Europe, tweeting:

At a donor event a VP made this case for family planning: ‘There’s widespread concern about 4bn people in Africa: poverty, environment, famines… With 1bn Africans, immigration is more than [Europe] thinks they can handle. With 4bn people it will be a much bigger problem.’

The Population Council brought the abortion pill RU486 (mifepristone) into the United States and set up the pill’s U.S. manufacturer, Danco Laboratories.

California abortionist Edward Allred, owner of the Family Planning Associates Medical Group (one of the largest privately owned abortion chains in the U.S. at the time) expressed what has since been described as a racist view of Hispanics, even telling a reporter from the San Diego Union that he hoped to stem the tide of the “new influx of Hispanic immigrants.” Allred said:

Population control is too important to be stopped by some right-wing pro-life types. Take the new influx of Hispanic immigrants. Their lack of respect for democracy and social order is frightening. I hope I can do something to stem that tide. I’d set up a clinic in Mexico for free if I could. Maybe one in Calexico would help. The survival of our society could be at stake.

In 1967, Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize abortion, in large part due to the leadership of then-Denver Representative Richard D. Lamm, the abortion bill’s principal sponsor. Lamm, who later became Governor of the state, also opposed immigration into the U.S. and served on the boards of anti-immigration organizations like the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR)Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), and Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). In addition to Lamm, Charles Westoff — a member of both the American Eugenics Society as well as Planned Parenthood’s National Advisory Council — also served on the CAPS advisory board.

Garrett Hardin was both a NARAL co-founder and an admitted anti-immigration (and pro-abortion) activist. In an interview with Skeptic magazine in 1996, Hardin stated:

I started being an activist for legalized abortion in 1963. I spent most of my external time on that issue until the Supreme Court reached the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. I thought the fight was all over. Well, I was wrong. 

At the time, my wife and I were active in Planned Parenthood. She was on the local board of directors. The question came up in Planned Parenthood as to what our position should be on abortion. Some wanted to stay clear of it entirely because they realized there would be a lot of opposition. Fortunately, Planned Parenthood decided that it was a question of women’s rights. 

Abortion is above all other things a method of birth control. To put it another way, it’s a backstop for any system of birth control when the rest of the system fails. That decision to support the woman’s right to abortion put Planned Parenthood in a dangerous position.

A University of California archived history of Hardin described him as a “leading ecological thinker, whose views influenced debates on abortion, immigration, foreign aid, overpopulation, and other provocative issues.”

UC Political Science Professor Matto Mildenberger disturbingly described Hardin as “a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe.” Hardin was against immigration, reportedly because “most immigrants into the United States… have been Mexicans, blacks from the Caribbean and Africa, and Asians.” According to the Garret Hardin Society website, Hardin believed that “an increasingly multicultural society” was “a recipe for social disorder….” In 1990, Hardin was awarded by the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), where he served as a board member.

Planned Parenthood leader founded one of country’s largest anti-immigration groups

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is one of the largest anti-immigration organizations. FAIR’s 2001 annual report described its founder John Tanton as becoming “interested in immigration to the United States through his long-standing concerns about the effects of unplanned and uncontrolled population growth and resource depletion.”

“He was the national President of Zero Population Growth from 1975 to 1977 and was Chairman of its Immigration Study Committee from 1973 to 1975. He was organizer and President of the Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood chapter [1965-1971]. From 1971 to 1975, Dr. Tanton served as Chairman of the Sierra Club National Population Committee,” the report added.

In Tanton’s oral history, he claimed that “in 1964, one of the first things we did was to establish a Planned Parenthood clinic in northern Michigan” — a fact confirmed by the Detroit News, which wrote that the Tantons (John and Mary Lou) co-founded the Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood in 1965. Mary Lou Tanton was also employed by FAIR. Her resumé reveals that she served as president from 1975-1978, on the board of Washtenaw County League for Planned Parenthood (1961-1964), and on the Michigan Planned Parenthood Council-Public Affairs and Legislative Chairman (1976-1979).

Image: John Tanton on Planned Parenthood board

John Tanton on Planned Parenthood board

Tanton funded FAIR in part from money from the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded by eugenicist leaders Harry Laughlin and Fredrick Henry Osborn, a leader of the Population Council who signed Sanger’s “Citizens Committee for Planned Parenthood,” published in her review in April of 1938.

Tanton was intrigued by Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, and was eventually nominated to the national board of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) and subsequently elected national president of ZPG in 1975. Tanton has been called the “father of the anti-immigration movement” and has nurtured multiple anti-immigration groups like Numbers USA and FAIR’s research arm, the Center for Immigration Studies.

Image: Cordelia Scaife May funds John Tanton's anti-immigration orgs (Image: New York Times)

Cordelia Scaife May funds John Tanton’s anti-immigration orgs (Image: New York Times)

FAIR was also funded in part with the finances of philanthropist Cordelia Scaife May, who openly admired Margaret Sanger, was a friend to Garrett Hardin, worked with Planned Parenthood, and served on the board of the Population Council, contributing $11.4 million to the Council’s work during the 1960s. In 1969, May signed an ad paid for by the Hugh Moore Fund which pointed to the “flood of humanity now engulfing the earth and the urgent necessity of controlling it.” According to Philanthropy Daily, May gave Tanton a $500,000 grant to start the organization in 1978.

Image: Hugh Moore Fund 1969 ad signed by Cordilia Scaife May against Lating immigration

Hugh Moore Fund 1969 ad signed by Cordilia Scaife May against Latin immigration

FAIR past board members tied to population control groups

FAIR’s past leadership is a who’s who of abortion and eugenics proponents and includes the previously mentioned Richard D. Lamm who drafted and succeeded in passing the nation’s first liberalized abortion law in Colorado. It also includes NARAL co-founder Garrett Hardin, who also received funding from the Pioneer Fund and was deeply involved with ZPG and Planned Parenthood. In 1980, Hardin received Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award.

Hardin also belonged to the Hemlock Society and took his own life in 2003.

Former California congressman Anthony Beilenson also sat on FAIR’s board and reportedly helped pass the first liberalization of California’s abortion law in 1967. In his book about the Tantons, author John F. Rohe describes FAIR Chairman Sherry Barnes and Sidney Swensrud as also working with Planned Parenthood.

FAIR Board member Sarah G. Epstein, daughter of Pathfinder International‘s eugenicist founder Clarence Gamble, served on the boards of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, Center for Development and Population Activities, The Population Institute, and Pathfinder International. (Clarence Gamble also served as director of both Margaret Sanger’s American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood boards.) Epstein was a 2009 sponsor of Planned Parenthood’s Champions of Choice event.

Image: Federation of American Anti-immigration Reform (FAIR) 2000 board John Tanton Donald A Collins

Federation of American Anti-immigration Reform (FAIR) 2000 board John Tanton Donald A Collins

Also serving on FAIR’s board was Donald A. Collins, a former vice chairman and trustee of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and advisor of population affairs for the Scaife family of Pittsburgh. He also served on the national oversight board of the Center for Family Planning Program Development, which later morphed into the Guttmacher Institute.

Florida abortion facility owner Joyce Tarnow, who also served on FAIR’s board, once appeared on a local talk show where she suggested that countries which needed help feeding their people should sink or swim on their own. “The more people you help to survive the more people who are going to be reproducing and having children beyond what we can reasonably hope to have so that we can educate and house and feed these people,” Tarnow stated.

Watch Tarnow in the documentary film Maafa21 below:


Tarnow founded the Miami chapter of Zero Population Growth in 1970 and served on its national board from 1972–1974. Later, (1994) she co-founded Floridians for a Sustainable Population (FSP). In 2004, Tarnow was interviewed by a Broward-Palm Beach New Times reporter where Tarnow claimed that “Fertility is an environmental issue” before telling the media outlet, “That’s why I try to get as many people sterilized as are in my way!”

The article entitled “Adios, Abortionist,” then turned to immigration. Tarnow stated, “We need to help nations that can subsist and let others wither on the vine.” Regarding the nation of Haiti, Tarnow added that the people there need to “stew” in their “own juices.” Tarnow died in 2014.

The accusation that somehow the pro-life movement is attempting to increase the white population by restricting abortion is outlandish for many reasons. The abortion industry’s current cries are to ensure that women of color, in particular, can access abortion even though Black women already currently account for 38.4% of all abortions in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is stunning, considering that the Black community only makes up 12% of the U.S. population.

Aside from this, clear history shows that it is the abortion/population control/eugenics movement (which are not separate movements) that has always sought to keep certain people groups both from reproducing and from legally immigrating to the United States.

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