Analysis

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York tries to escape ‘racist legacy’ of founder Margaret Sanger

Sanger

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York is officially disavowing Margaret Sanger, its own founder, over her eugenic beliefs and activism, which have served as the bedrock of the corporation for 100 years.

In a statement, the Planned Parenthood affiliate announced that Sanger’s name would be removed from its Manhattan facility, long known as the Margaret Sanger Center – an abortion business that has injured many women. The move comes on the heels of former CEO Laura McQuade’s ouster for alleged racist behavior, and a growing nationwide swell of pushback against racism and injustice against the Black community. Alexis McGill Johnson, a Black woman, was also recently named the permanent president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Sanger’s legacy has long been problematic, something the pro-life movement has been pointing out for years. Yet Planned Parenthood and its defenders have consistently and continually defended and honored her “legacy.”

READ: Planned Parenthood has never been serious about ‘reckoning’ with its ‘racist history’

Abortion advocate Lena Dunham featured Sanger’s life story in an animated short about Planned Parenthood, briefly waving off Sanger’s eugenic beliefs as something that was no big deal, because eugenics was “fashionable” at the time. Dunham tried to portray Sanger’s cozy ties with eugenicists (which included white supremacist and Massachusetts Ku Klux Klan member Lothrop Stoddard) as nothing more than a shrewd tactic, a movement Sanger was exploiting solely to grow her visionary organization—ignoring the racism embedded in Sanger’s beliefs.

Until recently, Planned Parenthood continued to give out its annual Maggie Award (named after Sanger) to politicians, celebrities, and journalists who defend abortion. Awardees all spoke about the honor of receiving an award named after Sanger. McGill Johnson herself even defended Sanger in the past.

 

But the reality of Sanger’s eugenic and racist beliefs is far more insidious than Planned Parenthood would have anyone believe. Sanger spoke to the Ku Klux Klan, and launched what she referred to as her “Negro Project,” in which she exploitatively used Black community leaders such as ministers and physicians to promote her vision of birth control among minorities. She said:

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.

Sanger’s approach still seems to be in use today; Planned Parenthood still uses Black men and women in leadership positions to assuage the Black community’s decades-long cultural unease towards abortion as Black genocide. LaVerne Tolbert, a former Planned Parenthood board member, said she eventually realized she was recruited by the corporation specifically because she was Black, and a pastor’s daughter—exactly the kind of person sought for Sanger’s Negro Project.

The mind-blowing Life Dynamics documentary, Maafa 21, also exposed how some of Sanger’s eugenicist cohorts advocated for secretly putting birth control into the drinking water in Black neighborhoods to prevent Black women from being able to conceive, and how Sanger argued in favor of forced sterilization for those deemed “unfit.”

This behavior lives on at Planned Parenthood; the abortion chain has been caught pressuring Black women to be sterilized, and —according to some sources—places a disproportionate number of its facilities in Black neighborhoods. The corporation was also caught accepting racially-biased donations by phone, which undercover callers requested to be specifically earmarked towards aborting Black babies.

In its statement, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York acknowledged Sanger’s racism. “The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, Board Chair for PPGNY, said. “Margaret Sanger’s concerns and advocacy for reproductive health have been clearly documented, but so too has her racist legacy. There is overwhelming evidence for Sanger’s deep belief in eugenic ideology, which runs completely counter to our values at PPGNY. Removing her name is an important step toward representing who we are as an organization and who we serve.”

Yet these words are essentially meaningless. As Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pointed out today in an emailed press release, until Planned Parenthood’s words are backed up with actions that end the dehumanization and oppression of innocent lives, they will remain empty.

“Planned Parenthood can rename a building, but it can’t whitewash its eugenics roots,” he said. “Planned Parenthood can try to forget its founder’s racist screeds, but it cannot escape the undeniable fact that it makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year by telling an ugly lie that certain lives are disposable and then disposing of them. Big abortion has always been, and will always be, in the business of violence and dehumanization.”

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