A letter sent by a group of Black pastors, asking the Smithsonian to remove the bust of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, has reignited the fight over the racial origins of the organization.
The letter from Ministers Taking a Stand charges Sanger held racist views and one of the motivations behind founding the birth control movement was to exterminate or limit the Black race. Sanger married her ideas to the concept of eugenics, a belief that the human race could improve by breeding out “defective people” or undesirables. In the early part of the 20th century, many Americans held the racist view that Black people were less intelligent than white people. Eugenics ideas, nurtured in America, were later adopted by German leader Adolph Hitler. After World War II, eugenics fell into disrepute.
The letter states, “Perhaps the Gallery is unaware that Ms. Sanger supported black eugenics, a racist attitude toward blacks and other minority babies; an elitist attitude toward those she regarded as ‘the feeble minded.”
Even today there is still a debate over whether Sanger held racist views. Anti-abortion activists believe she was a supporter of eugenics and founded Planned Parenthood to deliberately limit the size of Black families. However, The New York Times disputes this.
“Scholars acknowledge that Sanger did ally herself with eugenics, at the time a mainstream movement, but said she believed that birth control, sterilization and abortion should be voluntary and not based on race,” said The New York Times. “She was also allied with black leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. King, who praised her efforts to bring birth control to black families.”
In her book, Women and the New Race, Sanger writes of the freedom that came from women being able to control reproduction. She also warns of the dangers of America importing hundreds of poor immigrants from Europe, who she felt would only be trapped in generations of poverty.
Sanger worked to bring birth control to Black families in the south, but recognized her ideas would be met with suspicion. According to Factcheck.org, an organization that verifies media statements made by elected officials, Sanger wrote about the importance of gaining support from a black clergyman.
“We do not want 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,” said Sanger in a letter written in 1939.
Considering its origins, the Black community has long viewed the birth control movement with suspicion. Many Black people felt that early experiments with birth control pills used Black communities as test subjects. And up until recently, some states still practiced elements of eugenics with mentally challenged people and other undesirables being forcibly sterilized. An Atlanta Blackstar story reported several cases of Black female inmates in California being sterilized without their consent.
Specifically, four California prisons illegally sterilized 39 women over a six-year period, according to a report by the California State Auditor. As reported, of the 144 inmates who underwent bilateral tubal ligations, commonly referred to as having your tubes tied, from fiscal years 2005-06 to 2012-13, auditors found nearly one-third were performed without lawful consent.
Today, anti-abortion activists say the high rate of abortion in the Black community carries elements of eugenics. According to figures from the Center for Disease Control, while Black people make up about 14 percent of the population, 40 percent of abortions are carried out by Black women.
“A new documentary, written and directed by Mark Crutcher, a white abortion opponent in Denton, Texas, meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations,” reported The New York Times. “Black abortion opponents, who sometimes refer to abortions as ‘womb lynchings,’ have mounted a sustained attack on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spurred by a sting operation by young white conservatives who taped Planned Parenthood employees welcoming donations specifically for aborting black children.”
One commonly repeated point is most abortion clinics are located in Black neighborhoods. However, this has been disproven by FactCheck. When Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain repeated this statement, FactCheck wrote, “We find no support for that old claim. Cain also states that the organization built 75 percent of its clinics in black communities, but there’s no evidence that was true then. And today, only 9 percent of U.S. abortion clinics are in neighborhoods where half or more of residents are black, according to the most recent statistics.”