(This article first
appeared in the January 20, 1992 edition of Citizen magazine)
Parenthood Duped America
At a March 1925 international birth control gathering in New York City, a
speaker warned of the menace posed by the "black" and "yellow" peril. The man
was not a Nazi or Klansman; he was Dr. S. Adolphus Knopf, a member of Margaret
Sanger's American Birth Control League (ABCL), which along with other groups
eventually became known as Planned Parenthood.
Sanger's other colleagues included avowed and sophisticated racists. One,
Lothrop Stoddard, was a Harvard graduate and the author of The Rising Tide of
Color against White Supremacy. Stoddard was something of a Nazi enthusiast
who described the eugenic practices of the Third Reich as "scientific" and
"humanitarian." And Dr. Harry Laughlin, another Sanger associate and board
member for her group, spoke of purifying America's human "breeding stock" and
purging America's "bad strains." These "strains" included the "shiftless,
ignorant, and worthless class of antisocial whites of the South."
Not to be outdone by her followers, Margaret Sanger spoke of sterilizing those
she designated as "unfit," a plan she said would be the "salvation of American
civilization.: And she also spike of those who were "irresponsible and
reckless," among whom she included those " whose religious scruples prevent
their exercising control over their numbers." She further contended that "there
is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this
group should be stopped." That many Americans of African origin constituted a
segment of Sanger considered "unfit" cannot be easily refuted.
While Planned Parenthood's current apologists try to place some distance between
the eugenics and birth control movements, history definitively says otherwise.
The eugenic theme figured prominently in the Birth Control Review, which
Sanger founded in 1917. She published such articles as "Some Moral Aspects of
Eugenics" (June 1920), "The Eugenic Conscience" (February 1921), "The purpose of
Eugenics" (December 1924), "Birth Control and Positive Eugenics" (July 1925),
"Birth Control: The True Eugenics" (August 1928), and many others.
These eugenic and racial origins are hardly what most people associate with the
modern Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), which gave its Margaret
Sanger award to the late Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966, and whose current
president, Faye Wattleton, is black, a former nurse, and attractive.
Though once a social pariah group, routinely castigated by religious and
government leaders, the PPFA is now an established, high-profile, well-funded
organization with ample organizational and ideological support in high places of
American society and government. Its statistics are accepted by major media and
public health officials as "gospel"; its full-page ads appear in major
newspapers; its spokespeople are called upon to give authoritative analyses of
what America's family policies should be and to prescribe official answers that
congressmen, state legislator and Supreme Court justiices all accept as "social
Sanger's obsession with eugenics can be traced back to her own family. One of 11
children, she wrote in the autobiographical book, My Fight for Birth Control,
that "I associated poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness, cruelty,
quarreling, fighting, debts, jails with large families." Just as important was
the impression in her childhood of an inferior family status, exacerbated by the
iconoclastic, "free-thinking" views of her father, whose "anti-Catholic
attitudes did not make for his popularity" in a predominantly Irish community.
The fact that the wealthy families in her hometown of Corning, N.Y., had
relatively few children, Sanger took as prima facie evidence of the
impoverishing effect of larger families. The personal impact of this belief was
heightened 1899, at the age of 48. Sanger was convinced that the "ordeals of
motherhood" had caused the death of her mother. The lingering consumption
(tuberculosis) that took her mother's life visited Sanger at the birth of her
own first child on Nov. 18, 1905. The diagnosis forced her to seek refuge in the
Adirondacks to strengthen her for the impending birth. Despite the precautions,
the birth of baby Grant was "agonizing," the mere memory of which Sanger
described as "mental torture" more than 25 years later. She once described the
experience as a factor "to be reckoned with" in her zealous campaign for birth
From the beginning, Sanger advocacy of sex education reflected her interest in
population control and birth prevention among the "unfit." Her first handbook,
published for adolescents in 1915 and entitled, What Every Boy and Girl
Should Know, featured a jarring afterword:
It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance.
There is only one cure for both, and that is to stoop breeding these things.
Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or
intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide
To Sanger, the ebbing away of moral and religious codes over sexual conduct was
a natural consequence of the worthlessness of such codes in the individual's
search for self-fulfillment. "Instead of laying down hard and fast rules of
sexual conduct," Sanger wrote in her 1922 book Pivot of Civilization,
"sex can be rendered effective and valuable only as it meets and satisfies the
interests and demands of the pupil himself." Her attitude is appropriately
described as libertinism, but sex knowledge was not the same as individual
liberty, as her writings on procreation emphasized.
The second edition of Sanger's life story, An Autobiography, appeared in
1938. There Sanger described her first cross-country lecture tour in 1916. Her
standard speech asserted seven conditions of life that "mandated" the use of
birth control: the third was "when parents, though normal, had subnormal
children"; the fourth, "when husband and wife were adolescent"; the fifth, "when
the earning capacity of the father was inadequate." No right existed to exercise
sex knowledge to advance procreation. Sanger described the fact that "anyone, no
matter how ignorant, how diseased mentally or physically, how lacking in all
knowledge of children, seemed to consider he or she had the right to become a
In the 1910's and 1920's, the entire social orderĖreligion, law, politics,
medicine, and the mediaĖwas arrayed against the idea and practice of birth
control. This opposition began in 1873 when an overwhelmingly Protestant
Congress passed, and a Protestant president signed into law, a bill that became
known as the Comstock Law, named after its main proponent, Anthony Comstock. The
U.S. Congress classified obscene writing, along with drugs, and devices and
articles that prevented conception or caused abortion, under the same net of
criminality and forbade their importation or mailing.
Sanger set out to have such legislation abolished or amended. Her initial
efforts were directed at the Congress with the opening of a Washington, D.C.,
office of her American Birth Control League in 1926. Sanger wanted to amend
section 211 of the U.S. criminal code to allow the interstate shipment and
mailing of contraceptives among physicians, druggists and drug manufacturers.
During January and
February of 1926, Sanger and her co-workers personally interviewed 40 senators
and 14 representatives. None agreed to introduce a bill to amend the Comstock
Act. Fresh from this unanimous rejection, Sanger issued an update to her
followers: Everywhere there is general acceptance of the idea, except in
religious circles. . .The National Catholic Welfare Council [sic] (NCWC) has a
special legislative committee organized to block and defeat our legislation.
They frankly state that they intend to legislate for non-Catholics according to
the dictates of the church.
There was no such committee. But 20 non-Catholic lay or religious organizations
joined NCWC in opposition to amending the Comstock Act. This was not the first
time, nor was it to be the last, that Sanger sought to stir up sectarian strife
by blaming Catholics for her legislative failures. Catholic-bashing was a
standard tactic (one that Planned Parenthood still finds useful to this day),
although other Christian groups now also come in for criticism.
Eight years later, in 1934, Sanger went to Congress again. Reporting on the
first day of the hearings, the New York Times noted: ... the almost solidly Catholic opposition to the measure. This is now,
according to Margaret Sanger. . . the only organized opposition to the proposal.
Sanger wrote a letter to her "Friends, Co-workers, and Endorsers" that portrayed
the opposing testimony as the work of Catholics determined ... not to present
facts to the committee but to intimidate them by showing a Catholic block of
voters who (though in the minority in the United States) want to dictate to the
majority of non-Catholics as directed from the Vatican in social and moral
legislation ... American men and women, are we going to allow this insulting
arrogance to bluff the American people?
For Sanger, the proper attitude toward her religious critics featured character
assassination, personal vilification and old-fashioned bigotry. Her Birth
Control Review printed an article that noted: "Today by the Roman Catholic
clergy and their allies . . . Public opinion in America, I fear, is too willing
to condone in the officials of the Roman Catholic Church what it condemns in the
Ku Klux Klan.
A favorite Catholic-baiter of Sanger's was Norman E. Himes, who contributed
articles to Sanger's journal. Himes claimed there were genetic differences
between Catholics and non-Catholics.
Are Catholic stocks . . . genetically inferior to such non-Catholic
libertarian stocks and Unitarians and Universal . . . Freethinkers? Inferior to
non-Catholics in general? . . . my guess is that the answer will someday be made
in the affirmative. . . and if the supposed differentials in net productivity
are also genuine, the situation is anti-social, perhaps gravely so.
Sanger sought to isolate Catholics by creating a schism between them and
Protestants, who had held parallel views of birth control and abortion for
centuries. She welcomed a report from a majority of the Committee on Marriage
and the Home of the General Council of Churches (later the National Council of
Churches) advocating birth control. This committee was composed largely of
social elite Protestants, including Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. A number of
Protestant church bodies publicly repudiated the committee's endorsement.
The Rev. Worth Tippy, council executive secretary and author of the report, told
Sanger in April 1931 that: ... the statement on Moral Aspects of Birth
Control has aroused more opposition within the Protestant churches than we
expected. Under the circumstances, and since we plan to carry on a steady work
for liberalizing laws and to stimulate the establishment of clinics, it is
necessary that we make good these losses and also increase our resources.Could
you help me quietly by giving me the names of people of means who are interested
in the birth control movement and might help us if I wrote them.
Sanger immediately wrote Tippy that she would be "glad to select names of
persons from our lists whom I think might be able to subscribe." Tippy replied
to Sanger a week later, offering to give her some names for fund raising and
thanking her for the offer of "names of people who are able to contribute to
generous causes and who are favorable to birth control." He also related that
they had expected some reaction from the "fundamentalist groups," but nothing
like what had happened.
Protestants repeatedly stated their unity with Catholics in opposing Planned
Parenthood's initiatives. During Sanger's attempts to reform New York state law,
another Protestant stood with Catholics. The Rev. John R. Straton, Pastor of the
Calvary Baptist Church of New York City, said: "This bill is subversive of the
human family . . . It is revolting, monstrous, against God's word and
contradicts American traditions."
Sanger's attack on Catholics appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from
the class politics of Planned Parenthood. The Rev. John A. Ryan wrote: ...
their main objective is to increase the practice of birth-prevention among the
poor . . . It is said that the present birth-prevention movement is to some
extent financed by wealthy, albeit philanthropic persons. As far as I am aware ,
none of these is conspicuous in the movement for economic justice. None of them
is crying out for a scale of wages which would enable workers to take care of a
normal number of children.
Sanger's sexual license was another motivation for her Anti-Catholic sniping. A
Sanger biographer, David M. Kennedy, said her primary goal was to "increase the
quantity and quality of sexual relationships." The birth control movement, she
said, freed the mind from "sexual prejudice and taboo, by demanding the frankest
and most unflinching re-examination of sex in its relation to human nature and
the basis of human society.
It was in 1939 that Sanger's larger vision for dealing with the reproductive
practices of black Americans emerged. After the January 1939 merger of her
Clinical Research Bureau and the ABCL to form the Birth Control Federation of
America, Dr. Clarence J. Gamble was selected to become the BCFA regional
director for the South. Dr. Gamble, of the soap-manufacturing Procter and Gamble
company, was no newcomer to Sanger's organization. He had previously served as
director at large to the predecessor ABCL.
Gamble lost no time and drew up a memorandum in November 1939 entitled
"Suggestion for Negro Project." Acknowledging that black leaders might regard
birth control as an extermination plot, he suggested that black leaders be place
in positions where it would appear that they were in charge—as it was at an
It is evident from the rest of the memo that Gamble conceived the project almost
as a traveling road show. A charismatic black minister was to start a revival,
with "contributions" to come from other local cooperating ministers. A "colored
nurse" would follow, supported by a subsidized "colored doctor." Gamble even
suggested that music might be a useful lure to bring the prospects to a meeting.
Sanger answered Gamble on Dec. 10. 1939, agreeing with the assessment. She
wrote: "We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro
population, and the minister is the man who can straighten that idea out if it
ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." In 1940, money for two
"Negro Project" demonstration programs in southern states was donated by
advertising magnate Albert D. Lasker and his wife, Mary.
Birth control was
presented both as an economic betterment vehicle and as a health measure that
could lower the incidence of infant mortality. At the 1942 BCFA annual meeting,
BCFA Negro Council board member Dr. Dorothy B. FerebeeĖa cum laude graduate of
Tufts and also president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's largest black
sororityĖaddressed the delegates regarding Planned Parenthood's minority
outreach efforts : With the Negro group some of the most difficult obstacles
. . . to overcome are: (1) the concept that when birth control is proposed to
them, it is motivated by a clever bit of machination to persuade them to commit
race suicide; (2) the so-called "husband rejection" . . . (3) the fact that
birth control is confused with abortion, and (4) the belief that is inherently
immoral. However, as formidable as these objections may seem, when thrown
against the total picture of the awareness on the part of the Negro leaders of
the improved condition under Planned Parenthood, or the genuine interest and
eagerness of the families themselves to secure the services which will give them
a fair chance for health and happiness, the obstacles to the program are greatly
Birth control as an economic improvement measure had some appeal to those lowest
on the income ladder. In the black Chicago Defender for Jan. 10, 1942, a long
three-column women's interest article discussed the endorsement of the Sanger
program by prominent black women. There were at lease six express references,
such as the following example, to birth control as a remedy for economic woes:"
. . . it raises the standard of living by enabling parents to adjust the family
size to the family income." Readers were also told that birth control" . . . is
no operation. It is no abortion. Abortion kills life after it has begun. . .
Birth Control is neither harmful nor immoral."
But the moral stumbling block could only be surmounted by Afro-American
religious leaders, so black ministers were solicited. Florence Rose, long-time
Sanger secretary, prepared an activities report during March 1942 detailing the
progress of the "Negro Project." She recounted a recent meeting with a Planned
Parenthood Negro Division board member, Bishop David H. Sims (African Methodist
Episcopal Church), who appreciated Planned Parenthood's recognition of the
extent of black opposition to birth control and its efforts to build up support
among black leaders. He offered whatever assistance he could give.
Bishop Sims offered to begin the "softening process" among the representatives
of different Negro denominations attending the monthly meetings of the Federal
Council of Churches and its Division of Race Relations.
These and other efforts paid off handsomely after World War II. By 1949,
virtually the entire black leadership network of religious, social,
professional, and academic organizations had endorsed Planned Parenthood's
More than a decade later, Planned Parenthood continued targeting minority
communities, but without much success.
In 1940, nonwhite women aged 18 to 19 experienced 61 births per 1,000 unmarried
women. In 1968, the corresponding figure was 112 per 1,000, a 100 percent jump.
What other factor could account for the increased rate of sexual activity than
wider access to birth control, with its promise of sex without tears and
Guttmacher, then president of Planned Parenthood, was desperate to show
policy-makers that birth control would produce a situation whereby "minority
groups who constantly outbreed the majority will no longer persist in doing so.
. . "
Despite claims that racial or ethnic groups were not being "targeted," American
blacks, among whose ranks a greater proportion of the poor were numbered,
received a high priority in Planned Parenthood's nationwide efforts. Donald B.
Strauss, chairman of Planned Parenthood—World Population, urged the 1964
Democratic national Convention to liberalize the party's stated policies on
birth control, and to adopt domestic and foreign policy platform resolutions to
conform with long-sought San gerite goals: [While almost one-fourth of
nonwhite parents have four or more children under 18 living with them, only 8%
of the white couples have that many children living at home. For the Negro
parent in particular, the denial of access to family planning professional
guidance forecloses one more avenue to family advancement and well-being..
Unwanted children would not get the job training and educational skills they
needed to compete in a shrinking labor market; moreover, unwanted children are a
product and a cause of poverty.
Surveying the "successes" of tax-subsidized birth control programs, Guttmacher
noted in 1970 that "[Birth control services are proliferating in areas adjacent
to concentrations of black population." (In the 1980's, targeting the inner-city
black communities for school based sex clinics became more sensitive than
Guttmacher thought that as long as the birth rate continued to fall or remained
at a low level, Planned Parenthood should certainly be introduced before family
size by coercion is attempted."
Reaching this goal, he thought, would best be accomplished by having groups
other than the PPFA preach the doctrine of a normative 2.1-child family, as
doing this would offend Planned Parenthood's minority clients. He suggested that
family size would decrease if abortion were liberalized nationwide and received
government support. In this prediction he was right on target.
But Guttmacher did not completely reject forced population control:
Predicting 20 critical years ahead in the struggle to control the population
explosion, Dr. Alan Guttmacher, president of Planned parenthood—World
Population, continues to urge the use of all voluntary means to hold down on the
world birthrate. But he foresees the possibility that eventual coercion may
become necessary, particularly in areas where the pressure is greatest, possibly
India and China. "Each country," he says, "will have to decide its own form of
coercion, and determine when and how it should be employed. At Present, the
means are compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion. Perhaps some day a
way of enforcing compulsory birth control will be feasible.
Coerced abortion is already practiced in China, with the International Planned
Parenthood Federation's approval.
Despite its past, Planned Parenthood has managed to present the image of
toleration and minority participation through the vehicle of its divorced,
telegenic, African American president, Ms. Faye Wattleton, appointed titular
head of the PPFA in 1978, a post she still holds. Though paid in the six-figure
range, she has impeccable minority credentials that would have fit the public
relations criteria for both Margaret Sanger and Dr. Clarence Gamble.
biography touts her as a friend of the "Poor and the young"; a nurse at Harlem
Hospital; and the recipient of the 1989 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
Humanitarian Award and the World Institute of Black Communicators' 1986
Excellence in Black Communications Award. It further states she was featured in
a national photography exhibit, "I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who
Changed America"; interviewed in Ebony; and was the cover story in
Black Enterprise magazine. (Time published a profile of Wattleton in
1990 entitled "Nothing Less Than Perfect.")
Her ideological orientation has received certification in the form of the Better
World Society's 1989 Population Model, the 1986 American Humanist Award, and
others. But surely, the spectacle of the Congressional Black Caucus awarding its
humanitarian award to the black woman who presides over the organization that
has hastened and justified the death of almost eight million black children
since 1973 and facilitates the demise of the black family is ironic in the
In his book, Killer Angel, George Grant says: "Myths, according to
theologian J. l. packer, are ‘stories made up to sanctify social patterns.' They
are lies, carefully designed to reinforce a particular philosophy or morality
within a culture. They are instruments of manipulation and control.
Killer Angel tells the real story behind one of the biggest myths that
controls our culture today—the life and legacy of Margaret Sanger, founder of
Planned Parenthood. Grant exposes "the Big Lie" perpetuated by Sanger's
followers and the organization she started.
Through detailed research and concise writing, Grant unveils Sanger's true
character and ideology, which included blatant racism, revolutionary socialism,
sexual perversion and insatiable avarice. Grant includes direct quotes from
sources such as Sanger's Birth Control Review to support his findings.
His biography spans Sanger's disturbed and unhappy upbringing—which Sanger said
contributed to her agitation and bitterness later in life—to her eventual
fixation with drugs, alcohol and the occult.
Particularly shocking was Sanger's involvement in the Eugenics movement. Grant
says: "[Sanger] was thoroughly convinced that the ‘inferior races' were in fact
‘human weeds' and a ‘menace to civilization.' . . . [S]he was a true believer,
not simply someone who assimilated the jargon of the times—as Planned Parenthood
officials would have us believe."
Sanger died September 6, 1966, a week before her eighty-seventh birthday. Grant
says: "[She] had nearly fulfilled her early boast that she would spend every
last penny of Slee's [her second husband] fortune. In the process, though, she
had lost everything else: love, happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, family,
and friends. In the end, her struggle was her naught."
The truth uncovered in grant's book has proven to be a threat to those who
follow the cult of :Planned Parenthood. In fact, Killer Angel was recently
banned from a public library in Toledo, Ohio. A library manager stated in a
letter that, "The author's political and social agenda, which is strongly
expoused throughout the book, is not appropriate even in a critical biography of
In response, Grant pointed out that "The question at hand is whether librarians
should be making subjective judgments about my political beliefs and the beliefs
of other authors."
By censoring Killer Angel, the library appears to be violating its own
policies, which state that, "the Library collection shall include representative
materials of all races and nationalities, and all political, religious, economic
and social views." Except Christian views, apparently.
While the Toledo public library may not be interested in the information put
forth in Grant's book, pro-lifers will find this biography useful and
enlightening. It serves as a powerful tool in dispelling the myths surrounding a
woman—considered a heroine by many—who began an organization that is responsible
for the deaths of millions of unborn children.
Grant states that, "Margaret Sanger—and her heirs at Planned Parenthood . . .
have thus far been able to parlay the deception into a substantial empire. But
now the truth must be told. The illusion must be exposed." Killer Angel
does an outstanding job in doing that. Sanger's Legacy is Reproductive Freedom and Racism
Despite Margaret Sanger's contributions to birth control and hence women's
freedom and empowerment, her legacy is diminished by her sympathies with
eugenics. This writer says that, like many modern feminists, Sanger ignored
class and race.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Margaret Sanger opened the nation's first birth control clinic in
1916. For the rest of her life she worked to establish a woman's right to
control her body and to decide when or whether to have a child. In 1921, she
founded the American Birth Control league, the forerunner of Planned Parenthood.
Her impact on contemporary society is tremendous. Enabling women to control
their fertility and giving them access to contraception, as advocated by Sanger,
makes it possible for women to have a broader set of life options, especially in
the areas of education and employment, than if their lives are dominated by
A recent reminder of Sanger's impact on our society came when the Equal
employment Opportunity Commission found that it is illegal sex discrimination to
exclude prescription contraceptives from an otherwise comprehensive health
benefits plan. Sanger's efforts to provide access to contraception are at the
foundation of decisions to provide equal access to prescription contraceptives
and other prescriptions.
Still, especially with the Bush administration, activists will have to fight to
maintain access to contraception and to abortion. In April, the House of
Representatives passed legislation that would establish criminal penalties for
harming a fetus during the commission of a crime. While proponents of the bill
say it does not include abortion, some see fetal protection legislation as an
attempt to undermine abortion rights. The passage of this legislation is a
reminder that the rights Margaret Sanger worked so hard to establish are tenuous
rights that many would challenge.
For all her positive influence, I see Sanger as a tarnished heroine whose
embrace of the eugenics movement showed racial insensitivity, at best. From her
associates, as well as from some of the articles that were published in Sanger's
magazine, the Birth Control review, it is possible to conclude that "racially
insensitive" is too mild a description. Indeed, some of her statements, taken in
or out of context, are simply racist. And she never rebuked eugenicists who
believed in improving the hereditary qualities of a race or breed by controlling
mating in order to eliminate "undesirable" characteristics and promote
Sanger: We Must Limit the Over-Fertility of Mentally, Physically Defective
"Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying . . .
demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism," she wrote in the
recently republished "The Pivot of Civilization." This book, written in 1922,
was published at a time when scientific racism had been used to assert black
inferiority. Who determines who is a moron? How would these morons be
segregated? The ramifications of such statements are bone chilling.
In a 1921 article in
the Birth Control Review, Sanger wrote, "The most urgent problem today is how to
limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically
defective." Reviewers of one of her 1919 articles interpreted her objectives as
"More children from the fit, less from the unfit." Again, the question of who
decides fitness is important, and it was an issue that Sanger only partly
addressed. "The undeniably feebleminded should indeed, not only be discouraged
but prevented from propagating their kind," she wrote.
Sanger advocated the mandatory sterilization of the insane and feebleminded."
Although this does not diminish her legacy as the key force in the birth control
movement, it raises questions much like those now being raised about our
nation's slaveholding founders. How do we judge historical figures? How are
their contributions placed in context?
It is easy to see why there is some antipathy toward Sanger among people of
color, considering that, given our nation's history, we are the people most
frequently described as "unfit" and "feebleminded."
Many African American women have been subject to nonconsensual forced
sterilization. Some did not even know that they were sterilized until they
tried, unsuccessfully, to have children. In 1973, Essence Magazine published an
expose of forced sterilization practices in the rural South, where racist
physicians felt they were performing a service by sterilizing black women
without telling them. While one cannot blame Margaret Sanger for the actions of
these physician, one can certainly see why Sanger's words are especially
repugnant in a racial context.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has been protective of Margaret
Sanger's reputation and defensive of allegations that she was a racist. They
correctly point out that many of the attacks on Sanger come from anti-choice
activists who have an interest in distorting both Sanger's work and that of
Planned Parenthood. While it is understandable that Planned Parenthood would be
protective of their founder's reputation, it cannot ignore the fact that Sanger
edited the Birth Control review from its inception until 1929. Under her
leadership, the magazine featured articles that embraced the eugenicist
position. If Sanger were as anti-eugenics as Planned Parenthood says she was,
she would not have printed as many articles sympathetic to eugenics as she did.
Like Many Modern Feminists, Sanger Ignored Race and Class
Would the NAACP's house organ, Crisis Magazine, print articles by members of the
Ku Klux Klan? Would Planned Parenthood publish articles penned by fetal
protectionist South Carolina republican Lindsey Graham?
The articled published in the Birth Control Review showed Sanger's empathy with
some eugenicist views. Margaret Sanger worked closely with W. E. B. DuBois on
her "Negro Project," an effort to expose Southern black women to birth control.
Mary McLeod Bethune and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. were also involved in the
effort. Much later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted an award from Planned
Parenthood and complimented the organization's efforts. It is entirely possible
that Sanger ‘s views evolved over time. Certainly, by the late 1940s, she spoke
about ways to solve the "Negro problem" in the United States. This evolution,
however commendable, does not eradicate the impact of her earlier statements.
What, then, is Sanger's legacy?
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has grown to an organization with
129 affiliates. It operates 875 health centers and serves about 5 million women
each year. Planned Parenthood has been a leader in the fight for women's right
to choose and in providing access to affordable reproductive health care for a
cross-section of women. Planned Parenthood has not supported forced
sterilization or restricted immigration and has gently rejected the most extreme
of Sanger's views.
In many ways, Sanger is no different from contemporary feminists who, after
making the customary acknowledgement of issues dealing with race and class,
return to analysis that focuses exclusively on gender. These are the feminists
who feel that women should come together around "women's issues" and battle out
our differences later. In failing to acknowledge differences and the
differential impact of a set of policies, these feminists make it difficult for
women to come together.
Sanger published the Birth Control Review at the same time that black men,
returning from World War I, were lynched in uniform. That she did not see the
harm in embracing exclusionary jargon about sterilization and immigration
suggests that she was, at best, socially myopic.
That's reason enough to suggest that her leadership was flawed and her legacy
crippled by her insensitivity.
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