Pro-life advocates, including a Southern Baptist, welcomed a Planned Parenthood affiliate’s repudiation of founder Margaret Sanger‘s eugenics advocacy but said the country’s No. 1 abortion provider must do more to overcome her legacy.
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY) announced July 21 it will remove Sanger’s name from its Manhattan Health Center in a commitment to address her ties to the eugenics movement of the last century. Eugenics includes the use of sterilization to prevent reproduction among people who are considered by some to have undesirable traits, such as mental impairments.
The action “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,” said Karen Seltzer, PPGNY’s board chair. While Sanger’s “advocacy for reproductive health” has been well documented, “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,” she said.
Planned Parenthood came into existence when Sanger opened a Brooklyn birth control clinic in 1916. It took the lead in the abortion business in the United States when an affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., began performing the procedures in 1970, the year New York legalized abortion and three years before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on the procedure.
“Removing Sanger’s name cannot erase the connection between her racist, eugenic ideas central to the founding of Planned Parenthood and the dehumanizing ideology that continues today at the heart of the abortion industry,” said Elizabeth Graham, who directs women’s and pro-life initiatives for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Our country is reckoning with the tragedy of racism and its far-reaching effects on our society,” she told Baptist Press. “It’s important that we do the same with the horrific evil of abortion. Every person, of every ethnicity and race, both those born and preborn, is inherently valuable and worthy of immeasurable dignity.”
Pro-life advocates from both major political parties said Planned Parenthood’s action falls far short of what is required.
“For decades, Planned Parenthood has downplayed their racist history. Today, we are delighted they are finally acknowledging the problematic beliefs of their founder,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America. “Still, this is only a first step. We look forward to a day where Planned Parenthood is shut down and permanently replaced by women-centric, non-violent clinics.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said the organization “can rename a building, but it can’t whitewash its eugenics roots. 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.”
Pro-life leader Marjorie Dannenfelser said Planned Parenthood’s next step “is recognizing that Margaret Sanger’s racist legacy continues today, as abortion continues to disproportionately impact minority communities, especially the black community.”
Statistics from two organizations that collect data on abortion in the United States demonstrate the disproportionate number of the lethal procedures by ethnicity. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2019 the population was 13.4% “Black or African American alone.” In 2014, Black women had 28% of abortions, the Guttmacher Institute reported. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found non-Hispanic Black Women had 38% of the abortions in the 32 areas that provided information.
Pro-life advocates have long charged Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers with targeting Black and other ethnic minorities by placing clinics in their communities.
While PPGNY’s Seltzer cited Sanger’s “racist legacy,” the founder of Planned Parenthood did not express such a view when she nevertheless praised Nazi Germany’s sterilization plan, according to Time magazine. In 1934, she wrote, “I admire the courage of a government that takes a stand on sterilization of the unfit and second, my admiration is subject to the interpretation of the word ‘unfit.’ If by ‘unfit’ is meant the physical or mental defects of a human being, that is an admirable gesture, but if ‘unfit’ refers to races or religions, then that is another matter, which I frankly deplore.”
Planned Parenthood’s affiliates performed more than 345,000 abortions and received $616.8 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its 2019 annual report.
Messengers to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention meeting adopted a resolution calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood at all levels of government and denouncing the organization’s “immoral agenda and practices.”
Various scandals have plagued Planned Parenthood the last two decades. Most recently, undercover videos released beginning in 2015 appeared to indicate the organization was trading in body parts from aborted babies.
Other undercover investigations by pro-life organizations during the last two decades have shown Planned Parenthood employees:
- Agreeing to receive donations designated for abortions of African American babies.
- Demonstrating a willingness to aid self-professed sex traffickers whose prostitutes supposedly were in their early teens.
- Seeking to conceal alleged child sex abuse.
In its announcement, PPGNY also said it is cooperating with civic organizations to rename “Margaret Sanger Square” in Manhattan.
Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to return the Margaret Sanger Awards they received from Planned Parenthood in 2009 and 2014, respectively. She also urged the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to remove Sanger’s bust from its Struggle for Justice exhibit.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)