Yes, Let’s Talk About Systematic Racism. So It’s Time to Talk About Planned Parenthood.

Sanger3

In a letter to Clarence Gamble, a man who favored sterilizing welfare recipients (more about him below), Margret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, wrote about her 1939 “Negro Project,” which promoted contraceptives to southern African Americans: 

“It seems to me from my experience where I have been in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts…. The ministers [sic] work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the [Birth Control] Federation [renamed Planned Parenthood in 1942] as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. 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.”

Opponents of Planned Parenthood see this as clear evidence of Sanger’s racism. Others, even Angela Franks — a Sanger expert and staunch critic and opponent of Planned Parenthood — says the quote does not have to be interpreted as a racist comment. Franks says since there’s no hard evidence elsewhere of Sanger’s own words painting her as a racist, it’s possible Sanger wasn’t revealing a hidden agenda here, but imagining a misunderstanding on the part of the African American people she hoped to reach. 

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if Sanger was racist, but read the rest of this article first. (Yes, it’s long for a blog, but it’s worth your time.)

Even if Sanger wasn’t specifically racist, Franks writes, Sanger was unquestionably a “eugentic, elitist bigot.”

Yes, Sanger certainly was that, as I’ve documented by using Sanger’s own words in earlier blogs: Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Parenthood, In Her Own Words:

Reading Sanger’s Women and the New Race (1920) and The Pivot of Civilization (1922), one can’t not be hit by how she often spoke of birth control as a way to help the poor, yet at the same time she plainly despised the poor, the uneducated, the immigrant, and the disabled. You see, Sanger was a zealous, outspoken eugenicist. 

Eugenics is based on evolutionary theory, where humans are moved up the evolutionary ladder by promoting reproduction in “the strong” while impairing reproduction in “the weak.” It’s not much different than what dog breeders do except with people.

The most extreme example of eugenics was, of course, in Nazi Germany, but eugenicists like Sanger focused instead on things like birth control, sterilization, and abortion for “weeding out the unfit,” which she also referred to as “biological waste” and “biological and racial mistakes.” (For the record, when she speaks of “race” in her writings, she’s usually referring to the human race.)

To really get a good understanding of her attitude toward the poor, we only have to read Chapter IV of The Pivot of Civilization, titled “Philanthropy and Charity.” The chapter’s big idea is that organized charity is a “malignant social disease” because it leads to the poor surviving and reproducing. Yes, this is the founder — the legacy — of Planned Parenthood, someone they hold up as a hero still today.

 

SANGER’S PARTNERS AT PLANNED PARENTHOOD

But, despite all this, I guess we still can deny Sanger as a racist since her own writings are absent of any racist rhetoric. But what about the company she kept? Can that tell us about her views of “non-whites”? You can tell a lot about a person (and an organization) by the company she keeps, right?

Lothrop Stoddard

Stoddard was invited to join Sanger’s American Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood) after his book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy became a best-seller. His book is about “the collapse of white supremacy and colonialism due to population growth among non-white people, rising nationalism in colonized nations, and industrialization in China and Japan” and advocates “restricting non-white migration into white nations.” It received a favorable review in Sanger’s magazine Birth Control Review, and he wrote articles for the Birth Control Review (see the December 1921 issue, for example) under Sanger’s editorship. He wrote in his book, “Black peoples have no historic pasts. Never having evolved civilizations of their own… The negro… has contributed virtually nothing. Left to himself, he remained a savage.”

Harry Laughlin

Laughlin was a sterilization advocate and lobbyist for Sanger’s organizations. He was on the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization and helped pass the 1924 Immigration Act, which prevented immigration from Asia, set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and provided funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding ban on other immigrants.”  He wanted to keep out what he called the “dross in American’s modern melting pot.” He promoted Naziism in the 1930s and worked with Burch (below) to prevent Jews from seeking asylum in the U.S.

Guy Irving Burch

Burch was another anti-immigration activist and eugenicist who lobbied for Sanger in Washington. He worked with Laughlin to prevent Jewish asylum in the U.S. He wrote on official letterhead of the National Committee for Federal Legislation of Birth Control (NCFLBC) that he fought for Americans against “being replaced by alien or negro stock, whether it be by immigration or by overly high birth rates among others in this country,” who were “cancerous growth that eats away the vital organs of its victims.” Sanger supported him in setting up the Population Reference Bureau and helped find him a job with the Birth Control Federation of America (later renamed Planned Parenthood) in 1937.

Clarence Gamble

Gamble was born a millionaire (his family name is the “Gamble” in Procter and Gamble); he was introduced to eugenics at Princeton; and he was a close associate to Burch (above). He was all about sterilization, especially on welfare recipients. He tested experimental contraceptives on poor women both in America and India (seemingly without their knowing), including a saltwater solution as a kind of spermicide. He served as Pennsylvania representative for Planned Parenthood from 1933-1946 and was on the Planned Parenthood executive committee from 1939-1942. Sanger continued to support him even when others in Planned Parenthood did not, and she hoped he would take her position as president of Planned Parenthood in 1953.

D. Kenneth Rose

Rose was national director of Sanger’s Birth Control Federation of America (later renamed Planned Parenthood). He explained the importance of Planned Parenthood’s work as “one-third of our population — the ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed [is] producing two thirds of all our children,” so the solution was to increase outreach to “the Negro and our migrant population.”

C.C. Little 

Like all these other guys, Little was a hardcore eugenicist involved in the American Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood). In the August 1926 issue of the Birth Control Review (under Sanger’s editorship), he wrote about the “immense diversity of racial elements” in New York and his desire to preserve the lack of diversity elsewhere in the U.S. “the way a chemist would prize a store of chemically pure substances.”

Hans Harmsen 

Finally, we come to a man who was a literal Nazi. As a physician in Germany, he supported a 1933 sterilization law for the disabled. Sanger supported him as the best candidate to lead the German birth-control movement, and he continued to be pro-sterilization and pro-eugenics in post-Nazi Germany. He became president of Pro Familia, the German affiliate of Planned Parenthood in 1952 and held other leadership roles in Pro Familia until a 1984 investigative report revealed his Nazi past. Was Planned Parenthood unaware of this? Not likely. Pro Familia certainly was aware.

Birth Control Review, November, 1923.

DO BLACK LIVES MATTER TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD?

It’s no secret that from the very beginning the majority of Planned Parenthood’s birth control clinics have been in areas populated by minorities.

Their school-based clinics were no different. I worked in an urban NJ high school of predominately African American and Hispanic students for 16 years starting in 2000 and witnessed the presence of Planned Parenthood firsthand in the community center and after-school program inside the school. Of the 100 school-based clinics opened in the 90s, not one was in a “white” school. None were at suburban middle schools. Every one was in a predominantly African American, minority, or non-white school.

According to some statistics from a few decades ago, Health and Human Services Administration reported 43% of all abortions were performed on African Americans and another 10% on Hispanics. African Americans made up only 11% of the total U.S. population and Hispanics only 8%. The National Academy of Sciences found 32% of all abortions were on minority mothers.

According to information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1986, by 1975 a little more than 1% of the African American population had been aborted, which increased to nearly 2.5% by 1980 and reached 3% by 1985. By 1992, it jumped to 4.5%. It was reported elsewhere that in many African American communities by 1986, there were 3 abortions for every 1 birth. And we won’t even get into the stats on sterilization.

In 1987, a group of ministers, parents, and educators in the African American community recognized this and filed a suit against the Chicago Board of Education, accusing these Planned Parenthood school-based clinics of being “designed to control the Black population.” 

 

2020: THE LEADING CAUSE OF BLACK DEATHS

These issues aren’t in the past. In February of 2020, Walt Blackman, an African American member of the Arizona House of Representatives, wrote an opinion piece titled “Abortion: The Overlooked Tragedy for Black Americans.” In it he shared some eye-opening statistics.

African Americans have more abortions than any other population group. White women are five times less likely to have an abortion compared to a black woman. Though African American woman make up 14% of the child-bearing population, they make up 36% of all abortions. In the African American community, for every 1,000 live births, there are 474 abortions. Of the 44 million children murdered by abortion since the 1973 Roe Vs. Wade decision, 19 million have been African Americans.

A study in 2011 revealed that abortion was the leading cause of death among African Americans, and a 2012 study by Protecting Black Lives found that 79% of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are within walking distance of minority communities.

Yes, we need to talk about systematic racism and oppression, and we need to include Planned Parenthood in that conversation.

 

Main sources: 

Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy: the Control of Female Fertility by Angela Franks

Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood, Fourth Edition by George Grant

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