By removing founder Margaret Sanger’s name from its New York City building, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York has taken a first step in acknowledging its racist and eugenic roots. However, removing Sanger’s name from a building is little more than a superficial public relations move meant to mollify the racial justice movement.
This checked box does nothing to change the day-to-day operations of the organization. Planned Parenthood would like Americans to think that its troubled history with eugenics is long over. However, the history of “reproductive harm within communities of color” cited in Planned Parenthood of Greater New York’s statement is not some blemish in Planned Parenthood’s distant past—it continues in the present day. Planned Parenthood will need to do a lot more than disavow Sanger to atone for the harm it has wrought on minority communities and other discriminated groups.
Planned Parenthood paints a rosy picture of its beginnings, declaring on its website: “Planned Parenthood was founded on the revolutionary idea that women should have the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams — no ceilings, no limits.” This hyper-positive interpretation deliberately neglects to mention that Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger believed birth control to be “nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit.” Articles she wrote on the subject included: “Some Moral Aspects of Eugenics,” “The Eugenic Conscience,” “The Purpose of Eugenics,” “Birth Control and Positive Eugenics,” and “Birth Control: The True Eugenics.” Whatever desire she felt for women to “live strong, healthy lives” was commingled with the belief that “unfit” people should not reproduce.
Planned Parenthood’s troubled eugenic legacy does not begin and end with the personal views of its founder, however. For many years, it permeated the organization’s leadership. In 1933, Planned Parenthood (then known as the American Birth Control League) and the American Eugenics Society (AES) attempted an unsuccessful merger. Dr. Alan Guttmacher, the namesake of a leading abortion research organization the Guttmacher Institute, was a eugenicist and served both as vice president of the AES and president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1962-1974.
While Planned Parenthood’s current leadership publicly disavows eugenics, the evidence indicates that the corporate practices of America’s largest abortion supplier disproportionately impact the birthrates of minority communities. Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood’s surgical abortion facilities are located within walking distance of communities identified as black and Hispanic by the 2010 census. While blacks currently comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, black women are 3.5 times more likely to have an abortion than white women, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Louisiana, where the total number of abortions in 2018 was 8,097, over half (4,958) were abortions of black babies, despite blacks only comprising 32 percent of the state population. And in New York City, where the building formerly named for Margaret Sanger is located, more black pregnancies resulted in abortion than live birth in 2016. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the black population “grew at a slower rate than most other major race and ethnic groups in the country” between 2000 and 2010.
Not only are Planned Parenthood’s facilities disproportionally represented in minority communities, and not only do they and other abortion suppliers abort black pregnancies at far greater rates than white pregnancies, but they also oppose legislation that seeks to prevent racial discrimination against the unborn. Planned Parenthood strongly opposes prenatal nondiscrimination legislation (PRENDA laws) that prohibit abortion on the basis of the unborn child’s race, sex, or disability. Planned Parenthood does not deny that such cases of discrimination (in their words, “reproductive coercion”) occur, but insists such nondiscrimination bills place “harmful restrictions” on women’s health care. It is unclear what steps Planned Parenthood takes, if any, to prevent prenatal discrimination from occurring at Planned Parenthood facilities. As long as Planned Parenthood champions unrestricted access to abortion, prenatal discrimination will be a reality within their facilities. In May 2019, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a lengthy opinion in Box v. Planned Parenthood, in which he cited abortion’s eugenic roots and its continued eugenic potential:
Whereas Sanger believed that birth control could prevent “unfit” people from reproducing, abortion can prevent them from being born in the first place. Many eugenicists therefore supported legalizing abortion, and abortion advocates—including future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher—endorsed the use of abortion for eugenic reasons. Technological advances have only heightened the eugenic potential for abortion, as abortion can now be used to eliminate children with unwanted characteristics, such as a particular sex or disability.
Family Research Council believes human life begins at conception. Therefore, we understand abortion to be the taking of human life. We believe the surest way for Planned Parenthood to end the reproductive harm it has wrought within minority communities is to cease performing abortions entirely. We know Planned Parenthood is unlikely to ever make this decision on its own, especially since former president Cecile Richards admitted under oath in 2015 that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood’s non-federal revenue comes from abortions.
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York removed Margaret Sanger’s name from its New York City building to signal care for minority communities and opposition to racial discrimination and eugenics. But if Planned Parenthood really cared about minority communities, it would stop setting up abortion mills in these communities. If it really cared about racial discrimination, it would stop opposing and start supporting PRENDA laws. If the organization truly cared to deal with its racist and eugenic roots, the entire Planned Parenthood Federation of America—not just the Greater New York branch—would disavow both Margaret Sanger and Alan Guttmacher.
Don’t hold your breath.
For more information on Planned Parenthood, check out these FRC resources: Planned Parenthood Is Not Pro-Woman and The Real Planned Parenthood: Leading the Culture of Death.