Planned Parenthood’s inescapable history
The racism of its founder still taints the abortion giant despite token efforts
When Abby Johnson began working for a Planned Parenthood facility in Bryan, Texas, in the early 2000s, talk of the racist worldview of the organization’s founder, Margaret Sanger, sometimes came up in conversations among employees. But, looking back, she said most of the comments were dismissive.
“It was just this defense of her: ‘Well, everybody was racist at the time, and she didn’t have any beliefs that anyone else didn’t have,’” said Johnson, paraphrasing comments she remembered. “‘We really need to just focus on all of the good things that she did for women.’… Nobody really talked about Margaret Sanger’s racism at all.”
Recent complaints from New York Planned Parenthood employees of anti-black views among the organization’s leadership, however, have forced its dark history to the surface. In an attempt to distance itself from its own negative backstory, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York announced on Tuesday it was removing Sanger’s name from its Manhattan facility. But pro-life advocates said the token move will do little to fix the inherent racism of a group that continues to target minority communities.
In June, 300 employees of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York released an open letter accusing the affiliate’s leaders, particularly now-ousted Director Laura McQuade, of mismanagement and racism. The writers tied the present problems to the organization’s history. “Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman,” they wrote. “We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve.” In the letter, staff members pointed out unequal pay and lack of upward mobility for black employees at the affiliate.
The letter did not mention the treatment of clients, but Johnson overheard her coworkers making prejudicial and stereotypical assumptions about patients from minority communities: “They would say things like, … ‘We need to get them in some sort of birth control method so that they’ll stop having all these kids that are just sucking our tax dollars.’”
Those comments echo language Sanger herself used.
“We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population,” she wrote to fellow eugenicist Clarence Gamble in 1939.
In an article in 1921, Sanger trumpeted the eugenic goal of reducing unwanted populations through birth control, calling the “unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit’ … the greatest present menace to civilization.” The solution, she said, was to “limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective,” including African Americans.
Today, Planned Parenthood’s work continues to disproportionately harm minority communities. The Life Issues Institute documented in 2017 that almost 80 percent of abortion facilities are within 2 miles of minority neighborhoods. Black mothers continue to account for 38 percent of all U.S. abortions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though they make up only 13 percent of the population.
Johnson, who resigned from Planned Parenthood and became a pro-life activist in 2009, called the decision to remove Sanger’s name from the facility in Manhattan a “weak attempt” to absolve the organization of its racist agenda.
“This whole thing is really sort of a joke,” she said. “Removing a name off of a building—that’s not going to fix anything.”
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