Published April 19, 2021
Over the weekend, the president of Planned Parenthood, Alexis McGill Johnson, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, formally criticizing her institution’s infamous founder, Margaret Sanger.
The article’s title announced, “We’re Done Making Excuses for Our Founder,” and the subheading indicated that the group is ready to “reckon with Margaret Sanger’s association with white supremacist groups and eugenics.”
Planned Parenthood is remarkably late to acknowledge what the rest of us have been saying for quite some time: Sanger was a foremost proponent of the eugenics movement in the U.S., motivated especially by her particular animus toward poor nonwhites. Her crusade to legalize birth control was motivated in large part by her desire to prevent the “unfit” and “feeble-minded” from reproducing.
Sanger’s goal was not primarily to liberate American women by legalizing birth control; rather, it was “to make the coming generation into such physically fit, mentally capable, socially alert individuals as are the ideal of a democracy.”
The sudden effort to disentangle Planned Parenthood from its founder’s role in the racially motivated eugenics movement of the 20th century is too little, too late, even by the Left’s own standards. Last July, amidst racial tension and riots across the country, Planned Parenthood’s affiliate in New York City removed Sanger’s name from its flagship clinic, labeling her “a racist, white woman” and accusing the organization of “institutional racism.”
Yet the national organization didn’t say a word about it. Now, almost a year later, the group’s leadership has finally managed to workshop a careful way of attempting to guard its legacy while disavowing its founder.
“We have defended Sanger as a protector of bodily autonomy and self-determination, while excusing her association with white supremacist groups and eugenics as an unfortunate ‘product of her time,’” Johnson writes.
That it took until 2021 for Planned Parenthood to condemn Sanger’s racism and support for eugenics is unsurprising, considering that the institution’s modern-day work is well in line with her hideous views. Far from being a victory for women, the last half-century of legalized abortion has deepened the effects of racial inequality in the U.S. — and Planned Parenthood profits from that reality.
Nearly 80 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are located within walking distance of neighborhoods occupied predominantly by black and Hispanic residents. Despite constituting only 13 percent of the female population, black women represent more than one-third of all abortions in the U.S. each year. Black women are five times more likely than white women to obtain an abortion, and abortions are highly concentrated among low-income women. In recent years in New York City, more black babies were aborted than were born alive.
Contrary to what abortion advocates suggest, it is not privileged white progressives who most often avail themselves of the right to abortion. Defenders of legal abortion refuse to acknowledge this inconvenient reality, even as they insist that choosing abortion is a sign of women’s liberation and social progress.
“Abortion supporters talk about things like ‘reproductive justice’ or ‘reproductive freedom,’ but this language doesn’t trickle down,” African-American pro-life activist Christina Bennett told me of her work for a pregnancy-resource center in Connecticut. “The women having the abortions aren’t thinking in this language. It’s really the elite, privileged women who push this message that abortion is health care.”
Bennett told me about a pro-choice group that created candles with the phrase “Abortions are magical” to give to volunteers at abortion clinics. “If I was to take those to the inner-city abortion clinic in Hartford and try to hand them out,” Bennett said, “the girls actually getting abortions wouldn’t want those candles. That’s not their reality. They’re getting an abortion because they have to feed their kids. They already have another child at home or they’re thinking about how their man is going to leave if they have that kid.”
Though abortion-rights proponents recently have advanced the historically illiterate argument that the pro-life movement is rooted in white supremacy, the truth is quite the opposite. White supremacists have long supported legal abortion, because they recognize and applaud that nonwhite women are disproportionately more likely to obtain abortions than are white women.
For instance, Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist, is highly supportive of legalized abortion, because “the people who are having abortions are generally very often black or Hispanic or from very poor circumstances.” As he puts it, abortion is a good thing because “the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics . . . use abortion as birth control.”
Defending unlimited legal abortion while maintaining one’s progressive bona fides requires erasing this reality, which is why Johnson’s Times op-ed ignores the way in which Planned Parenthood’s bottom line profits from minority women who feel as if they have no option other than abortion.
“We are committed to confronting any white supremacy in our own organization, and across the movement for reproductive freedom,” Johnson wrote.
She could start by acknowledging the way that the abortion industry and her own organization profit by perpetuating Margaret Sanger’s racist legacy.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.