Head of Planned Parenthood: We’re Done Making Excuses for Our FounderBreaking News
tags: racism, eugenics, Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger
Ms. McGill Johnson is the president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
We need to talk about Margaret Sanger.
For the 11 years that I’ve been involved with Planned Parenthood, founded by Sanger, her legacy on race has been debated. Sanger, a nurse, opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916, and dedicated her life to promoting birth control to improve women’s lives. But was she, or was she not, racist?
It’s a question that we’ve tried to avoid, but we no longer can. We must reckon with it.
Up until now, Planned Parenthood has failed to own the impact of our founder’s actions. 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.” Until recently, we have hidden behind the assertion that her beliefs were the norm for people of her class and era, always being sure to name her work alongside that of W.E.B. Dubois and other Black freedom fighters. But the facts are complicated.
Sanger spoke to the women’s auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan at a rally in New Jersey to generate support for birth control. And even though she eventually distanced herself from the eugenics movement because of its hard turn to explicit racism, she endorsed the Supreme Court’s 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell, which allowed states to sterilize people deemed “unfit” without their consent and sometimes without their knowledge — a ruling that led to the sterilization of tens of thousands of people in the 20th century.
The first human trials of the birth control pill — a project that was Sanger’s passion later in her life — were conducted with her backing in Puerto Rico, where as many as 1,500 women were not told that the drug was experimental or that they might experience dangerous side effects.
We don’t know what was in Sanger’s heart, and we don’t need to in order to condemn her harmful choices. What we have is a history of focusing on white womanhood relentlessly. Whether our founder was a racist is not a simple yes or no question. Our reckoning is understanding her full legacy, and its impact. Our reckoning is the work that comes next.
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