Margaret Sanger is being canceled. And Planned Parenthood itself is the one doing the canceling of its notorious founder.
Karen Seltzer, board chair of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, spoke for America’s deadliest public charity in uncharacteristically frank terms. Sanger’s cancelation is described as “a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy,” and Sanger’s name is being stripped from the affiliate’s facade to “acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historic reproductive harm within communities of color.” Planned Parenthood is also requesting that New York officials remove “Margaret Sanger Square” from the city’s streetscape.
For once, Planned Parenthood is making the right call.
Margaret Sanger was ableist, classist and supremacist to her core. Sanger made eugenics her life’s work. Sanger believed that through eugenics, and by means of tools such as birth control, sterilization and abortion, we could collectively improve life for privileged members of the human family.
In 1919, Sanger wrote in “Birth Control and Racial Betterment” that “[l]ike the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenicists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” Who were “the unfit?” Whomever Sanger and those like her determined they would be. One year later, eugenicists Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche would publish “Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life,” whose thesis became a rallying cry for the Nazi regime.
Sanger led Planned Parenthood through the early 1960s, and she believed that it was the role of government to “give certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.” A race of “thoroughbreds” was her aim. No more children from the “unfit.”
Whereas Sanger believed that eugenics, by means of birth control and even forced sterilization, was necessary for “improving the human race through selective breeding,” it was Alan Guttmacher, her colleague, successor and former vice president of the American Eugenics Society, who came to view abortion alone as the far simpler route to entrench a culture of the supremacy of the comparatively strong over the comparatively vulnerable.
Sanger and Guttmacher’s warped vision of the human person continues to guide Planned Parenthood in its work of ending more than 300,000 American lives each year.
Planned Parenthood, as if channeling the persona of an unstable family member waving a gun during a health and safety intervention, loudly and desperately claims everything is fine—its mass killing is only 3 percent of the total havoc it wreaks on our body politic! Although unbelievable, this is presumably meant as a reassurance. One could be forgiven for hearing it as a threat.
It’s already the case that nearly 80 percent of its surgical abortion businesses are located within walking distance of African-American or Latino neighborhoods. And recently in New York, more Black children have been aborted than have been born. All this is because the Planned Parenthood of Sanger and Guttmacher has learned to speak of “choice” while offering only one option: abortion. Planned Parenthood does this because it has internalized Sanger’s fear of what she saw as an “ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.”
Mothers and fathers who want real choice turn to pregnancy resource centers, which now outnumber abortion businesses three-to-one across America and are often led by volunteers. Comprehensive prenatal and postnatal care? Attorney referrals for victims of sex trafficking? Emergency assistance to escape domestic abuse and coerced abortion? Cash, housing, car and tuition assistance? Baby formula and diapers? Planned Parenthood offers none of these services, because each reduces demand for its most lucrative product.
Canceling Sanger is truly “a necessary and overdue step,” but it cannot be the only step. Cancel Alan Guttmacher next.
What John C. Calhoun did to abase the American conscience in the 19th century through his defense of slavery, Alan Guttmacher did all the more in the 20th century through his embrace of abortion. Calhoun and Guttmacher each believed their cherished institutions represented a positive good. While Calhoun’s dehumanizing moral sensibility has thankfully been exorcised from the American psyche, Guttmacher’s continues, like a cancer, to metastasize.
Planned Parenthood executes children who are fully and recognizably human, whose hearts had been beating, who could already thrive apart from their mother in many cases, and then disposes their corpses as medical waste. Every one of these children possessed a constitutional right to life. And every mother and father deserved better than the law’s indifference to Sanger and Guttmacher’s fatal eugenics.
Although abortion and the mentality of Sanger and Guttmacher remain a national scourge, we can overcome this scourge by replacing the eugenic culture of carnage and control with a culture of equal justice, solidarity and love.
We might even consider a fool’s hope for Planned Parenthood to channel the courage of its New York affiliate—first, by canceling Sanger and Guttmacher nationwide and second, by asking what a Planned Parenthood might look like that truly serves, rather than subjugates, and heals, rather than harms.