The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood says it’s time for her company — the nation’s largest abortion provider — to “reckon” with the racist legacy of its founder, eugenicist Margaret Sanger.
“Up until now, Planned Parenthood has failed to own the impact of our founder’s actions,” Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson wrote in an op-ed for the Saturday edition of the New York Times. “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.'”
Pro-life activists have for years criticized the racist origins of Planned Parenthood. The organization’s founder, Sanger, supported eugenics and was an outspoken advocate for ridding the United States of poor non-whites through birth control and abortion. In her writings, Sanger referred to blacks, immigrants, and indigenous Americans as “human weeds,” “reckless breeders,” “spawning … human beings who should never been born.”
Planned Parenthood had for decades defended Sanger as a champion of women’s rights and reproductive health, until last year when 350 current and former staffers of Planned Parenthood’s Greater New York affiliate published an open letter condemning Sanger as “a racist, white woman” and accusing the organization of “institutional racism.”
After public criticism, last July Planned Parenthood of Greater New York removed Sanger’s name from its Manhattan clinic for her “harmful connections to the eugenics movement.”
Now, McGill Johnson is the first Planned Parenthood CEO to publicly acknowledge Sanger’s evil beliefs. She wrote:
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 event hough she eventually distanced herself from the eugenics movement because of its hard turn to explicit racism, she endorsed theSupreme 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.
As part of that “reckoning,” McGill Johnson also acknowledged that Planned Parenthood is “privileging whiteness” and that it has “excluded trans and nonbinary people” by narrowly focusing on “women’s health.”
“As we face relentless attacks on our ability to keep providing sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, we’ve claimed the mantle of women’s rights, to the exclusion of other causes that women of color and trans people cannot afford to ignore,” she wrote.
On behalf of Planned Parenthood, McGill Johnson went on to condemn the “many types of dehuminzation we are seeing right now” including “the dehumanization of Black and Latino victims of police violence such as Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and too many others. The dehumanization of transgender people whose health care and rights are being denied in states across the country, and who face attacks not just from the right but also from trans-exclusionary radical ‘feminists.'”
She did not spare a word for the dehumanization of an estimated 12 million unborn babies who were killed in abortion procedures globally this year.