Planned Parenthood of New York: We're cancelling Margaret Sanger for supporting eugenics

I know what you’re thinking, but rest assured: The baby-killing will continue.

It’ll simply continue for “good” modern reasons rather than bad archaic reasons like eugenics.


But hope springs eternal. It took them 100 years to steer around to the position that eugenics is so shameful that an adherent of it isn’t fit to be honored. Maybe by 2120 they’ll get around to taking a second look at abortion.

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement.

The group is also talking to city leaders about replacing Ms. Sanger’s name on a street sign that has hung near its offices on Bleecker Street for more than two decades…

[PPNY chief equity and engagement officer Merle] McGee said the group could not worry about how conservative figures might react to the move, which she described as a response to the concerns of patients and people of color…

“The biggest concern with Margaret Sanger is her public support for the eugenics medical philosophy which was rooted in racism, ableism and classism,” Ms. McGee said.

There’s some backstory in the Times article about how PPNY recently dumped its executive director due to allegations that she mistreated black employees. Maybe this is a form of atonement. “Yes, fine, we might pay our black employees less, but what if we show our good faith by removing the name of the dead eugenicist who once addressed the KKK from our clinic?”


Or maybe they were just tired of having to defend Sanger every few years when America would once again have some occasion to rediscover that she wrote things like this:

As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit”, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.

Birth Control is not advanced as a panacea by which past and present evils of dysgenic breeding can be magically eliminated. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.

The surest way to avoid having to kill off the unfit en masse, it seems, was to stop them from breeding in the first place.


A lot of institutional energy from PP has gone into massaging that legacy over the years, with the NYT noting this fact sheet put out by Planned Parenthood’s national organization four years ago to try to redeem Sanger for modern audiences. She was pretty woke later in life, it notes, and was even praised by Martin Luther King Jr! She’s also frequently misquoted or taken out of context in statements of her eugenic beliefs! Plus, lots of “progressives” held eugenic views in her day; she’s a creature of her times the same way the Founders were in holding slaves! Gloria Steinem once even postulated that maybe Sanger wasn’t a true blue eugenicist but was simply going along with the crowd because she knew it’d be easier to popularize birth control among the upper classes by speaking their language.

But even PP in its fact sheet felt it had no choice but to acknowledge that some of her views were, ah, problematic:

“Planned Parenthood acknowledges these major flaws in Sanger’s views — and we believe that they are wrong,” the fact sheet goes on to say. Which is nice, but I feel like it shouldn’t have taken George Floyd’s brutal death plus a massive wave of anti-racist protests to get PPNY to firmly disavow an outspoken advocate of sterilizing “defectives” so that they can’t reproduce. Yet here we are.


The twisted punchline is that Sanger’s view that we’d do well to have fewer of the “unfit” around informs plenty of abortions even in 2020. Pro-choicers rarely acknowledge it — sometimes, although rarely — but it’s there. One of the icons of American liberalism, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, famously admitted in an interview in 2009, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” She said she was disabused of that notion by a different ruling some years later, but drink that in: One of the most influential feminists in American history believed that legalized abortion was a de facto eugenic tactic as late as 1972. And presumably approved of the outcome in Roe anyway.

Anyway, here’s an interesting contrast to today’s decision dug up by Jeryl Bier:

Where does Sanger fit in the great “canceling historical figures” debate we’ve been having this summer? If you’re pro-life you might analogize her to a Confederate leader, someone unworthy of being memorialized under any circumstances because the cause with which she’s primarily identified — legalized abortion — is evil. If you’re pro-choice you might analogize her to Washington or Jefferson, a flawed figure whose misdeeds mustn’t be forgotten but whose contributions to society were great enough that she should be commemorated anyway. That was PP’s stance circa 2004, but in the cancel-a-thon of 2020 a respectably progressive outfit can no longer demand that its hero’s sins be viewed in proper historical context and weighed against her virtues. Sins against wokeness are cause for cancellation, period. That’s the attitude taken by the New York chapter today. It’s a creature of its times too.


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