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Beyond a Heroine's Reputation

By Stuart Buck

While watching TV the other night, my wife and I saw part of A will of Their Own, a miniseries that traced the women of an American family over several generations. In one scene, the young female granddaughter attends a rousing speech by Margaret Sanger, whom we all know as the founder of Planned Parenthood. The portrayal of Sanger was as a heroic crusader for women's rights to birth control and reproductive freedom.

Sanger has also been the subject of at least two television movies within the past few years: HBO's Woman of Valor, which starred Demi Moore, and Lifetime's Crusader: The Margaret Sanger Story, which starred Dana Delany. Life magazine in 1991 named Sanger one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the Century" (apparently operating on the belief that the succeeding nine years would offer no further examples of importance). Whenever the media takes notice of Sanger, she is lionized as the ultimate champion of women's rights, as was the case in A Will of Their Own. This portrayal of Sanger is entirely typical--and entirely misleading.

You see, Margaret Sanger was racist.

"What! The founder of Planned Parenthood, the darling of the left-wing, was racist?"

Yes, and frighteningly so.

In 1939, for example, Sanger's Birth Control Federation of America (which in 1942 changed its name to Planned Parenthood) designed a "Negro Project." The idea was to get Negroes to use birth control. The project proposal said, "The mass of Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear children properly." The project decided to hire "coloured ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities" to travel and promote birth-control.

Sanger wrote to Clarence Gamble, the head of the project, "The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members."

Clarence Gamble later wrote in a memo, "There is great danger that we will fail because the Negroes think it a plan for extermination. Hence let's appear to let the coloured run it..."

One of Sanger's explicitly stated aims for the American Birth Control League (another predecessor of Planned Parenthood) was "racial progress." She used her magazine Birth Control Review to promote White Supremacy and Nazistyle eugenics. She once wrote of her goal of creating a "race of thoroughbreds" by encouraging "more children from the fit, and less from the unfit." In 1932, the magazine outlined Sanger's "Plan for Peace," which called for coerced sterilization, mandatory segregation and rehabilitative concentration camps for all "dysgenic stocks." In 1933, the magazine even published an article by Ernst Rudin, Hitler's director of genetic sterilization and a founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene.

Want more evidence? Look at Sanger's own words. Read Sanger's book The Pivot of Civilization, which filled with lightly veiled references to poor minorities and to the dangers of allowing such "stock" to "breed."

Sanger strongly condemned charities and philanthropy helping poor, minority communities: "The most serious charge that can be brought against modern 'benevolence' is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents, and dependents." She also said, "Instead of increasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it [charity] tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant."

Sanger also wrote, "The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism."

Now for a few questions: Isn't it strange that this woman who used language worthy of a Ku Klux Klan member is now hailed as a feminist icon?

Isn't it odd that Sanger's Planned Parenthood now brags about how they "help" minorities by placing the vast majority of their clinics in minority schools and neighborhoods? Why isn't anyone suspicious?

Stuart Buck is second-year law student from Springdale, Ark. He is a member of the Harvard Law Review.

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