Planned Parenthood Renounces Racist, Eugenicist Founder Margaret Sanger

Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
July 21, 2020

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York renounced racist and eugenicist founder Margaret Sanger on Tuesday for her "harmful connection to the eugenics movement."

"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," said chair of the New York affiliate's board Karen Seltzer in a statement, according to the New York Times. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said the organization's national leadership also approved of the decision.

The decision marks a historic about-face by the organization, which has routinely defended Sanger's legacy. As recently as 2016, Planned Parenthood published a fact sheet that said her racist statements should be overshadowed by her "worldwide renown, respect, and admiration for founding the American birth control movement." Planned Parenthood acknowledged that she touted her efforts to reduce the "negro population" at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, but maintained that she was motivated by "passion," rather than racism. The abortion provider also criticized its founder for endorsing mass sterilization for the disabled—a view it defended in 2016 because "she agreed with the 'progressives' of her day."

"Planned Parenthood acknowledges these major flaws in Sanger’s views—and we believe that they are wrong. Furthermore, we hope that this acknowledgment fosters an open conversation on racism and ableism—both inside and out of our organization," they said at the time.

The pro-life movement, which has long condemned Sanger's racism and support for eugenics, called Planned Parenthood's decision long overdue. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said the decision to rename the clinic does not change its "104-year history," nor the fact that "abortion continues to disproportionately impact minority communities, especially the black community." She also pointed to the fact that Planned Parenthood has filed lawsuits seeking to overturn state laws that bar abortions targeted at babies diagnosed as disabled.

"We call on Planned Parenthood to immediately publish its historical abortion data by race given indications they have skewed the placement of abortion facilities and actively target minority communities. Further, we call on Planned Parenthood to drop its fierce opposition to anti-discrimination laws that protect unborn children from being selected for abortion due to their race, sex, or disability," Dannenfelser said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said the national organization, which hosts the annual Maggie Awards, supported the clinic's decision.

"Planned Parenthood, like many other organizations that have existed for a century or more, is reckoning with our history, and working to address historical inequities to better serve patients and our mission," spokeswoman Melanie Roussell Newman said in the statement.

Pro-life politicians were also quick to critique the move. Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said the organization's rhetoric means little if it continues to deny the humanity of unborn children.

"Planned Parenthood can rename a building, but it can’t whitewash its eugenics roots. Planned Parenthood can try to forget its founder’s racist screeds, but it cannot escape the undeniable fact that it makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year by telling an ugly lie that certain lives are disposable and then disposing of them," Sasse said in a release. "Big abortion has always been, and will always be, in the business of violence and dehumanization."