After years of pro-life criticism, Planned Parenthood’s president and chief executive officer, Alexis McGill Johnson, now says the abortion provider is “reckoning” with the legacy of its founder, Margaret Sanger, and they are looking to “cancel” the early abortion and birth control advocate over her connections to “white supremacist groups and eugenics.”
The abortion provider has largely avoided evidence that Sanger founded her “family planning” crusade because Sanger, a pioneer of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century, felt it was necessary to prevent the ‘tainted” and less desirable from reproducing, as she noted in various publications, contemporaneous to the founding of Planned Parenthood.
“The main objects of the Population Congress would be to apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring[;] to give certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization,” Sanger once wrote.
Now, though, in a more woke era, Sanger is problematic — and Planned Parenthood now hopes to distance itself from its own founding principles in order to erase its history as a racist and ableist institution.
Up until now, Planned Parenthood has failed to own the impact of our founder’s actions. 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,'” Johnson wrote Saturday in an op-ed for the New York Times. “Until recently, we have hidden behind the assertion that her beliefs were the norm for people of her class and era, always being sure to name her work alongside that of W.E.B. Dubois and other Black freedom fighters. But the facts are complicated.”
Although Johnson stops short of acknowledging the racial focus of much of Sanger’s writing — “we can’t simply call her racist, scrub her from our history, and move on,” she says — she does acknowledge that Sanger spoke to the Ku Klux Klan and that Sanger cheered a Supreme Court decision allowing “states to sterilize people deemed ‘unfit’ without their consent and sometimes without their knowledge.”
Instead, Johnson says, Sanger’s primary sin was focusing on “white womanhood,” which runs afoul of today’s intersectional feminism.
“We don’t know what was in Sanger’s heart, and we don’t need to in order to condemn her harmful choices,” Johnson says. “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.”
To distance itself from Sanger, Planned Parenthood says, it will rename its buildings and awards, and it has removed a biography for Sanger from its primary website.
“Sanger remains an influential part of our history and will not be erased, but as we tell the history of Planned Parenthood’s founding, we must fully take responsibility for the harm that Sanger caused to generations of people with disabilities and Black, Latino, Asian-American, and Indigenous people,” Johnson said.
It’s not clear whether Johnson will acknowledge ongoing racial issues with the nation’s largest abortion provider. According to its own statistics, 80% of the group’s abortion facilities are in minority-majority neighborhoods. The group’s data arm, the Guttmacher Institute, noted that, in 2014, black women made up more than a quarter of all women seeking an abortion.