Abortion and Eugenics
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A White Lieby Michael K. Flaherty; Michael K. Flaherty is a writer in Boston.
The American Spectator, August, 1992
The estimated 500,000 men and women who marched for abortion rights in Washington last April were instructed by their leaders to dress in white, as a symbol of their purity. But even discounting their apparel, the crowd was, like the crowd at all abortion rallies, overwhelmingly white--or, as the New York Times put it, "a remarkable display of homogenous distress." Given that black women use abortion twice as much as white women, why do black faces continue to be conspicuously absent in these public displays of support? The question cannot honestly be answered without a look at the largest abortion provider in the world, Planned Parenthood, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate that conducts its activities in over a hundred countries.
Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood in a two-room shack in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in 1923, remains a hero to the abortion movement and a "liberator" to the prestige press. Sanger outlined her beliefs in several books, and in her monthly magazine entitled Birth Control Review. In Pivot of Civilization, first published in 1922, she described her objectives: "More children from the fit, less from the unfit--that is the chief aim of birth control." The people Sanger considered unfit were "all non-aryan people." She estimated that these people--the "dysgenic races"--comprised 70 percent of the American population. Sanger believed that this "great biological menace to the future of civilization . . . deserved to be treated like criminals." She proposed to "segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying." Successful implementation of her proposals, according to her, would result in "a race of thoroughbreds."
The similarity to Nazi ideas was not a coincidence. As George Grant points out in his history of Planned Parenthood, Grand Illusions (1988), Sanger devoted the entire April 1933 issue of Birth Control Review to eugenics. One of the articles, "Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need," was written by Ernst Rudin, Hitler's director of genetic sterilization and a founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene. While Sanger's early campaign was aimed primarily at east Europeans, in 1939 she began to target blacks by creating the "Negro Project," to promote birth control and sterilization specifically within the black community. To carry out her plan, she sought the support of prominent black ministers and political leaders. She wrote, "The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We do not want the word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it occurs to any of their more rebellious members." The implications of the Negro Project are all but ignored in Ellen Chesler's adoring new biography Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.1
None of the Planned Parenthood presidents since Sanger admits to anything less than admiration for her. Dr. Alan Gutmacher, her immediate successor, said that Planned Parenthood is "merely walking down the path that Ms. Sanger carved out for us." Even Faye Wattleton, the black woman who was named Ms. magazine's 1989 "Woman of the Year" for her work as president, said that she was "proud" to be "walking in the footsteps of Margaret Sanger."
Wattleton stepped down in January after fourteen years as head of Planned Parenthood. Although a successor has yet to be named, one of the favorites is Alexander Sanger, Margaret's thoroughbred grandson and president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of New York City, the largest of 170 affiliates nationwide. "With all her success, my grandmother left some unfinished business, and I intend to finish it," he told the New York Times last year. He needn't be so modest. Today, 70 percent of the clinics operated by Planned Parenthood in the U.S. are in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. For every three black babies born, two are aborted. Forty-three percent of all abortions in the U.S. are performed on black women. This is hardly a matter of "choice." In a poll taken in 1988 by the National Opinion Research Center, 62 percent of blacks said that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, a fact ignored by the patronizing whites who cite "poor blacks" as constituents for whose abortion rights they are fighting. One of the first to assess the threat that abortion poses to blacks was Jesse Jackson, who in 1977 referred to abortion as "genocide against the black race." On September 9, 1977, he sent this telegram to Congress: "AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE I MUST OPPOSE THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS FOR A POLICY OF KILLING INFANTS . . ." It was only when Jackson tried to enter the Democratic party mainstream that he abandoned this position for the pro-choice rhetoric of the party's white, upper-middle-class power brokers.
As the ranks of Margaret Sanger's critics dwindle, the list of her supporters lengthens. Life magazine in 1990 named her one of "the 100 most important Americans of the 20th Century." Last October 12, she was installed in Arizona's Hall of Fame. Vocal protests by a dozen Republican legislators led Gloria Feldt, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, to make the Orwellian response, "I would say [those who object] are . . . flirting with racism."
How long can Sanger's supporters remain in denial? From time to time, all Americans are forced to address and reconcile some inescapable and painful truths about their intellectual forbears. As David Frum wrote in these pages last September, "Just as any left that wants to go anywhere in American politics is now obliged to prove its patriotism, the right needs to prove that it's not composed of haters." Marchers and organizers for women's rights, if they truly are concerned about the fate of black women, must be equally honest about the racial reality of abortion--and its eugenicist roots. Until they are, the white that they consider the symbolic color of their struggle will reflect a cruel irony. 1. Simon & Schuster, 639 pages, $27.50.
Copyright 1992 The American Spectator