Have you heard of Margaret Sanger? Unless you’ve taken a Women and Gender Studies course, or know about the history of Planned Parenthood, you probably haven’t. I learned about Margaret Sanger in my final year of college, and found that learning about Sanger was a way for me to heal and reconcile with the history of the United States.
Today, many understand Planned Parenthood to be a progressive organization, championing the way for reproductive freedoms. They are a nonprofit organization and the largest single provider of reproductive services in the U.S. But, like the history of the U.S., Planned Parenthood also doesn’t have a perfect track record of inclusivity towards the Black community. In fact, they were extremely problematic at the beginning--due to the leadership of their founder, Margaret Sanger.
A quick Google search of “Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood” will generate many relevant articles from major news outlets. All three headlines recounted Planned Parenthood removing Margaret Sanger’s name from a health clinic. But why is this? And why now?
In the early twentieth century, Margaret Sanger began to advocate for reproductive healthcare, such as clinics for white middle-class women, providing the birth control pill, and other services. At that time, abortion was illegal and the pill had not yet become mainstream. Sanger struggled to gain acceptance, but fought anyway, because she believed in the cause. In 1916, she opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. and later, in 1921, started the American Birth Control League; it is now known as Planned Parenthood. Today, we all have Sanger to thank for the progress in the early twentieth century for reproductive health—but the way she achieved this was problematic.
Sanger popularized birth control in the U.S. at the expense of the Black community by aligning the movement with two racist movements, eugenics and the Klu Klux Klan. Later on, Sanger marketed the pill to force upon black women and effectively stopped them from being able to reproduce—working to slowly eliminate their race. Birth control gained mainstream acceptance through this racist ideology. It worked.
But not completely. Thanks to the Black resistance, the birth control movement did not achieve all of their goals. While Sanger was pushing for the eugenics movement, the Black community fiercely fought back against the pill. They published their own literature warning women of the deadly consequences. Later on in 1967, at the Black Power Conference, members made their opposition clear; birth control was black genocide.
Presently, Planned Parenthood denounces Margaret Sanger’s allegiance to both the eugenics and KKK movements. This denouncement acknowledges their present-day stance to be anti-racist and continues as they remove Sanger’s name from a clinic and her statue.
Yet, there continues to be vast disparities between the health care Black and white women receive. One clear example is how Black women continue to be targets for long-term birth control methods, such as arm implants, while white women have access to broader options. Additionally, systemic racism in the healthcare system and generational trauma has harmed the health and well being of the Black community. Resulting in these women statistically having more birth complications when compared to the pregnancies of their white counterparts.
Moving forward, I encourage readers to continue to think about the role race plays in healthcare in the United States. If an organization such as Planned Parenthood can look back on their history and recognize their wrongdoings--we can too.
In 2016, Planned Parenthood celebrated 100 years as an organization. In a statement regarding their history they concluded:
We also believe that the way to move forward is to acknowledge Sanger’s wrongdoings, encourage open conversations, and continue to address racism and ableism wherever they exist – outside or inside our organization.
Planned Parenthood’s statement and recent actions is a step towards making amends and paying back reparations to the Black community. But we each must decide what our role is. Until the truth is known, there will never be justice. It is time for us to plant a goddamn amazing garden of reconciliation. Together, we can let our gardens grow with seeds of solidarity, community, understanding, and love.