Dr. Angela Franks, author of the incredibly well-researched and scholarly book “Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy,” is perhaps the nation’s foremost authority on the issue of Margaret Sanger’s troubling history of eugenic activism.
Franks spoke to attendees at this year’s NRLC Convention about the eugenic roots of Planned Parenthood’s founder in a talk entitled “Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood: The Eugenics Connection.”
Franks draws out and clarifies the image that Planned Parenthood has attempted to create of its infamous founder. The organization has turned a blind eye to her eugenic history, and when challenged on issues such as her support for sterilization, Planned Parenthood has a habit of saying that Sanger did not, in fact, endorse sterilization, or changing the uncomfortable subject to something else to divert attention from Sanger’s troubling views.
What did Sanger think about the issue of sterilization?
First of all, Franks points out, Sanger stringently pushed a policy of the government compensating poor citizens in exchange with a poor person’s agreement to be sterilized as a means of population control. “In this way,” Sanger said, “the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their condition.” (Franks points out in her book that bribing a poor person with money in exchange for sterilization is in fact a deeply immoral and unethical act.) Franks points out that this bribery is something that has frequently occurred in other developing countries.
Franks points out that Planned Parenthood, in the past, has dealt with this embarrassing history of Sanger encouraging sterilization in three ways:
1. Sanger is not a eugenicist, this is a terrible lie.
2. But even if she were, lots of other people were at the time, too.
3. Let’s talk about something else. “We do sooo many great things for poor people…”
Frank points out that the first strategy is hard to utilize, since it’s simply untrue. Strategies two and three, however, have really come to the fore.
Frank discussed the anecdote of Hilary Clinton receiving Planned Parenthood’s highest honor, the Margaret Sanger Award. When Clinton was questioned by legislators as to why she had accepted an award named after a confirmed eugenicist given her position in government, Clinton defended Sanger. She said that Thomas Jefferson was a great guy, but he supported the possession of slaves. Similarly, she posited, Sanger was a great woman who just had the little flaw of supporting forced sterilization and eugenics. Franks, as she is apt to do, took hold of the contradiction, clarifying that unlike Sanger, Jefferson did not dedicate his entire life to the slavery movement. Sanger dedicated the sum of her life’s work to furthering the eugenic cause, however. So Clinton’s comparison was not very valid.
Franks then touched on Planned Parenthood’s defense of Sanger as “primarily a feminist,” rather than a eugenicist. However, another contradiction emerges here: if Margaret Sanger was a true-blood feminist, why did she not pursue the woman’s right to vote (the premier feminist issue of Margaret Sanger’s time)? Why did she work for a cause that promoted the forced sterilization of women? This is not genuine feminism, Franks acknowledges, but Planned Parenthood suggests that Sanger was simply making eugenic statements because it was the popular notion among the white elite of her time, and not because she actually sided with the ideology. Once again, this is a lie: if eugenics were not Sanger’s personal ideology, why did she gush about it in private letters to friends?
“For [Sanger], female liberation was primarily about sexual liberation,” Franks points out. Sanger was by no means “pro-choice” or a true feminist. She only believed that certain populations had a right to bear children, and was comfortable dictating the reproductive futures of everyone.
Planned Parenthood may try to characterize its founder as a pro-woman, pro-choice individual who benefited the society in which she lived, but the reality is that she was an elite member of society whose ideals were shaped by bitterness towards child-bearing, and did not look out for the common good as much as they looked out for the comfort of other people like herself.