Planned Parenthood: Public Funding of “Human Weed” Removal?

Opinion   |   Paul Kengor   |   Mar 3, 2011   |   1:00PM   |   New York, NY

It’s interesting that the late feminist Margaret Sanger is being trotted out right now by defenders of Planned Parenthood. The occasion is that Planned Parenthood’s annual taxpayer funding—the very thought is an abomination—is threatened by newly elected Congressional Republicans.

It will shock people on both sides of the abortion debate to learn that Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, initially publicly denounced abortion. “It [abortion] is an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn,” wrote Sanger in a piece titled, “The Pope’s Position on Birth Control,” published in the January 27, 1932 edition of The Nation. She said of abortion: “the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious.” She clarified in no uncertain terms: “some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not.”

How’s that for a shocker? Margaret Sanger wrote this? Why? How?

Consider the context of the times—and the sanity of most peoples. Normal people have always viewed abortion as atrocious, and most certainly not a fundamental woman’s “right.” Even if Sanger might have privately favored legalizing abortion—including (as some have claimed) at the time of this article—she would have known better than to dare admit it publicly. Only the wretched supported legal abortion. To be “pro-choice” 100 years ago put you in a category of the monstrous.

Indeed, widespread societal/cultural acceptance of abortion is a completely contemporary phenomenon. When “pro-choice” voices today defend public funding of Planned Parenthood—with Sanger as their poster-girl—they have no idea just how radical and extreme is their position. Their mere support of legal abortion (sans tax dollars) is one that Sanger herself, at one point, excoriated.

So, if Margaret Sanger wasn’t preaching legalized abortion, what was her goal?

Sanger wanted women to have birth control, and not for the reasons modern eyes and ears might expect. Sure, she wanted women to be able to determine if and when they bear children. But her reasons went beyond the individual. She had much wider goals related to the population at large. As she said in this 1932 article, restricting birth control would undermine the greater good (in her view) of “social welfare and race improvement.”

Birth control was advantageous for society at large, lectured Sanger, because it could racially refine America by eliminating lesser people. Sanger, in this article, took aim at the Pope in particular: “Assuming that God does want an increasing number of worshipers of the Catholic faith, does he also want an increasing number of feeble-minded, insane, criminal, and diseased worshipers?” Without birth control, Sanger believed, that is what the Pope would get: The birth of more of “undesirables”—to borrow the language of other racial eugenicists, Hitler specifically—who would only pollute the race.

In other contexts, Sanger called these undesirables “human weeds.” So more desirable species could grow in the garden of humanity, the ugly ones needed pulled and killed.

Of course, added Sanger, the Pope could not possibly appreciate or understand any of this. She portrayed the Pope as the ultimate isolated, insular, misogynistic male, who merely sat around issuing decrees from “a tower set in splendor, surrounded by walls that shut out the world of broken homes, of sick and sorrow-laden mothers, poverty-stricken fathers, and pathetic, unwanted children. In that remote tower he sits comfortably, takes counsel from a pile of old books and from bachelor advisers, and then writes scolding sermons about the marriage problems of intelligent people. I wish he could come down into real life for a few weeks.”

Yes, if the frustrated old grouch would step out of his ivory tower, he would recognize the need to stop the birth of those wretched individuals who would be better off had they never been born.

Sanger ended her 1932 piece with these words: “The birth-control movement grows in strength and wisdom despite religious objections…. No philanthropic cause today offers the benefactor a finer opportunity for service which will at the same time relieve individual suffering, promote social welfare, and tend to improve the race in America.”

It is a surreal world when pro-life conservatives are derided as heartless bigots while a group like Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood is granted the moral high ground by the New York Times and NPR.

I recall a few years ago, when Hillary Clinton was awarded the annual Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood. Was Mrs. Clinton embarrassed? Not at all. She happily accepted the award, marveling at how she was in “awe” of Sanger.

Today’s proponents of taxpayer-funding of Planned Parenthood would be well served to take a close look at the thinking of their heroine. They may be very surprised at what she both supported and rejected. Note: Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). This item was originally published at Catholic Vote and is used with permission.