In the last several years it seems that there have been increasing efforts to portray abortion as a form of racial genocide, with pro-life institutions claiming the relatively high percentage of abortions among black and Hispanic women compared to white women is apparently evidence of some conspiracy to “kill off” minorities.
This effort has gained major traction among the general pro-life community in what appears to be an effort to appeal to the “rights” of minorities (at the same time as it advocates the restriction of women’s rights). The cry has even been taken up by certain black pundits and clergymen.
Herman Cain came under attack for blatantly false accusations he made about Margaret Sanger in 2011, when he referred to Planned Parenthood as a bastion of “planned genocide” and claimed that Margaret Sanger’s motivation for founding PP was “to prevent black babies from being born.” Pastor Clenard H. Childress, Jr, quoted as saying that “the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb,” founded blackgenocide.org specifically to bring awareness to the plight of black Americans under a regime of extreme genocide.
It’s too bad that this genocide is completely imaginary.
The black genocide argument usually brings up one of several points:
1) Margaret Sanger was a racist and a proponent of eugenics.
Ah, the Margaret Sanger argument. Only rarely does any debate involving the merits of Planned Parenthood’s mission fail to bring up controversy over Sanger’s motives in founding it, her involvement with the eugenics movement, or something very loudly touted by pro-lifers as “the Negro Project.”
Doubts pertaining to Sanger’s supposedly racist motives usually center around one of several quotes widely disseminated on pro-life websites. First is the claim that Sanger described blacks (in some cases this is expanded to include other groups such as Jews, Catholics, and Hispanics) as “human weeds,” a term she purportedly used in her book “The Pivot of Civilization.”
Fortunately, this book is available for free online, and nowhere does it include the term “human weeds.” There is one section in which Sanger uses a similar term (“human undergrowth”) but it doesn’t actually refer to any minority. Sanger uses it as a metaphor to describe how it is unfair to blame the victims of overpopulation (the poor in particular) for “the indomitable but uncontrolled instincts of living organisms.” This is in keeping with Sanger’s career advocacy for birth control education and use.
Another quote commonly espoused by the pro-life movement to discredit Sanger is the following, disseminated widely via pro-life websites and texts as evidence that “The Negro Project” meant to annihilate the black race: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population…if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” This was taken from a letter sent by Sanger to a doctor in reference to her plans to educate black communities with sex education and to provide them birth control. It was also taken out of context, to imply the precise opposite of her meaning in the original letter. Here is the entire quote, in its full contextual glory:
“I note that you doubt it worthwhile to employ a full time Negro physician. It seems to me from my experience where I have been in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts. They do not do this with the white people and if we can train the Negro doctor at the Clinic he can go among them with enthusiasm and with knowledge, which, I believe, will have far-reaching results among the colored people. His work in my opinion should be entirely with the Negro profession and the nurses, hospital, social workers, as well as the County’s white doctors. His success will depend upon his personality and his training by us.
“The ministers [sic] work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
Clearly the quote, when taken out of context, implies that Sanger’s intent was to “exterminate the Negro population.” With the context, however, it is clear that she feared her attempts to educate blacks about sex and to provide them with birth control might be perceived as an attempt to exterminate them, and so wished to hire black physicians and ministers to preemptively discourage such unwarranted suspicions.
Another effort to discredit Sanger often lies in linking her to the eugenics movement of her period. Sanger was associated with the eugenics movement, and her appointment of several prominent members of the movement to a predecessor of Planned Parenthood might raise eyebrows, if she had given any indication that the movement targeted minorities. Sanger did support sterilization of people with low intelligence, deformity, other incapacities, and those “who have as many children as they believe they can rear” (Sanger, “Sterilization”). But her writings give no indication that she viewed blacks or other minority religious or ethnic groups as genetically inferior. She also vehemently opposed programs of forced sterility.
In “Pivot of Civilization” she writes of the merit of the eugenics movement that it is “valuable in its critical and diagnostic aspects, in emphasizing the danger of irresponsible and uncontrolled fertility of the ‘unfit’ and the feeble minded” (104). She speaks rather extensively of “the menace of the moron to human society…[a problem which requires] an immediate, stern and definite policy” (97).
Lastly, the idea that Sanger supported eugenics of any kind via abortion is simply not the case. Sanger not only never advocated for abortion whatsoever, she actually wrote against it. An ad for the first clinic Sanger opened and secretly operated, in Brooklyn, included the text “Mothers: Can you afford to have a large family? Do you want any more children? If not, why do you have them? Do not kill, do not take life, but prevent.” The full extent of the mission of the clinics she opened was to educate and provide birth control only.
Her first clinic had to operate secretly because birth control education and the provision of contraceptives for reasons other than STIs were illegal at the time. It was forced closed by authorities and re-opened three times between October 26 and November 16, 1916, when her landlord was forced to evict her and her staff. Nonetheless, it was extremely popular during its brief stint, serving an estimated 400 patients in its first ten days.
Unless the proponents of the idea that the founding of PP was a conspiracy to commit black genocide, including Herman Cain (who claimed that Sanger’s “objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world”) conflate contraceptives with abortion, their case simply has no leg to stand on. It should be noted that Cain was also wrong about the locations of the clinics. The first, in Brooklyn, catered to Jewish and Irish women; the second, in Harlem, catered to a half-white, half-black clientele.
While it is important to note that the reasons used to justify Sanger’s (and, by proxy, Planned Parenthood’s) vilification are actually false, in the end they are actually irrelevant to the abortion argument today. Even if these false accusations were all true—that Sanger was a racist, that her eugenics goals targeted minorities, that she viewed minorities as “human weeds” and abortion and forced sterilization as a means to eliminate “inferior” races—it would not have any bearing on Planned Parenthood’s mission today.
It is an organization that does not discriminate based on race or ethnic background, and which provides far more STI screenings and treatment, cancer screenings, women’s health services, and contraceptives than abortions. It benefits the poor the most, with 75% of its clientele having “incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line” (“What Planned Parenthood Actually Does”).
2) A far higher rate of abortions among black (and Hispanic) women compared to white women points to racial genocide.
It is absolutely true that Hispanic and black women have higher rates of abortion than white women. For women aged 15-44, that means an incidence of 40/1,000 for black women and 29/1,000 for Hispanic women, as opposed to 12/1,000 for white women.
Not only is it extremely disingenuous to say that this is reflective of some sort of racial genocide, it also betrays a severe lack of critical thinking ability. Portraying abortion rates as a form of racial decimation (blackgenocide.org directly compares it to slavery and to Hitler’s “Final Solution” and asks “Are we [black people] being targeted?”) necessarily assumes that the agent of action in any abortion is someone other than the mother.
This is anything but the case. Forced abortions and sterilizations are not a problem in the U.S., and it is routine medical practice to give pregnancy options counseling to women considering abortions.
Rather, the higher rates of abortion among black and Hispanic women reflect higher rates of unintended pregnancies in these groups. In addition to having more than twice as many abortions of unintended pregnancies as white women, minority women also have more than twice as many births of unintended pregnancies as white women.
The unintended pregnancy rate in North America—across all subgroups—is significantly higher than that of Northern, Southern, and Western Europe, and it is the only region (counting both developed and developing regions) in which unintended pregnancy rates have not declined between 1995 and 2008. In the US specifically, rates of unintended pregnancy among poor to low-income women have increased to some of the highest levels of all subgroups, a trend that is especially troubling considering that taxpayer-funded family planning clinics only meet “about 40% of the need for publicly subsidized care” (Singh, “Unintended Pregnancy”).
The Contraceptive CHOICE study showed that when financial hurdles are removed as a barrier to care and women are educated on the relative efficacy of different birth control choices, they are most likely to use long-term methods (e.g. the IUD) which are up to 20 times more effective than short-term contraceptive methods like the pill, vaginal ring, and condom.
What do all of these things mean? For one, they mean that when given a choice and financial capability, women opt for the most efficacious birth control methods, leading to lower rates of unintended pregnancy and lower rates of abortion. It also means that many women aren’t currently given that education, that publicly funded family planning clinics don’t meet the needs of a whopping 60% of the women in income brackets at very high risk of experiencing an unintended pregnancy, and that the US has not only fallen behind most of the developed world, but has stagnated for decades in its progress addressing the needs of women–even as undeveloped nations improve.
Lastly, it means that any accusations of racial genocide are myopic and ignorant at best. The abortion rate among minorities in the US is a reflection of the unintended pregnancy rate in these populations, something that can and should be addressed not by restricting abortion but by addressing the needs of women—especially poor women and minorities. That means increased sex education and increased access to the most effective, long-term forms of birth control, both incidentally things provided by the very organization being smeared as a proponent of “genocide” in the US. It means we do have a problem, but abortion and racism aren’t at the root of it.
1) A Politifact Georgia article tackling Herman Cain’s remarks regarding Planned Parenthood’s mission of “planned genocide” (it got a “Pants on Fire” rating): http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/apr/08/herman-cain/cain-claims-planned-parenthood-founded-planned-gen/
2) The “Planned Parenthood” page of blackgenocide.org: http://blackgenocide.org/planned.html
3) “The Demonizing of Margaret Sanger,” an entry from the blog “Fundamentalist Deceit: an American Tradition,” which goes into much more detail than I have debunking lies and edited misquotations attributed to Sanger: http://fundamentalistdeceit.blogspot.com/2008/01/demonizing-of-margaret-sanger.html
4) A free, full online-available text of Sanger’s “The Pivot of Civilization”, which is also searchable by keywords (if anyone wishes to double-check that it does not, in fact, include the term “human weeds,” much less as a reference to blacks): https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7206135M/The_pivot_of_civilization
5) Copy and transcript of Sanger’s letter to Dr. Gamble regarding “The Negro Project”: http://news.rapgenius.com/Margaret-sanger-letter-from-margaret-sanger-to-dr-cj-gamble-annotated
6) The Margaret Sanger Papers Project, including information on the first clinic Sanger opened: http://sangerpapers.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/sangers-first-clinic/
7) “Sterilization (A Modern Medical Program for Health and Human Welfare)” by Margaret Sanger, from NYU’s collection of Sanger’s public writing and speeches: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/webedition/app/documents/show.php?sangerDoc=239501.xml
8) “Repost: What Planned Parenthood actually does, in one chart,” from the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/what-planned-parenthood-actually-does/2011/04/06/AFhBPa2C_blog.html
9) Guttmacher’s “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States”: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html
10) Finer, Zolna, “Unintended pregnancy in the United States: incidence and disparities, 2006,” Guttmacher: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/j.contraception.2011.07.13.pdf
11) Singh, Sedgh, Hussain, “Unintended Pregnancy: Worldwide Levels, Trends, and Outcomes”: http://mpts101.org/docs/SinghSFP-UnintendedPregnancy.pdf
12) Paper detailing the results of the three year Contraceptive CHOICE project: Winner et al, “Effectiveness of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception,” New England Journal of Medicine: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1110855