“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step … “
Planned Parenthood drops founder’s name from NYC clinic over eugenics
By KAREN MATTHEWS Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Planned Parenthood of Greater New York will remove the name of pioneering birth control advocate Margaret Sanger from its Manhattan health clinic because of her “harmful connections to the eugenics movement,” the group announced on Tuesday.
Sanger, one of the founders of Planned Parenthood of America more than a century ago, has long provoked controversy because of her support for eugenics, a movement to promote selective breeding that often targeted people of color and the disabled.
Karen Seltzer, the chair of Planned Parenthood of New York, said in a statement.
“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color.”
“Margaret Sanger’s concerns and advocacy for reproductive health have been clearly documented, but so too has her racist legacy.”
Officials with the national organization said they supported the move.
“Birth control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks— those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization. – Margaret Sanger, April 8, 1923
“Planned Parenthood, like many other organizations that have existed for a century or more, is reckoning with our history, and working to address historical inequities to better serve patients and our mission,” said Melanie Roussell Newman, a spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Planned Parenthood dates its beginnings to 1916, when Sanger, her sister and a friend opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn.
Although Sanger has long been viewed as a feminist hero for championing women’s right to decide when to bear children, her support for the then-popular “science” of eugenics is troubling by contemporary standards.
She wrote in 1921 that “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.”
Sanger’s defenders say she was not racist, citing her relationships with Black leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and her work to provide contraceptive services in Black communities — not for eugenics, but to give Black parents the ability to choose how many children to have.
Linda Gordon, the historian who first revealed Sanger’s eugenics collaboration in her 1976 book, “Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: the History of Birth Control Politics in America,” said Sanger was no more racist than many progressives of her time.
“To treat Sanger as we treat defenders of slavery and segregation does not help us understand the history of racism in this country,” Gordon said in an email.
The move by Planned Parenthood to distance itself from its founder takes place amid a nationwide reckoning with the legacies of once-revered figures whose views on race are now seen as abhorrent.
Princeton University announced last month that it would remove the name of former President Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school because of his segregationist views.
Opponents of Planned Parenthood welcomed the removal of Sanger’s name from the Manhattan clinic. Abortion rights foes have long invoked Sanger’s name in contending that Planned Parenthood’s provision of services, including abortion to Black communities, is racist.
The anti-abortion group Students for Life of America said in a statement Tuesday that Sanger should not be honored anywhere.
“Margaret Sanger’s intense campaign to push contraception and the abortion mentality on minority communities to ensure that fewer black babies would be born deserves our condemnation and demands that she be removed from places of honor,” said Kristan Hawkins, the organization’s president.
The clinic that had been named after Sanger will now be known as the Manhattan Health Center. Planned Parenthood of Greater New York said it is also urging New York City leaders to remove Sanger’s name from a street sign near the clinic.
America’s First Birth Control Clinic
A family planning clinic opened in New York on 16 October 1916. It lasted only a few days.
Richard Cavendish | Published in History Today Volume 66 Issue 10 October 2016
History Today – Margaret Sanger discovered the importance of birth control early in her life. Born in 1879, she was one of 11 children of an impoverished Irish-American family and saw her devout Catholic mother die at 49 after 18 pregnancies.
She trained as a nurse and was influenced in her unconventional outlook by her father, a Catholic turned atheist, and later by her first husband, William Sanger, a Jewish architect whom she married in 1902, when she was 22.
In 1911 the Sangers settled in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, where they mingled with liberal leftists, socialists and anarchists.
Margaret worked as a nurse in the slums and saw many premature deaths of children and mothers, sometimes caused by illegal abortions. In 1911 she began writing a column on female sexuality for the New York Call newspaper.
By the standards of the day the pieces were sensationally frank.
In 1914 she published her own monthly newsletter, The Woman Rebel, which proclaimed that every woman should be the mistress of her own body.
Five of its seven issues were banned by the postal authorities and she was indicted for violating the obscenity laws, following which she went abroad, spending most of her time in England … Read more.