Planned Parenthood of Greater New York will remove the name of Margaret Sanger — a founder of the organization — from its Manhattan clinic due to her "harmful connections to the eugenics movement," the New York Times reported Tuesday.
What are the details?
A public health nurse, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brooklyn in 1916, the paper said, adding that since then she's been lionized as a feminist icon and reproductive rights pioneer.
In front of the Sanger Clinic on Amber Street in Brooklyn, October 1916, which became Planned Parenthood of America. Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images
But the Times reported that Sanger also supported eugenics. The paper defined it as "a discredited belief in improving the human race through selective breeding, often targeted at poor people, those with disabilities, immigrants and people of color."
"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," Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate's board, said in a Tuesday statement, the paper added.
Planned Parenthood also is talking to city leaders about replacing Sanger's name on a street sign — Margaret Sanger Square — near its offices on Bleecker Street, the Times said, adding that Planned Parenthood of Greater New York lobbied for the Sanger street sign after moving its offices there over two decades ago.
More from the paper:
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the national organization, has defended Ms. Sanger in the past, citing her work with Black leaders in the 1930s and 1940s. As recently as 2016, the group issued a fact sheet saying that while it condemned some of her beliefs, she had mostly been well intentioned in trying to make birth control accessible for poor and immigrant communities.
The national organization said in the fact sheet that it disagreed with Ms. Sanger's decision to speak to members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1926 as she tried to spread her message about birth control.
It also condemned her support for policies to sterilize people who had disabilities that could not be treated; for banning immigrants with disabilities; and for "placing so-called illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope fiends on farms and in open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct."
The national Planned Parenthood offices said in a statement that it supports the New York chapter's decision to remove Sanger's name from the clinic, the Times said, adding that while there's no sign on the clinic, it had been identified internally and publicly with Sanger's name. Now the clinic will be called the Manhattan Health Center, the paper said.
There are still Sanger fans out there
Ellen Chesler — author of a Sanger biography and senior fellow at a think tank called the Roosevelt Institute — told the Times that Sanger's views have been misinterpreted.
Chesler added to the paper that Sanger rejected some eugenics tenets, including that white middle-class families should have more children than others, and instead believed that the quality of all children's lives could be improved if parents had smaller families. She also noted to the Times that Sanger believed black people and immigrants had a right to that better life.
"Her motives were the opposite of racism," Chesler told the paper while citing Sanger's relationships with prominent black leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois.
Agreeing with anti-abortion conservatives?
In disavowing Sanger, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York now finds itself agreeing — on at least one point — with anti-abortion conservatives such as Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and federal HUD Secretary Ben Carson, both of whom have questioned Planned Parenthood for its connection to a eugenics proponent, the Times said.
But Merle McGee, the New York chapter's chief equity and engagement officer, told the paper it won't concern itself with conservatives' reaction.
"We're not going to obliterate her," McGee added to the Times. "If we obliterate her, we cannot reckon with her."
Amid the furious movement since George Floyd's killing to cancel historical figures who owned slaves or otherwise held racist views, the National Review's Alexandra DeSanctis earlier this month asked, "How Long Will Margaret Sanger Last?"
In fact, DeSanctis pointed out that in June, "more than 350 current and former staffers of Planned Parenthood's Greater New York affiliate — along with several hundred donors and volunteers — published an open letter condemning Sanger as 'a racist, white woman' and arguing that the organization is guilty of 'institutional racism.'"
Upon hearing the news that the clinic is removing Sanger's name, DeSanctis tweeted that "it's great that one Planned Parenthood affiliate has finally decided to admit that Margaret Sanger was icky. But isn't it a sign of our upside-down world that they'll apologize for having the name of a racist on their building while continuing to kill 350K unborn children a year?"
DeSanctis in her National Review piece added that "if removing offensive statues is the new norm, perhaps the bust of Sanger in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery should be the next to go."
Image source: YouTube screenshot
A group of black pastors and pro-life leaders in 2015 demanded that the gallery remove the Sanger bust over her eugenics support, but the gallery reportedly said no.
Call to remove bust of Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger youtu.be