The Editors

What pro-aborts can no longer deny: Margaret Sanger supported eugenics

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January 10, 2011 (PublicDiscourse.com) - Herman Cain’s remarks concerning Planned Parenthood’s promotion of abortion to blacks thrust the organization and its founder once more into the spotlight. Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood had already generated publicity. When Hillary Clinton received Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award in 2009, she was prompted to make an apologia for accepting the award because of questions raised at a House committee hearing. In each of these cases, the controversy centered on the eugenic beliefs of Margaret Sanger (1879–1966), Planned Parenthood’s founder.

To a Sanger supporter, the accusation of eugenics touches a nerve. To understand this, one must grasp the subconscious syllogism underlying the emotional reaction: Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are progressive feminist institutions. Progressive feminism cannot coexist with eugenics, which is a malady of the right-wing. Therefore, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are free of eugenic contamination. QED.

Something new has happened over the last ten years, however, that challenges such easy assumptions, and both Cain’s and Clinton’s language reflected it. No one with any command of the facts can deny any more that Sanger was in some way a eugenicist.

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First, scholars of women’s history have begun examining the feminist movement with more objectivity, producing a new literature that is less afraid to detail the unsavory aspects of feminist history. Historical work on eugenics has also begun to shift: Historians of the subject have long recognized Sanger’s involvement in eugenics, but had not sufficiently acknowledged her importance for the movement.

Second, as positive as these improvements in scholarship are, probably the most crucial factor in bringing about a more realistic and balanced assessment of Sanger and eugenics has been the internet. Sanger’s own words are more accessible than ever (a process aided by the multivolume edition of The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger). Planned Parenthood is simply unable to deny convincingly the truth about its founder.

And what is that truth? Margaret Sanger was many things admirable: a vibrant personality, a brilliant organizer, a canny reader of the temperature of the times, a woman who built powerful institutions in a man’s world. But she was also many things ugly and even despicable: an egotist who frequently clashed with others; a free-love advocate who had a dizzying number of affairs and who hurt many men as a result; and a eugenicist who argued that “birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective.”

In light of this reality, Jean H. Baker’s book, Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion, is a bit of a scholarly throwback. While it is readable, lively, and in many ways realistic about its subject, it is deeply unsatisfying as an ideological analysis.

Even Planned Parenthood has had to drop the denials of Sanger’s commitment to eugenics and now urges us all instead to avoid judging those of another historical era. After all, as Hillary Clinton basically said in 2009, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and he still did some pretty nifty things. Take what you like and leave the rest, that’s the new approach to Sanger.

So Baker cannot simply ignore the fact of Sanger’s eugenic preoccupation, but she doesn’t seem to feel obliged to try to make much sense of it. Instead, she seeks that convenient refuge of the relativist: “nuance.” Critics of Sanger (this reviewer included) are chastised for not having “a more nuanced view of her perspectives and the reasons she accepted aspects of a mainstream movement dedicated to improving human beings.”

Well, fine. While it’s hard to find “nuance” in a worldview that calls organized charity “a malignant social disease,” it would at least be entertaining to read someone trying to do so. Instead, regarding eugenics, what we get with Baker is an exhortation to nuance (in the Introduction) and then an avoidance of the issue for most of the remaining 300 pages. When she does address eugenics, she does so superficially. She acknowledges that Sanger was a “promoter” of eugenics, yet, in describing her motivation, the most she can muster is a variation of the mere-pragmatics defense: “In an effort to gain support, [Sanger] signed on to negative eugenics.”

Baker further tries her hand at nuance by claiming that Sanger rejected the “standard eugenic proposition that heredity was absolute.” Unfortunately for Baker, there was no such standard eugenic line. Only the most unsophisticated eugenicist would have claimed such a thing, while most scholarly eugenicists (such as Frederick Osborn) knew very well by the 1920s that nature and nurture interacted in the production of human traits. Ironically, in her Introduction, Baker accuses Sanger’s critics of an inadequate knowledge of the eugenics of Sanger’s day, a defect that she herself exhibits in spades.

The book’s treatment of the population-control movement reveals a similar failure to understand the history of eugenics. Baker writes that by the late 1920s, Sanger “had determined that population experts, like eugenicists, were emerging as an expanding pool of potential supporters.” In fact, population experts were eugenicists, plain and simple. Beginning with the first to use the term “eugenics,” Francis Galton (1822–1911), down through the eugenicists with whom Sanger worked in the 1920s through the 1960s, all early population “experts” were eugenicists. The discipline of demography was shot through with eugenic assumptions. As feminist and Marxist historian Linda Gordon observed, “The eugenics people slid into the population control movement gracefully, naturally, imperceptibly … There was nothing to separate the two movements because there was no tension between their two sorts of goals.”

Why were the two movements so closely aligned? The key can be found in a popular slogan of the eugenics/population-control crowd: “Quality, not quantity.” Eugenicists believed that, in order to improve the race, fewer people (only the so-called “fit”) should reproduce. In its 1927 Buck v. Bell decision, written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilization of the “unfit” was allowable under the Constitution, enabling American states to sterilize, on a far greater scale, those citizens deemed unfit, without their consent and sometimes even without their knowledge. (In the end, a majority of states allowed for involuntary sterilization, leading to over 60,000 sterilizations by 1967.) Between birth control and involuntary sterilization, the eugenics movement had a plan for dealing with the “unfit” in America.

But what to do about the great mass of people outside her borders? As Sanger confided in a letter to Clarence Gamble in 1940, India was “a bottomless sink … They need birth control on a large scale and it should be continually prodded into the national consciousness daily, hourly, for at least five years.” The Rockefeller family, deeply immersed in eugenics, financially supported the earliest eugenic population-control organizations, such as the Population Council. This was done quietly, however; as Frances Hand Ferguson, a former president of Planned Parenthood in America, observed, “Certainly the Rockefellers didn’t want to be known as a family who was telling little brown Indians not to have babies.” Population control was a gussied-up eugenics—with a passport.

Baker’s neglect of this history makes her treatment of eugenics and population control relentlessly shallow and unreflectively ideological. For example, she states confidently that “too large a population blocked opportunities for growth and stalled industrialization in what was now dubbed ‘the Third World.’” This is the language of someone who takes the formulations of eugenic demographers at face value instead of questioning how their ideological agenda might have compromised their scientific endeavors. In fact, as recent articles in Public Discourse have observed, the world is well able to absorb its roughly seven billion people. Economists such as Julian Simon have argued that the healthy population growth of India is one reason why its economic growth has been so robust. Of course, the point of Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion is not to give a course on contemporary theories of population economics, but a nod of acknowledgment toward these larger issues would have greatly deepened the book’s analysis.

Disappointing as these defects are to the informed reader, the most unsatisfying aspect of the book is its naïveté about Sanger’s model of sexual liberation. Baker, who earned her B.A. in 1960, has ideas about sexuality that seem not to have budged from a sunny, 1960s-era cluelessness about the glories of uncommitted sex. This, despite the divorce revolution, HIV/AIDS, pornification, the sexualization and abuse of children: in short, the sum total of physical and emotional devastation wrought by the sexual revolution. Instead, the reader gets platitudes about Sanger’s affairs as a “life-affirming inspiration” or as “spontaneous, self-affirming alliances with men.” Baker is too good a historian to overlook the heartache that such behavior caused Sanger’s two husbands, but she seems unable to grasp how promiscuity harmed Margaret Sanger herself. The lonely woman at the end of her life, addicted to Demerol and resentful of the loss of celebrity, is the result of a life spent using people and, in turn, being used.

In sum, Baker cannot think outside the liberal academic box. She makes the utterly conventional assumption that eugenics was not what it in fact was: a progressive movement through and through. She does not understand that eugenics is all about one thing: control, the control of benighted masses by an enlightened elite. As Baker correctly emphasizes (but does not understand), Sanger insisted that contraception be called not family planning but birth control. Margaret Sanger’s was an ideology of control: birth control (baited with promiscuity), enabling a eugenic control of population—the progressive application of biopower. It is an ideology that tempts totalitarian elites—wherever they might be found on the political spectrum.

Angela Franks, Ph.D., is the author of Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy (McFarland, 2005) and the Director of Theology Programs for the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization (TINE) at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston. This article originally appeared on Public Discourse and is reprinted here with permission.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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