This is a long read, so I’m only going to post the beginning of it. Thanks, samanthatoren.
Margaret Sanger gained worldwide renown, respect, and admiration for founding the American birth control movement and, later, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as for developing and encouraging family planning efforts throughout the international community.
Among her many visionary accomplishments as a social reformer, Sanger
• established the principles that a woman’s right to control her body is the foundation of her human rights; that every person should be able to decide when or whether to have a child; that every child should be wanted and loved; and that women are entitled to sexual pleasure and fulfillment just as men are
• brought about the reversal of federal and state “Comstock laws” that prohibited publication and distribution of information about sex, sexuality, contraception, and human reproduction
• helped establish the contemporary American model for the protection of civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience — a model that later propelled the civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights, and AIDS-action movements
• created access to birth control for low-income, minority, and immigrant women
• expanded the American concept of volunteerism and grassroots organizing by setting up a network of volunteer-driven family planning centers across the U.S.
Sanger also entertained some popular ideas of her own time that are out of keeping with our thinking today. Finding it easier to undermine her character than to confront the message she conveyed, the anti-family planning movement has seized upon some of these ideas, taken them out of context, and exaggerated and distorted them in order to discredit Sanger and the organization she founded.
Not content with exaggeration and distortion, anti-choice activists have also fabricated and attributed to Sanger points of view that she, in fact, found abhorrent. This fact sheet is designed to separate fact from fiction and to further explain Sanger’s views and the background against which they must be judged.
Sanger and Eugenics
Eugenics is the science of improving hereditary qualities by socially controlling human reproduction. Unable to foment popular opposition to Margaret Sanger’s accomplishments and the organization she founded, Sanger’s critics attempt to discredit them by intentionally confusing her views on “fitness” with eugenics, racism, and anti-Semitism. Margaret Sanger was not a racist, an anti-Semite, or a eugenicist. Eugenicists, like the Nazis, were opposed to the use of abortion and contraception by healthy and “fit” women (Grossmann, 1995). In fact, Sanger’s books were among the very first burned by the Nazis in their campaign against family planning (“Sanger on Exhibit,” 1999/2000). Sanger actually helped several Jewish women and men and others escape the Nazi regime in Germany (“Margaret Sanger and the ‘Refugee Department’,” 1993). Sanger’s disagreement with the eugenicists of her day is clear from her remarks in The Birth Control Review of February 1919:
Eugenists imply or insist that a woman’s first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her first duty to the state. We maintain that a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of the time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother (1919a).
Margaret Sanger clearly identified with the issues of health and fitness that concerned the early 20th-century eugenics movement, which was enormously popular and well-respected during the 1920s and ’30s, when treatments for many hereditary and disabling conditions were unknown. However, Sanger always believed that reproductive decisions should be made on an individual and not a social or cultural basis, and she consistently repudiated any racial application of eugenics principles. For example, Sanger vocally opposed the racial stereotyping that effected passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, on the grounds that intelligence and other inherited traits vary by individual and not by group.
In 1927, the eugenics movement reached the height of its popularity when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Buck v. Bell, held that it was constitutional to involuntarily sterilize the developmentally disabled, the insane, or the uncontrollably epileptic. Oliver Wendell Holmes, supported by Louis Brandeis and six other justices, wrote the opinion.
Although Sanger uniformly repudiated the racist exploitation of eugenics principles, she agreed with the “progressives” of her day who favored
• incentives for the voluntary hospitalization and/or sterilization of people with untreatable, disabling, hereditary conditions
• the adoption and enforcement of stringent regulations to prevent the immigration of the diseased and “feebleminded” into the U.S.
• placing so-called illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope-fiends on farms and open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct
Planned Parenthood Federation of America finds these views objectionable and outmoded. Nevertheless, anti-family planning activists continue to attack Sanger, who has been dead for over 30 years, because she is an easier target than the unassailable reputation of PPFA and the contemporary family planning movement. However, attempts to discredit the family planning movement because its early 20th-century founder was not a perfect model of early 21st-century values is like disavowing the Declaration of Independence because its author, Thomas Jefferson, bought and sold slaves.
Sanger’s Outreach to the African-American Community
In 1930, Sanger opened a family planning clinic in Harlem that sought to enlist support for contraceptive use and to bring the benefits of family planning to women who were denied access to their city’s health and social services. Staffed by a black physician and black social worker, the clinic was endorsed by The Amsterdam News (the powerful local newspaper), the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Urban League, and the black community’s elder statesman, W.E.B. DuBois.
Beginning in 1939, DuBois also served on the advisory council for Sanger’s “Negro Project,” which was a “unique experiment in race-building and humanitarian service to a race subjected to discrimination, hardship, and segregation” (Chesler, 1992). The Negro Project served African-Americans in the rural South. Other leaders of the African-American community who were involved in the project included Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
The link to the original article doesn’t work any more, so it’s a good thing I copied and pasted the bulk of it. Just a reminder post.