Iowa's Planned Parenthood affiliate rejects Margaret Sanger's harmful ideas

“We are owning our organization’s history and are committed to addressing the implicit bias and structural racism within our organization and communities,” Planned Parenthood North Central States declared on July 24, near the top of a statement denouncing racist and eugenicist ideas espoused by Margaret Sanger. Formed in 2018 when Planned Parenthood of the Heartland merged with a neighboring organization, the affiliate operates 29 clinics in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Many who believe in Planned Parenthood’s mission–especially the white women who have been the majority of the organization’s volunteers in Iowa–know little about Sanger other than that she established the country’s first birth control clinic. Although I’m a third-generation supporter of Planned Parenthood in Iowa, I was ignorant about Sanger’s eugenicist views for much of my adult life. Those views were repugnant, and it’s important for reproductive rights advocates to be clear about rejecting them.

“Sanger’s eugenicist ideas were wrong in 1916 and they’re wrong now,” begins the news release, enclosed in full below.

Sanger’s position on eugenics is diametrically opposed to the organization’s purpose today: to build a world in which every person — regardless of race, income, insurance, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, or immigration status — can receive expert, compassionate health care, education, and information without shame or judgment.

While some have claimed Sanger’s “anti-Blackness is irrelevant in a discussion of the services that Planned Parenthood provides” today, Planned Parenthood North Central States dismissed that idea.

As a health care organization with over 100 years of history, Planned Parenthood provides crucial health services and we also acknowledge that some of our current work was built on a harmful past. Our founder, Margaret Sanger, perpetuated a number of problematic beliefs and actions. We want to be very clear that we vehemently denounce her ideology that certain people — specifically people of color, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities — should be prevented from having children. This repugnant belief runs directly counter to our organization’s current mission of supporting every person in choosing when and whether to become a parent.

Sanger’s promotion of eugenics was egregious and wrong. While we acknowledge the benefits that we have reaped from her advocacy for birth control, we take responsibility for the damage that was done. She willfully ignored the incredible harm that her beliefs caused, especially to people of color, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes. We condemn that behavior.

As part of its “reckoning with elements of our past and present that contribute to the structural racism that continues to plague our country,” Planned Parenthood North Central States will re-evaluate its services and revise “how we talk about Sanger in all of our materials and spaces.” That’s important to make people of color and members of all marginalized groups feel welcome when they access essential reproductive health care.

Earlier this week, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York announced plans to take Sanger’s name off a clinic in Manhattan. A statement called the decision “a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color.”

In all likelihood, these conversations within Planned Parenthood affiliates would not be happening now, if not for the nationwide protests Black Lives Matter led following George Floyd’s murder. It’s a good reminder that even beloved institutions among American progressives have a long way to go to become truly intersectional.

UPDATE: A Planned Parenthood employee in Iowa informed me that the groundwork for these changes has been laid for a long time. Duly noted.
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Full text of July 24 news release from Planned Parenthood North Central States:

Statement about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood’s mission

Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist ideas were wrong in 1916 and they’re wrong now

Saint Paul, MN— Today, Planned Parenthood North Central States released the statement below denouncing problematic portions of the organization’s history with founder Margaret Sanger. Sanger’s position on eugenics is diametrically opposed to the organization’s purpose today: to build a world in which every person — regardless of race, income, insurance, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, or immigration status — can receive expert, compassionate health care, education, and information without shame or judgment. We are owning our organization’s history and are committed to addressing the implicit bias and structural racism within our organization and communities.

Below is a statement from Planned Parenthood North Central States:

Like many organizations today, we are reckoning with elements of our past and present that contribute to the structural racism that continues to plague our country. We know that to achieve our mission of reproductive and sexual health and freedom, we must be clear about where we stand in relation to our history and we must take action to dismantle systems of oppression that persist today.

As a health care organization with over 100 years of history, Planned Parenthood provides crucial health services and we also acknowledge that some of our current work was built on a harmful past. Our founder, Margaret Sanger, perpetuated a number of problematic beliefs and actions. We want to be very clear that we vehemently denounce her ideology that certain people — specifically people of color, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities — should be prevented from having children. This repugnant belief runs directly counter to our organization’s current mission of supporting every person in choosing when and whether to become a parent.

Sanger’s promotion of eugenics was egregious and wrong. While we acknowledge the benefits that we have reaped from her advocacy for birth control, we take responsibility for the damage that was done. She willfully ignored the incredible harm that her beliefs caused, especially to people of color, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes. We condemn that behavior.

We must also recognize that today, anti-reproductive rights activists continue to attack Sanger as a strategy to undermine the crucial services Planned Parenthood currently provides. Those opposed to safe, legal abortion have cynically tried to perpetuate a myth that our organization “promotes Black genocide.” We support people to make their own decisions to control their own lives and futures. This autonomy is especially important for Black people and all people of color in this country, who face structural racism, including barriers to sexual and reproductive freedom and health care.

Today, Planned Parenthood’s purpose is to build a world in which every person — regardless of race, income, insurance, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, or immigration status — can receive expert, compassionate health care, education, and information without shame or judgment. Our goal is to continue to improve and expand health care and education for those we serve. To do so, we are owning our organization’s history and are committed to addressing the implicit bias and structural racism that continues to exist within our organization and communities.

With participation from all aspects of our organization, we will be reexamining how we talk about Sanger in all of our materials and spaces and will be revamping how we present our history in all forms. We are dedicated to working through the many layers of this issue so we can improve our services across our region.

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