Many organizations find themselves conflicted when they accord proper respect and gratitude to their founders. The older an organization is, the more likely that its founder, however brilliant and accomplished, had scary skeletons in his or her closet, and worse, espoused views that modern minds find repugnant. The United States is awash in such founding dilemmas, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, whose private life, and some of his public life too, hardly met the high ideals and aspirations that lit the way for our nation’s creation. Revolutionary hero and “Father of the American Navy” John Paul Jones was an infamous pederast, and the man who built the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover, was a racist and extortionist who would have been right at home, perhaps more at home, with the KGB (except for his hatred of communists). There are many more, founders and creators of institutions in every sector of American life.
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), however, is an especially hard case. The founder of the predecessor of Planned Parenthood openly and vigorously espoused beliefs that would make her a pariah today, and an embarrassment to the pro-choice movement. She was a racist, a white supremacist, a believer in eugenics, forced sterilization, and government prevention of the proliferation of the “unfit.” It is true that many of her most repulsive beliefs were considered acceptable and even progressive among intellectuals and activists of the time. It is also true that she was vocal in espousing them, and the work she is most honored for as a birth control advocate and an early feminist cannot be easily separated from her other, less admired positions.
Here are some of her more alarming quotes; you can research her writings and speeches more deeply here. Personally, I think she makes Ayn Rand look like Shirley Temple:
1. “[Our objective is] unlimited sexual gratification without the burden of unwanted children… [Women must have the right] to live … to love… to be lazy … to be an unmarried mother … to create… to destroy… The marriage bed is the most degenerative influence in the social order… The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”
– Margaret Sanger The Woman Rebel, Volume I, Number 1. Reprinted in Woman and the New Race. New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922
2. The government ought to “apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring….[and] “give certain dysgenic groups (those with ‘bad genes’) in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.”
– Margaret Sanger, “A Plan for Peace.” Birth Control Review
3) “The third group [of society] are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped.”
– Margaret Sanger. Speech quoted in “Birth Control: What It Is, How It Works, What It Will Do.” The Proceedings of the First American Birth Control Conference.
4. “There is only one reply to a request for a higher birthrate among the intelligent, and that is to ask the government to first take the burden of the insane and feeble-minded from your back. [Mandatory] sterilization for these is the answer.”
– Margaret Sanger, “The Function of Sterilization.” Birth Control Review
5. “In passing, we should here recognize the difficulties presented by the idea of ‘fit’ and ‘unfit.’ Who is to decide this question? The grosser, the more obvious, the undeniably feeble-minded should, indeed, not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind. But among the writings of the representative Eugenists [sic], one cannot ignore the distinct middle-class bias that prevails.”
– Margaret Sanger, quoted in Charles Valenza’s “Was Margaret Sanger a Racist?” Family Planning Perspectives, January-February 1985, page 44
6. Birth control: “To create a race of thoroughbreds.”
– Margaret Sanger, “Unity.” The Birth Control Review, Nov 1921
7. Article 1. The purpose of the American Baby Code shall be to provide for a better distribution of babies… and to protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit.
Article 4. No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child, and no man shall have the right to become a father, without a permit…
Article 6. No permit for parenthood shall be valid for more than one birth.
—Margaret Sanger, “Plan for Peace” , Birth Control Review
8. “Hordes of people [are] born, who live, yet who have done absolutely nothing to advance the race one iota. Their lives are hopeless repetitions… Such human weeds clog up the path, drain up the energies and the resources of this little earth. We must clear the way for a better world; we must cultivate our garden…Today eugenics is suggested by the most diverse minds as the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems…As an advocate of birth control I wish… to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’ admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation.On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.”
– Margaret Sanger. “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda.” Birth Control Review
9. “Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying… demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism…[Philanthropists] encourage the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant…We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.”
– Margaret Sanger, “The Pivot of Civilization”
10. “One fundamental fact alone, however, indicates the necessity of Birth Control if eugenics is to accomplish its purpose…Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control. Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit. Both are seeking a single end but they lay emphasis upon different methods.”
– Margaret Sanger. “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,”
And, of course, there is Sanger’s infamous quote from her “Pivot of Civilization,” which has popped up a lot lately, and which is widely believed to be referring to immigrants, blacks and the poor, though the context is broad and the exact meaning is ambiguous: “…human weeds,’ ‘reckless breeders,’ ‘spawning… human beings who never should have been born.”
At this point, the question of Sanger’s views on race have been thoroughly muddled by the warriors on both sides of the abortion debate. Opponents of abortion and Planned Parenthood make a dubious case that Sanger was trying to “wipe out” the black race; her defenders argue, improbably, that this women who was an open advocate of purging society couldn’t possibly be a racist. Neither position is persuasive. This is all confirmation bias.
Nevertheless, Sanger’s views and statements on many topics would not be fairly called a shining example of liberal thought, or even rational thought. Thus it was strange, in 2009, for Hillary Clinton to say this, while accepting a Planned Parenthood award:
”I admire Margaret Sanger enormously, her courage, her tenacity, her vision…I am really in awe of her, there are a lot of lessons we can learn from her life.”
When The Weekly Standard, those right-wing spoilsports, asked for clarification about Clinton’s admiration of Sanger’s “vision” some of its disturbing aspects, a State Department spokesman said that Clinton’s words “stand on their own.” Translation: “Hillary isn’t going to risk angering her feminist buddies at Planned Parenthood, and anything you guys point out about Sanger will be dismissed by Clinton’s mainstream media protectors as typical conservative Clinton hate.”
Let us stipulate, however, that if a Republican presidential candidate ever expressed unequivocal praise for a figure holding Sanger’s views as expressed above, The New York Times would crucify him.
Especially if his wife got a lot of speeding tickets.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Should voters care that Clinton has expressed limitless admiration and approval for Margaret Sanger and her vision, or is this trivial?
My view is that it is not trivial. It is one more example of how unqualified and untrustworthy Hillary Clinton is for the Presidency.
There are four explanations for her declaration of untrammeled admiration for Sanger and her vision:
1. Hillary believes in eugenics, the elimination of the right to child birth, and Sanger’s other outrageous beliefs.
2. Hillary doesn’t know about Sanger’s more radical views, and was just referring to the Planned Parenthood founder’s views on women and birth control. (After all, Sanger opposed abortion, using a “pro-life” argument.)
3. Hillary knows, but assumed that either her audience didn’t, or didn’t care, and thought broad endorsement of Sanger would “play.” (How many in the audience, for example, knew that Sanger opposed abortion, not to mention the ugly practices she espoused?)
4. Hillary doesn’t admire Sanger at all, and was lying.
These are all bad. The statement is careless, stupid, dishonest, deceitful, autocratic or irresponsible. Take your pick. I think that it matters when aspiring leaders are careless, stupid, dishonest, autocratic deceitful, or irresponsible.
I’m funny that way.
I realize this disqualifies me a possible Hillary Clinton supporter.