Pro-lifers have long accused Planned Parenthood of racism, but the nation’s largest abortion provider may face a reckoning led by hundreds of employees and supporters who have charged the organization with being “steeped in white supremacy.”
A letter signed by more than 350 “current and former staffers” of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, as well as about 800 donors, supporters and volunteers, declared that founder Margaret Sanger was “a racist, white woman” and that the organization suffers from “institutional racism.”
“We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve,” said the June 18 open letter from Save PPGNY.
The missive accomplished its primary goal: the ouster of Laura McQuade, who stepped down June 23 as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York. But critics are watching to see whether Planned Parenthood, after decades of deflecting criticism from the pro-life movement, can withstand the scrutiny of the “cancel culture” and Black Lives Matter.
“Planned Parenthood staffers criticizing Margaret Sanger as racist is certainly unprecedented and completely justified,” said Hayden Ludwig, an investigative researcher at the conservative Capital Research Center who has written extensively on Sanger.
“This letter might be a sign that the left is close to jettisoning the socialist, eugenics-supporting, white supremacist Sanger,” Mr. Ludwig said. “That can’t come soon enough.”
Planned Parenthood is the latest institution upended by the Black Lives Matter protest. The letter’s writers said they were “inspired and emboldened by national movements led by Black people holding organizations and institutions accountable and working to dismantle systems of oppression and white supremacy.”
Planned Parenthood was vulnerable to such an accounting. Debate has raged for years about the birth control pioneer’s support for eugenics, an early 20th-century social engineering movement that sought to improve humanity through sterilization and selective genetic breeding.
Sanger launched the Negro Project in 1939 aimed at “helping Negroes to control their birthrate” while advocating for a federal “population bureau” to police reproduction. She worked with prominent Black leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune but also spoke in 1926 to a Ku Klux Klan women’s auxiliary.
Planned Parenthood issued an eight-page “fact sheet” in 2016 defending Sanger and refuting racism allegations as well as acknowledging that she “had some beliefs, practices, and associations that we acknowledge and denounce, and that we work to rectify today.”
Still, the Save PPGNY letter declared that “Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman. That is a part of history that cannot be changed.”
Pro-life advocates argue that Sanger’s focus on Harlem and the South are manifested in Planned Parenthood’s work today.
Clinics are located disproportionately in minority neighborhoods — Planned Parenthood cites its commitment to underserved communities — and Black women received 36% of abortions in 2014 even though they make up 13% of the female population.
“Anyone familiar with Planned Parenthood’s history, founded by Margaret Sanger who recommended selective breeding of ‘the finest flowers’ to prevent ‘human weeds’ and pushed a ‘Negro Project,’ knows that the racist roots of the nation’s No. 1 abortion vendor taints their entire organization,” said Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for Students for Life of America.
She said the “complaints of employees of Planned Parenthood that such policies continue are unsurprising but still tragic.”
The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute said in 2008 that the abortion rate for Black women is five times higher than for White women, but it argued that Black women have more unintended pregnancies as a result of inconsistent access to “high-quality contraceptive services.”
Ryan Bomberger, co-founder of the pro-life Radiance Foundation, said the letter shows “Planned Parenthood’s own employees acknowledge what history has long documented.”
“Margaret Sanger was a racist eugenicist and no amount of leftist revisionism will change that,” Mr. Bomberger said in an email. “Sadly, those same employees refuse to see that the same systemic racism that birthed Planned Parenthood, led the abortion giant to become the leading killer of black lives today.”
Mr. Bomberger, who is Black, is no fan of Black Lives Matter because of the movement’s support for “reproductive justice,” including unfettered access to abortion. Planned Parenthood Federation of America has expressed strong support for Black Lives Matter, including calls to defund police.
“The pro-abortion #BlackLivesMatter movement forces the question: which black lives matter?” Radiance said in a post.
In their letter, the PPGNY staffers described a workplace culture of “racism and anti-Blackness.” They said they had complained for years about “systemic racism, pay inequity, and a lack of upward mobility for Black staff,” but nothing was addressed.
“White and non-Black employees are still given more pay and more advancement opportunities than their Black colleagues,” said a Save PPGNY post on equity. “Blanket statements are used to overshadow our grievances, while only exacerbating the problem.”
“Black staff are further disheartened when our white and non-Black colleagues use their privilege to amplify our concerns, and find they, too, are challenged and manipulated into silence,” it added.
The board of directors of PPGNY, which initially came out in support of Ms. McQuade, said in a June 24 statement that it had begun “reaffirming our commitment to being an anti-racist organization.”
“The board will continue working to ensure that our composition is more representative of the communities we serve,” said the statement. “We will advance the work of our equity committee with even more urgency so that equity is woven into decision making at every level of the organization.”
The organization was roiled by the novel coronavirus outbreak, which temporarily shuttered a dozen clinics and slashed staff by 28% through layoffs, furloughs and reduced hours.
Protesters have attacked sculptures of Christopher Columbus, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jefferson, Spanish priest Junipero Serra and Confederate generals, yet a bust of Sanger sits in the National Portrait Gallery.