National Public Radio Spins Margaret Sanger’s Racism

By John Zmirak Published on August 19, 2015

I’m normally a big fan of National Public Radio — apart from its politics. That’s why I was so disappointed in its coverage of the history of Planned Parenthood, and that group’s founder, Margaret Sanger. Disappointed, but not surprised. When it comes to liberals’ willingness to overlook anything, anything at all, in defense of sexual “freedom,” we should all be unshockable by now. Margaret Sanger illustrates this principle in action.

On August 14, Amita Kelly of NPR undertook damage control on behalf of Sanger, responding to Dr. Ben Carson’s claim that Planned Parenthood was founded for racist, eugenicist goals, and that its abortion clinics especially target black people. Before we see how selective was Kelly’s reporting, we need to understand why Margaret Sanger is beyond criticism for liberals. Literally. Absolutely nothing, no historical fact or statement you turn up, could convince a modern liberal that Sanger’s work was anything but admirable.

Here’s why: It was Margaret Sanger who broke down American’s resistance to legalizing birth control (which back then, meant diaphragms and condoms). She went on to fund the research that led to the birth control pill. That makes her the mother of the Sexual Revolution.

Sanger embarked on all this work because she was deeply devoted to sexual freedom. Especially her own. Even though she was … already married, if you get my drift. As she wrote in The Pivot of Civilization on the subject of sex education, “Instead of laying down hard and fast rules of sexual conduct, sex can be rendered effective and valuable only as it meets and satisfies the interests and demands of the pupil himself.”

I wrote about Sanger’s sexual creed back in 2008:

Sanger began as a sexual radical and libertine, a close associate of early sexologist Havelock Ellis. A wife who abandoned her husband and young children to travel Europe and conduct a series of casual affairs, Sanger was an apostle of “free love” before the term was even invented. Her philosophical inspiration was not Houston Stuart Chamberlain, but the Marquis de Sade.

Sanger had campaigned for sexual license for years before she discovered the handy “wedge” issue of Anglo anxiety over immigration and differential birth rates. A savvy political activist, she trumped up a minor panic over “dysgenic” births and “hereditary” criminality in order to break down the social taboo against even discussing birth control which prevailed among most Protestants before the Anglican Council of Lambeth broke the dam, and offered the first tentative approval of contraception in the history of Christendom. As Blessed Are the Barren shows in exhausting detail, Sanger used the tribal fear of displacement on the part of Protestant elites to undermine their theological position — which they’d inherited from Luther and Calvin, and Augustine long before them. Odd as it sounds today, Sanger used racism to make birth control respectable. …

And Sanger abandoned the race issue pretty readily, too. As the Nazi crimes against humanity were exposed after World War II, Sanger dropped her Klan hood like last year’s hat, and donned the white coat of a futurist; she “discovered” that the reason why birth control was so urgently important was not the swelling ranks of dusky Sicilians and blacks, but rather the “population explosion.” Without missing a beat, her organization shifted its rhetoric, and provoked another panic.

Indeed, the population panic that Sanger helped to stoke was used to support the next wave of forcible sterilizations of the poor — whose ugliest manifestation was China’s brutal “One Child Policy,” which included millions of coerced abortions. Planned Parenthood’s local affiliates helped that country’s Communist government to implement it. Now that the “Population Bomb” seems to have fizzled, it has been replaced by “Climate Change.” Now every baby born must be inspected for his potential “carbon footprint,” and papal adviser John Schellnhuber warns us that the world population must shrink by at least six billion people, or our “planet will explode.”

On some level, her defenders are convinced that despite some awkward details, Sanger’s heart was “in the right place.” Yes, she did wield crassly pseudo-scientific theories about the “inferior classes” and their hereditary stupidity and criminality. Okay, and her Birth Control Federation did issue warnings like this one: “The mass of significant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously. …” And yes, writing to colleague Clarence Gamble, Sanger did say, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. …” Yeah, and it is true, as Ian Tuttle reports, that in 1926 she addressed a Ku Klux Klan rally.

In fact, there is so much racist and viciously elitist poison that Margaret Sanger put on the record — readily searchable at NYU’s online Margaret Sanger Papers Project — that some techie out there should put it all into an app: The Margaret Sanger Racist Quote Generator. Just click for a shockingly racist quote, then click and click again. It could go on all day without ever repeating itself.

But none of this really matters, not to her defenders. Because Sanger was only using racism to promote promiscuity. So that’s okay, then.

Absolute sexual freedom is the only non-negotiable demand of modern liberalism. We must be free not just from legal limits but moral ones; from religious teachings and philosophical strictures; from the biological fact that there are two (count ‘em, just two) human sexes. We must be free even from the consequences of our own freely chosen actions: That is why feminist signs often bear the slogan: “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology.”

American soldiers have died over the centuries in defense of an older and richer idea of freedom. New Hampshire license plates read “Live Free or Die.” The modern liberal might not be willing to die for what he calls “freedom.” But he will kill for it. Just watch those Planned Parenthood videos and see.

NPR’s Exercise in Spin Control

With all this in mind, let’s examine Amita Kelly’s NPR report, “Fact Check: Was Planned Parenthood Started To ‘Control’ The Black Population?” Let’s fact-check the “Fact Check.”

Kelly grudgingly admits Sanger’s embrace of eugenics, which Kelly describes as “a discipline, championed by prominent scientists but now widely debunked, that promoted ‘good’ breeding and aimed to prevent ‘poor’ breeding.” She even includes a few of Sanger’s least offensive statements on the subject. But Kelly quickly corrals an authority to explain the offense away:

“That Sanger was enamored and supported some eugenicists’ ideas is certainly true,” said Susan Reverby, a health care historian and professor at Wellesley College. But, Reverby added, Sanger’s main argument was not eugenics — it was that “Sanger thought people should have the children they wanted.”

It was a radical idea for the time.

It might have been a radical idea, but Sanger did not support it at the time. In her March 27, 1934 article, “America Needs a Code for Babies,” Sanger proposed a federal law controlling couple’s reproductive choices. Her model legislation included provisions such as

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.

It was easy for me to find this article. It would have been easy for Ms. Kelly to find as well, had she really been looking for facts.

Another fact is that Sanger supported eugenics laws in a dozen states mandating the sterilization of Americans who failed culturally biased IQ tests, as Angela Franks documents in the book-length study, Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy. I found that fact in a Google search that took, from start to finish, some 30 seconds.

Kelly next asserts that Sanger’s “attitude toward African-Americans can certainly be viewed as paternalistic, but there is no evidence she subscribed to the more racist ideas of the time.” Apart, that is, from the readily available evidence already cited above, where Sanger spoke of how “Negroes … breed carelessly and disastrously.” And the fact that she spoke at a Klan rally. But apart from that, “no evidence” at all.

In her final howler, Kelly asks and answers the six million dollar question:

“Did Sanger have a connection to Nazi Germany?

Not that NPR found. Sanger herself wrote in 1939 that she had joined the Anti-Nazi Committee “and gave money, my name and any influence I had with writers and others, to combat Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.”

I’d be fascinated to see what evidence there is for Sanger’s anti-Nazi activity, apart from her own belated assertion. It’s interesting that Sanger did not weigh in against Hitler for half of his 12 years in power, waiting until he was on the verge of going to war against the racially “fit” Anglo-Saxon England.

Kelly ends the article abruptly with this damning if incomplete admission:

American and German eugenicists closely collaborated, and the Nazis reportedly borrowed much of their 1933 so-called sterilization law from American models. That law allowed the government to forcibly sterilize people with alleged genetic disorders.

Kelly makes no mention of Harry Laughlin, one of Sanger’s closest collaborators, whose mandatory sterilization laws she constantly praised and promoted — and tried to replicate on the federal level with her 1934 “Baby Code.” University of Virginia eugenics scholar Paul Lombardo is more informative about Laughlin. As he reports:

Borrowing from Laughlin’s Model Law, the German Nazi government adopted a law in 1933 that provided the legal basis for sterilizing more than 350,000 people. Laughlin proudly published a translation of the German Law for the Prevention of Defective Progeny in The Eugenical News. In 1936, Laughlin was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg as a tribute for his work in “the science of racial cleansing.”

There is no record of Sanger denouncing or distancing herself from Laughlin. Indeed, it would take until 1939 for Sanger finally to distance herself from the Nazis themselves. She must have sniffed the wind.

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