by Bob Cesca
It’s not a name currently in the news because abortion and Planned Parenthood haven’t been brought up since the failure of the congressional Republicans to repeal Obamacare, but let’s begin by talking about Margaret Sanger.
Sanger was the highly regarded and groundbreaking founder of Planned Parenthood, bringing birth control and empowerment to women long before Roe v Wade was adjudicated. Concurrently, and in order to demonize the chain of healthcare clinics, Republicans have performed some of their best smearing and lying about Sanger and what she sought to achieve.
Mainly, Republicans continue to allege that Sanger was an extreme racist who established Planned Parenthood in 1929 in order to prevent black women from giving birth, thus Sanger, they say, wanted to end the expansion of the African-American population. The evidence they continue to cite is as bogus as the accusation itself. Anti-choicers continuously reference a quote from a 1939 letter written by Sanger in which she warned: “We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”
Predictably, the quote was entirely stripped of its context. Here’s the entire unedited quote:
“The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
It turns out, Sanger was seeking an African-American doctor to prescribe birth control to African-American patients, chiefly because there was a pervasive suspicion at the time that white people were attempting to prevent black people from breeding. While there might’ve been more than a few racists who believed such a thing, Sanger was not one of them. Indeed, Sanger’s “Negro Project” was a widely endorsed social justice project, and whichever racists beliefs Sanger may or may not have held, Planned Parenthood was definitely not trying to exterminate “the Negro population.” (Here’s the full debunking from FactCheck.org.)
That aside, yes, Sanger was also connected to the eugenics movement, which believed in manufacturing healthier more “pure” humans. For example, she opposed the introduction of immigrants into the United States who were “diseased or feeble-minded.” However, she denied supporting any sort of racial consideration and grew increasingly at odds with the broader movement over time.
This is a deeply objectionable and disqualifying set of beliefs, according to Republicans. Everyone from “family values” organizations to presidential candidates like current HUD secretary Ben Carson to conspiracy crackpot Alex Jones have crucified Planned Parenthood for the alleged racism and eugenics-dabbling of its founder.
As it happens, our current Republican attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, is also a fan of eugenics — and not during some sort of youthful dalliance with the theory. Sessions believes in the power of eugenics — not years ago but today. He believes in eugenics specifically and explicitly in order to preserve the white race in America.
Let’s back up. In 1924, five years before Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, congressional Republicans passed a draconian piece of legislation called the Johnson-Reed Act. The bill was proposed by a Washington state Republican named Albert Johnson, known as a “fanatic raceologist and eugenicist.” The law proposed by Johnson called for returning the racial makeup of the United States to what it was before the immigration boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Republican-controlled Congress passed the bill, and it was signed by GOP President Calvin Coolidge. Part of the process of determining who would be allowed into the U.S. was to evaluate the foreign nations with the highest population of undesirable, genetically “feeble” citizens and to restrict immigration from those nations accordingly.
This was eugenics in practice — inside the United States, and sanctioned by the GOP government at the time — not some sort of hobby, as it was with Sanger, but a full-on pursuit of white racial purity by keeping non-Anglo-Saxons out.
Fast forward to the modern era, circa 2015. Here’s what your current attorney general and then-senator from Alabama said about the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act.
In seven years we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans, non-native born, since the founding of the Republic. Some people think we’ve always had these numbers, and it’s not so, it’s very unusual, it’s a radical change. When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through the 1965 [Immigration Act] and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. We passed a law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.
Yes, that was Jeff Sessions praising a eugenics bill. And I’m sure more than a few of Sessions’ fans have, at one time or another, demonized Sanger’s interest in eugenics. The difference is, of course, that Sanger is dead and Sessions is very much alive. And now we see exactly what his motivation was in declaring this week that President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order has been officially rescinded. Jeff Sessions clearly wants to return the U.S. to its white-dominated racial makeup in the wake of the 1924 eugenics law, and he’s delighted to finally get the chance.
Put another way, we’re talking about a flagrantly racist attorney general working for a flagrantly racist president. Worse, President Trump has already expressed sympathies for Nazis and KKK members, suggesting there are “very fine people” among their ranks. Oh, and don’t forget about Trump’s interest in genetic purity and perfection.
At what point will the American people finally rise up and proclaim, “Enough!” — loudly and unrelentingly until the administration is brought to its knees? If these trespasses aren’t worthy of a mass movement to oust the villains in the White House, it’s impossible to imagine what could be worse. What will it take for us to finally lay siege to the White House — not just for a weekend, but permanently surrounding it until its occupants are forced to walk away? It’s certainly not enough for the president to sympathize with Nazis or for the attorney general to re-inaugurate eugenics as an immigration policy. They’ve done nothing to earn this extreme latitude, especially knowing how officials with lesser sins have been exiled to the hinterlands of American politics and pop culture.
Let’s get going.