Last week, Planned Parenthood announced the forthcoming removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from its health center in Manhattan. While Sanger’s ardent racism and support for eugenicist measures have been well known for decades, it appears that the pressures of the current moment have at long last forced a public acknowledgement. Planned Parenthood’s disavowal of their founder is better late than never…but at the same time, far too little too late.
Planned Parenthood’s action falls short of a real reckoning with racism in that it continues to deny the connection between the racist roots that it finally denounces and the disparate racial impact of its pro-abortion agenda today. When Roe v. Wade first took effect, the white birth rate in America dipped slightly, but among nonwhites the rate dropped by 15 percent. The gap has only widened since then. Today, 79 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion facilities are located near predominantly black neighborhoods, and the abortion rate is five times higher for African Americans than whites.
Citing these statistics, many pro-life leaders have accused Planned Parenthood of targeting black and minority communities. Representatives retorted that such a claim infantilizes African American women and implies that they are less capable of making their own free choice to have an abortion. Yet, this is exactly what systemic racism looks like: the persistent influence of formerly institutionalized racism creating unequal outcomes along racial lines. Regardless of whether it intentionally targets black women, they are disproportionately impacted because the cycle of poverty and oppression, which includes the abortion industry, keeps them in a position where they are far more likely to feel the need to “choose” abortion.
From a global outlook, the presentation of abortion as humanitarian aid props up an old white supremacist world order. When the US first began to export contraception and abortion as part of foreign aid packages in mass quantities, it was with the intent of reducing non-white populations to save the world’s resources from the “population bomb.” Now, though Malthusian predictions have been widely disproven, the West continues to push abortion and contraception on women across Africa and the Middle East. Whether or not the original racist ideology behind the practice has changed, having fewer people of color in the world is still the result.
Abortion is both a product and a proponent of systemic racism in America and overseas. Where historically it has been used intentionally to suppress minority populations, it now continues to sustain unequal conditions and exploit vulnerable groups. For Planned Parenthood to truly follow up on a trajectory of anti-racism, it would have to completely re-orient its base from promotion of abortion to provision of care and support for pregnancy in African-American communities.
The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name is a credit to the strength of the movement for long-overdue social justice which now courses through America. But the truth is, it only scratches the tip of the iceberg in terms of reparation. While Planned Parenthood continues to participate in the abortion industry, the gesture is meaningless. Until the industry itself is abolished, her legacy denying the equal, sacred dignity of all human lives will live on.