Pelosi to Receive Planned Parenthood Award Honoring Eugenicist

Penny Starr | March 21, 2014 | 10:23am EDT
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Rep. Nancy Pelosi, taking the oath as Speaker of the House, on Jan. 6, 2009. (AP Photo)

( – Next week, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America will present House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with the Margaret Sanger Award. The award is the group’s “highest honor” and is named for a woman who believed in breeding better humans through eugenics.

Planned Parenthood is the nation's leading abortion provider, having performed 327,166 of the procedures in 2012, according to its latest annual report.

Pelosi, a Catholic, will receive the Margaret Sanger Award at the PPFA’s annual gala in Washington, D.C. on Mar. 27. She is being honored, according to PPFA, because of her “leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement over the course of her career.”

Planned Parenthood, according to its website, traces its origins to 1916 when Sanger opened a birth control office in Brooklyn, N.Y. (In 1917, she started publishing The Birth Control Review.) In 1923, Sanger opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in Manhattan to provide contraceptives to women and collect data on their effectiveness.

In 1922, Sanger incorporated the American Birth Control League, a group designed to address issues such as "world population growth, disarmament, and world famine." The American Birth Control League subsequently merged with the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau and later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.

In 1921, Margaret Sanger wrote an essay entitled “Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda," which was published in the Oct. 5 edition of The Birth Control Review.

In the article, Sanger expressed her support for eugenics, which is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a science that tries to improve the human race by controlling which people become parents,” and which is broadly defined as the practice of selective breeding and sterilization to “improve” the genetics of a human population.

Page 1 from Margaret Sanger's 1921 essay, "Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda." (Library of Congress)

Sanger states in this essay that eugenics at that time had been subject to “the cruel ridicule of stupidity and ignorance.”

“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,” Sanger wrote. “The most intransigent and daring teachers and scientists have lent their support to this great biological interpretation of the human race.”

Sanger goes on to write: “In the limited space of the present paper, I have time only to touch upon some of the fundamental convictions that form the basis of our Birth Control propaganda, and which, as I think you must agree, indicate that the campaign for Birth Control is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical in ideal with the final aims of Eugenics.”

The essay goes on to state: “As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity 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 to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes.

“On the contrary," Sanger continued, "the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

“Birth Control,” she wrote, “is not advanced as a panacea by which past and present evils of dysgenic breeding can be magically eliminated.

“Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism,” Sanger wrote.

Sanger began advocating for the legalization of contraceptives in the United States in 1914 in her publication, The Rebel Woman.

She specifically fought to overturn the 1873 Comstock Act, which amended the Post Office Act to prohibit distributing obscene literature through the mail, including literature about contraceptives, according to the 1992 biography by Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.

Sanger also lobbied for birth control to be funded by the federal government to increase access to contraceptives for low-income populations and to include contraceptives as a public health benefit in federal programs for maternal and child health.

The 1921 article in The Birth Control Review was neither the first nor last time Sanger discussed eugenics.

In February 1919 in The Birth Control Review she published an article entitled “Birth Control and Racial Betterment” in which she argued that while birth control advocates and eugenists  both want the “elimination of the unfit,” eugenicists wanted to promote reproduction of the “fit” while the birth control advocates also saw economic reasons for limiting reproduction.

"Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control," Sanger wrote.

"Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit," she wrote. "Both are seeking a single end but they law emphasis upon different methods."

“We who advocate Birth Control, on the other hand, lay all our emphasis upon stopping not only the reproduction of the unfit but upon stopping all reproduction when there is not economic means of providing proper care for those who are born in health," wrote Sanger. "The eugenicist also believes that a woman should bear as many healthy children as possible as a duty to the state. We hold that the world is already over-populated. Eugenicists imply or insist that a woman's first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her duty to the state."

In this 1919 essay, Sanger argued that women had a "right" to decide how many children to have.

“We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother," wrote Sanger.

"To this end we insist that information in regard to scientific contraceptives be made open to all," she said. "We believe that if such information is placed within the reach of all, we will have made it possible to take the first, greatest step toward racial betterment and that this step, assisted in no small measure by the educational propaganda of eugenicists and members of similar schools, will be taken.”

In the “conclusion” of an undated, typed, draft article that is included in the Margaret Sanger Papers at the Library of Congress, and that is entitled “The Unfit,” Sanger did not say that it was a woman's right to decide how many children to have but that said that some people should be given "a choice of sterilization or isolation."

In that article, she wrote:

“We can see how naturally we are today brought up to those questions of birth control as an instrument of higher breeding and regeneration of the race," wrote Sanger.

Condoms (AP Photo)

“In case of refusal such persons should have a choice of sterilization or isolation," she said. "Under no circumstances should the state allow such parents to cast their diseased and demented progeny upon society for the normal and fit to provide for.”

The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger includes portions of a speech that Sanger gave on Aug. 5, 1926 at the Institute for Euthenics at Vassar College.  It was also published in The Birth Control Review in October 1926. This speech, entitled “The Function of Sterilization,” proposes how the practice can lead to “race betterment.”

Sanger states, “The Question of race betterment is one of immediate concern, and I am glad to say that the United States Government has already taken certain steps to control the equality of our population through the drastic immigration laws.

“There is a quota restriction by which only so many people from each country are allowed to enter our shores each month," she said. "It is the latest method adopted by our government to solve the population problem. Most people are convinced that this policy is right, and agree that we should slow down on the number as well as the kind of immigrants coming here.

“But while we close our gates to the co-called 'undesirables' from other countries, we make no attempt to discourage or cut down the rapid multiplication of the unfit and undesirable at home.”

(AP Photo)

In this speech Sanger said: “It now remains for the United States government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or a yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit."

Sanger goes on: “There is only one reply to a request for a higher birth rate among the intelligent, and that is to ask the government to first take off the burdens of the insane and feeble-minded from your backs. Sterilization for these is your remedy.”

Sanger’s article “Birth Control: Yes or No” was published in “Fairplay” on Sept. 20, 1919 and portions of the text are missing. It was the third of a three-article series, “Prudence and Purity in Sex Matters.”

“Yes, but how about the unfit--the mental defectives who ought most of all to avoid offspring--would they know enough to use the knowledge if it were given to them?" she wrote.  "The great majority of mental defectives are not in institutions, but are at large in the community. No defective can produce normal offspring.

"These people are therefore a serious menace to community health," Sanger said. "Experts such as Dr. H. H. Goddard of the Vineland Training School for the Feeble Minded, have expressed the very definite opinion that large numbers of defective people are capable of understanding and acting upon contraceptive information, and that they should be taught. The institutions for feeble-mindedness and insanity are increasingly overflowing. The supply of defectives should be cut off at the source. Mere governmental economy demands this -- even if there were no other reasons. To use public funds needlessly for the care of the unfit instead of for education and opportunity for the normal is criminal stupidity.”

Sanger also states that “family limitation” does not necessary mean small families:

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and President Barack Obama. (AP)

“It must never be inferred that advocates of family limitation are necessarily urging small families as such. It is true that relatively few parents can give successful care to large families, but all who can ought surely to have as many as they want.”

Sanger's article, “Will Birth Control Diminish It?” was published in Eugenics on March 23, 1929. In this piece Sanger wrote: “The garden of humanity has been choked by the destructive forces of uncontrolled and misdirected procreation.”

"To say that birth control runs the risk of excluding from life geniuses as well as defectives is to imply that chance is a better guide than intelligence," she said. "The total number of geniuses in the whole of human history is much less than one thousand. The total number of defectives could never be computed. The damage they have done to civilization cannot be counterbalanced by the benefits we have derived from genius. The garden of humanity has been choked by the destructive forces of uncontrolled and misdirected procreation. Small wonder that the potentialities hidden in the human species have so seldom flowered in genius.

"Father McClorey [who wrote the opposing view in the magazine] may think it better to abandon the garden to the weeds, naively confident that geniuses will make their appearances regardless of heredity and environment," Sanger said. "But no student of genetics, no one who has even superficially observed the achievements of scientific horticulture and animal breeding, can consider seriously that the road to human perfection can ever be attained by abandoning scientific control and reverting to a childish reliance upon the blind forces of uncontrolled procreative instincts.”

In announcing that Planned Parenthood had picked Pelosi’s to receive this year’s Margaret Sanger Award, PPFA President Cecile Richards said: “No one is more deserving of this honor than Leader Pelosi, who has fought tirelessly throughout her career to protect and expand women’s access to health care."

Previous winners of the Margaret Sanger Award include the late Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand in the United States, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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