Pro-life Group Calls on Planned Parenthood to Apologize for 'Eugenic Past'

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - The public apology by Virginia's governor for the state's role in the "eugenics" movement has created an opportunity for conservatives to criticize the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

The idea of eugenics, or selective breeding, became popular in the United States early in the 20th century. According to the movement's critics, elements of eugenics were later used as a model for the social engineering and forced sterilization policies of the German Nazis.

More than seven thousand people were forcibly sterilized in Virginia between 1924 and 1979, according to the Associated Press. Virginia state law targeted individuals for sterilization who had any human shortcomings believed to be hereditary, including alcoholism, criminal behavior, mental retardation and mental illness, the A.P. report stated, adding that similar laws existed in 29 other states.

In issuing "the commonwealth's sincere apology" for a policy he had nothing to do with, Virginia Governor Mark Warner called the state's participation in eugenics, "a shameful effort."

Should Planned Parenthood Apologize?

Warner's apology also triggered criticism of PPFA, whose founder, Margaret Sanger, opened the nation's first birth control clinic in 1916 and supported the idea of eugenics.

Ed Szymkowiak, a spokesman for STOPP International, a subsidiary organization of the American Life League, said PPFA continues to use Sanger's name at its awards dinners. He called on PPFA to issue its own apology.

"Virginia is recognizing what a terrible thing that was," Szymkowiak said. "Then we still have an organization like Planned Parenthood that is still honoring Sanger by giving awards in her name.

"This would be like people in Germany still honoring Hitler," Szymkowiak said. "[Sanger] should be totally denied by the organization."

Planned Parenthood did not return phone calls seeking an interview.

However, a statement on the group's website contends that anti-contraception advocates try to "discredit" Sanger's views by "intentionally confusing her views on 'fitness' with eugenics, racism, and anti-Semitism."

"Margaret Sanger clearly identified with the issues of health and fitness that concerned the early 20th-century eugenics movement, which was enormously popular and well-respected during the 1920s and '30s, when treatments for many hereditary and disabling conditions were unknown," the Planned Parenthood websites says.

"However, Sanger always believed that reproductive decisions should be made on an individual and not a social or cultural basis, and she consistently repudiated any racial application of eugenics principles."

According to the site, Sanger believed there should be "incentives for the voluntary hospitalization and/or sterilization of people with untreatable, disabling, hereditary conditions," that there should be "stringent regulations to prevent diseased and feeble-minded immigrants into the U.S." and that "illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope-fiends" should be placed on farms and in open spaces "as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct."

However, Planned Parenthood now distances itself from the eugenics movement.

"Planned Parenthood Federation of America finds these views objectionable and outmoded," the organization contends on its website. "Nevertheless, anti-family planning activists continue to attack Sanger, who has been dead for over 30 years, because she is an easier target than the unassailable reputation of PPFA and the contemporary family planning movement.

"However, attempts to discredit the family planning movement because its early 20th-century founder was not a perfect model of early 21st-century values is like disavowing the Declaration of Independence because its author, Thomas Jefferson, bought and sold slaves," the website states.

Szymkowiak says there is no reason for PPFA to continue placing Sanger on a pedestal.

"If Planned Parenthood no longer holds these views, why should they not apologize for what they did under Sanger's leadership, and shouldn't it also stop giving awards in her name?" Szymkowiak asked. "They claim that's not what they think anymore, but I think there is a contradiction there, when you are honoring the person who promulgated the eugenics movement here in the U.S. to a large degree."

Szymkowiak added that PPFA's attempt to separate itself from Sanger's views on eugenics is not enough, and that a formal apology is warranted.

"Virginia has recognized its eugenic past as something that [warrants] a public apology, not just something written on their website," he said. "We are talking about a Planned Parenthood needing to issue a formal public apology."

E-mail a news tip to Jason Pierce.

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