Why I Support Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger Notwithstanding

Organizations change. And all these years later, women of color are better off with Planned Parenthood.

By Rinku Sen Feb 21, 2011

My support for Planned Parenthood following Friday’s House of Representatives vote to defund drew some interesting debate on Facebook. I posted a petition on my page, prompting someone to accuse the group of modern-day eugenics, evoking its founder Margaret Sanger’s ambition for racial purity. That ultimately led to a fight in the comment thread about whether or not women have the right to have an abortion (I think we should, and wish we always did). I’d support Planned Parenthood even if all they did was provide abortions, but in fact, the vast majority of their work is to provide critical health services like birth control, pap smears and sex education to all kinds of women regardless of ability to pay.

Yes, Margaret Sanger was evil and snotty about many categories of people she considered inferior, as indeed were many social reformers of her day. But I’m still glad she paved the way for birth control. I wish more of us had access to it, as we do if there’s a Planned Parenthood nearby. Even if Sanger’s Planned Parenthood discriminated against immigrants, blacks and the poor, I believe that organizations can change. I trust that this one has. This is not to say that I’d absolve the organization if it, say, sterilized women without their knowledge, but I have yet to see any credible evidence that this is the case.

Another poster said that she would stand for Planned Parenthood when the organization took responsibility for its internal racial problems. Now, I don’t doubt that such problems exist, and that an organization of this age and size has some severe blind spots when it comes to race. Check this out, though: Faye Wattleton was its president for 14 years, and she was the youngest, the first woman, and the first black person to hold the post. Still, I know that diversity and full equity are not the same thing. So definitely, there could be much room for improvement in the organization’s programs, its outreach, its hiring practices, and its ability to focus on issues that are really affecting women of color.

But really, every woman I’ve known who used Planned Parenthood for her primary health care, and almost every woman I’ve ever known who worked at a Planned Parenthood, has been a woman of color. The key questions for me are 1) whether women of color are better off with or without Planned Parenthood, and 2) whether or not we should allow Congress to strip our communities of this critical resource. Those are no-brainers. I signed the petition and gave some money, and I think you should too.