One of the darkest shadows in American history is the role of federal and state governments in perpetrating human rights abuses against an estimated 60,000 Americans in the name of the pseudo-science of eugenics.
Eugenicists believe they can improve human genetic stock through controlled breeding and by thwarting those with “undesirable traits” — including lower intelligence, criminality, and a history of promiscuity — from reproducing. In the early part of the 20th century 30 states legalized state-sponsored forced sterilization of those who were considered “unfit.” From 1927 until 1974, Americans could be forcibly sterilized under the law of these states and with the approval of the Supreme Court, granted in Buck v. Bell. These policies overwhelmingly targeted society’s poor and marginalized.
It was only last year that North Carolina provided compensation to those few still-living victims of its eugenics program – becoming the first state to do so. Recently Virginia’s House of Delegates put forward a bipartisan bill to compensate victims in their state as well.
Today eugenic policies, even if compensation remains slow in coming, are almost universally viewed as monstrous. The victims’ anguish speaks to the horror they endured. A century ago, however, eugenics was seen as a “progressive” cause. And one of its champions – right until the bitter end – was Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.
This week House Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is set to receive the Margaret Sanger Award, the top honor given each year by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
It is no secret that Nancy Pelosi stands with Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion business. It has been a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship. Pelosi has steadfastly defended Planned Parenthood’s interests in Congress (more than $540 million in taxpayer dollars annually) despite a series of scandals including whistleblower-exposed incidents of fraud, incidents of health and safety violations, allegations of sex trafficking and child sex abuse cover-ups, and the 2012 death of abortion patient Tonya Reaves. Pelosi and Planned Parenthood share an ideology and the belief that abortion is “sacred ground.”
However, in accepting the Sanger award, Pelosi takes her bond with Planned Parenthood to a new level. The award aligns Pelosi not only with the interests of the abortion enterprise but, perhaps unconsciously, with its founder, a self-avowed devotee of negative eugenics.
While Planned Parenthood tries to gloss over Sanger’s involvement in the eugenics movement, facts are very stubborn things. Sanger was an ardent and outspoken advocate of the movement and all that it entailed – including the segregation and forced sterilization of those she deemed “unfit.” Her words speak for themselves:
“Nature eliminates the weeds but we turn them into parasites and allow them to reproduce.”
“[The government needs to] apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.”
“Give dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.”
Not only did Sanger help to form and nurture the eugenics movement in the United States – through her writing and public speaking – but she preached the eugenic gospel of decrying charitable efforts on behalf of the poor as a form of “cruelty,” because such efforts helped them breed more of their kind and drain resources and attention from the well-born. Naturally, social forces that favored such philanthropy, mainly religious entities offering homes and shelters for unwed mothers, became objects of her severe scorn.
While there were many in the early part of the 20th century who blindly believed the faux science of eugenics, Sanger never backed away from her eugenic convictions. Towards the end of her career she remained resolute. In a 1957 television interview with Mike Wallace, Sanger remarked, “I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents — that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically. Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they’re born.”
Nancy Pelosi is surely not embracing the anti-human ideology of Margaret Sanger through her acceptance of this award. However, as states now wrestle with how to administer justice to those whose lives were torn apart, the failure to acknowledge the history of eugenics, and its relationship to Planned Parenthood’s still-esteemed founder, shows a marked insensitivity by the Congresswoman from California. After all, it was California that led the nation in forced eugenic sterilizations.
The fact that Planned Parenthood cannot distance itself from Sanger’s past does not excuse today’s political leaders from doing so. The powerful prejudices of eugenics are still with us. Today’s new reproductive sciences, combined with rampant abortion, provide those prejudices with an avenue to success the early eugenists could scarcely have imagined. If any of this disturbs Nancy Pelosi, now is the time for her to say so loud and clear.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide network of more than 365,000 Americans dedicated to pursuing policies and electing candidates who will reduce and ultimately end abortion.