Planned Parenthood and the Confederate Flag


by John Ellis

As a still relatively brand new Christian, the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 proved an existentially tumultuous period for me. Two things stand out in my memory as flashpoints – voting for Obama in the presidential election and then, not long after the election, reading Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America, a biography of Planned Parenthood’s founder.

Going into that fall, I was self-assured in how my politics and three year old Christian beliefs meshed. I still considered myself a liberal, albeit a Christian one; Jim Wallis and Sojourners provided me with many of my political cues, and with a thing called Facebook all the rage, I had a platform from which to loudly express my enlightened views. But, within all my noise and bluster, new voices began to separate my political, social, and religious beliefs into compartments. As my inconsistencies began to poke through, as what I thought was a proportionately and happily married conflation of politics and religion began to give way to the reality that my politics were, in fact, dictating my beliefs about God, my confidence began to unravel. It didn’t help that I was being confronted with the fact that many of my political beliefs and positions were birthed and solidly shaped during my tumultuous twenties; a period that was decidedly marked by my burning desire to be the anti-Christ who finally deposed God.

The ’08 Presidential Election preceded most of the tumult, though. Since the late 90’s, I had been involved in marches and protests calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag from a variety of locations – including the State House in Columbia, SC. My disapprobation of racism was well-documented during my twenties; at one point, I angrily quit a job that I liked because I found out that I had been hired over non-white applicants solely because of the color of my skin. In my early thirties, on top of my generic liberalism, it was literally a dream come true to be able to vote for an African American for President[1].

Over that period, many of my new church friends politely and kindly queried me about my support for Barack Obama. I was somewhat taken aback by their gentle spirit and meek tones as we discussed issues that for years I had assumed conservatives were unable to discuss with any form of civility. I mean, I’d had batteries thrown at me during anti-war protests; in the early 2000’s, people would follow me into parking lots in order to cuss me out over my anti-Bush bumper stickers. I was not accustomed to having respectful conversations with conservatives, and many of my responses betrayed a defensiveness and smugness that, to be fair, although wrong, had been earned the hard way. To their credit, my new friends took my disrespect in stride, and continued to dialogue with me; far less concerned with my politics, their main objective was my continued discipleship and growth in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, they weren’t concerned that I was planning on voting for Obama, and I eventually did; they were concerned that some of my policy positions were not reflective of King Jesus – specifically gay marriage and abortion[2].

Those conversations burrowed into my brain, and, although I resisted, I began to be troubled by some of my own positions in light of my growing understanding of God and His definitions and categories of mercy, justice, and love. During that same period, I bought the Margaret Sanger biography and began reading it soon after the election.

Over the course of the previous decade I had heard of Sanger, but knew very little about her other than she was the founder of Planned Parenthood[3]. While I considered myself pro-choice, it never became one of my pet issues; I was never able to bring myself to be completely comfortable with abortion. Even at my most liberal, my personal opinions were more along the flabby lines of the squishy middle – “well, I don’t personally like abortion, but the issue is far more complex than simply right or wrong. Let’s work on reducing the need for abortions.” Translation – “Even though I find abortion discomforting, there is no way that I’m going to jeopardize my liberal street cred by interfering with a woman’s rights issue.” By the fall of 2008, my stated position was basically the same, with an added jab pointing out the supposed hypocrisy of Christians being single issue voters about an issue that, if it was a problem, was a problem because Christians were failing to obey Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. But then, adding to some pointed conversations about abortion with more mature and wiser Christians, I read the Margaret Sanger biography.

Woman of Valor is decidedly not conservative. The book comes with the ringing endorsements of feminist luminaries Betty Friedan, Sylvia A. Law, and Carolyn Heilbrun, not to mention being written by Ellen Chesler, one of contemporary feminism’s leading figures in the fight for reproductive freedom. All that to say, my official introduction to Margaret Sanger was via a book written from a pro-Planned Parenthood and pro-Sanger point of view. If anything, I should have finished the book as a full-fledged disciple of Margaret Sanger, because that was my intention when I began reading the book. But, of course, that’s not what happened.

As I read the book, something about the way Chesler dismissed the charges of Sanger’s racism and negative eugenics, charges that I’d never heard before, troubled me. Chesler’s defensive posture stood out to me so much as to appear to be on a rhetorical island out of contact with the rest of the book. I mean, starting with the first page of the book’s introduction, Chesler insisted that Sanger wasn’t a racist. On page 296, Chesler goes so far as to throw black liberation pioneer and advocate Marcus Garvey under the bus; never mind that both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King admired and praised Garvey – a fact that I was well aware of as I read page 296. Keep in mind, though, that Garvey had been one of the loudest voices denouncing Margaret Sanger as a racist.

If the “methinks thou dost protest too much” protestations that Margaret Sanger wasn’t a racist combined with the negative characterization of a leader in the civil rights movement weren’t enough, the constant use of the word “eugenics” was more than troubling for me. I mean, come on! How can anyone with even a remote understanding of 20th century world history not recoil at least a little bit at the positive mention of eugenics? Ellen Chesler, as hard as she tried, was unable to sweep all of Sanger’s nastiness under the rug; noticing the evil slime trail, I decided to look under that rug.

I ordered collections of Sanger’s writings, including The Pivot of Civilization. The book drips with Sanger’s disgust for the “feeble-minded” and their propensity for having “an abnormally high rate of fertility”[4]. In chapter five, titled “The Cruelty of Charity”[5], Sanger, demonizing charity work for the poor, immigrants, and blacks, writes, “[charity] encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste”[6]. Did you catch that? “Human waste.” While reading, I caught it. I also took note when Sanger wrote, “the undeniably feeble-minded should, indeed not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind”[7]. Not to mention her claim that, “On its negative side it shows us that we are paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all—that the wealth of individuals and of states is being diverted from the development and the progress of human expression and civilization”[8]. Marcus Garvey had a front row seat to Sanger’s racist and classist eugenics and it’s no wonder that he condemned Margaret Sanger as the enemy of black people. But my research wasn’t finished.

While reading Sanger, I had come across something called “the Negro Project.” As I dug deeper, I found a letter, written in December 1939, from Margret Sanger addressed to a Dr. Gamble. The letter, which was mainly concerned with “the Negro Project,” included the bone-chillingly evil statement, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

These few quotes are just a mere sampling of the disgusting racism and classism that I was confronted with as I read the words of Planned Parenthood’s founder. Reading the overt racism, I wasn’t confused. That fall and winter, as I continued to grow in the knowledge of God, racism began to be revealed as a greater evil than I, in all of my liberal protesting glory, had previously understood. Humans are made in the image of God, and racism strikes at that – strikes at God.

Flash forward seven years, and the summer of 2015 has given birth to loud, public outcries against both the Confederate flag and Planned Parenthood. Racism and abortion are currently two, out of several, loud talking points. In regards to the Confederate flag, my opposition to it and what it primarily stands for and represents has only strengthened over the last seven years. I need zero convincing that the Confederacy was racist in its genesis and its primary aims. I can’t unread Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” that I first read as a twenty year old young man in 1995, nor do I want to *unread* it.

However, the shrillness and lightening speed with which the mob turned on their neighbors troubles me. There is an entire Pandora’s Box of cultural, social, and, unfortunately at times, uninformed viewpoints to contend with when dialoguing with your neighbor who supports, on any level, the Confederate flag. Not every Confederate flag bumper sticker indicates that the driver of the car is a racist. The current rhetoric serves to drive many hurt and confused people in the wrong direction. And, I want to be crystal clear – Not every person who supports, on some level or other, the Confederate flag is uninformed. In fact, I have good friends who I disagree with but who are far more informed about the Confederate flag and history than the vast majority of my friends who lit their torches and brandished their pitchforks this summer. For those friends who support, on some level or other, the Confederate flag, my disagreements generally revolve around differing understandings of political theories. And, to be fair, “support” isn’t even correct; unpacking all of that, however, is its own article.

All of that to say, while I’m personally thankful that the cultural tide has turned, finally, and the Confederate flag is losing its place in the sanctioned public square, how much of it went down troubles me – the inflammatory and hurtful rhetoric, the oversimplifications and prejudiced generalizations, and the fact that the pendulum is swinging in the dangerous direction of white-washing history. But, as much as I want to speak to all of that, and maybe one day soon I will, there is an aspect of the Confederate flag outrage that directly pertains to this article. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of those who support Planned Parenthood and decry the Confederate flag as a symbol of racist hatred.

This past June, Hillary Clinton, speaking at a rally in Ferguson, MO, referred to the Confederate flag as “a symbol of our nation’s racist past.” Like most politicians and talking heads this past summer, Clinton went on to state that the Confederate flag “shouldn’t fly there. It shouldn’t fly anywhere.” Well, Hillary Clinton, for all of her anti-racist rhetoric, is the proud recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award. Hillary Clinton was given an award named in honor of an avowed racist who worked for the implementation of negative eugenics in order to rid the world of those whom she deemed undesirable.

Planned Parenthood, on their website, has this to say about the Margaret Sanger Award: “Our highest honor, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Margaret Sanger Award, is presented annually to recognize leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement.” (The same webpage includes a list of past winners, but more on that in a moment.)

Calling for the removal of the Confederate flag because it’s “a symbol of our nation’s racist past” while supporting an organization like Planned Parenthood that openly and proudly flaunts its racist past demonstrates a level of hypocrisy that is dangerously absurd. During those months closing out 2008 and into 2009, I was conflicted and confused about a lot. There was, and remains, a whole host of issues, political theories, and policy positions that I had/have trouble making sense of in light of my growing faith in a holy God. I still don’t consider myself a Republican. To be honest, the word “Republican” leaves somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth. But two things that I wasn’t conflicted about were abortion and racism. (And I’m still not conflicted about either one. Full disclosure: I wrote this). It didn’t take long during those early months of 2009 to settle the issue of abortion in my mind, and one of the main catalysts that drove me to reconsider my previously wishy-washy position were my studies into Planned Parenthood’s racist origins and purposes.

The duplicitous hypocrisy of those, friends and strangers alike, who support Planned Parenthood while calling for the removal of the Confederate flag because it’s “a symbol of our nation’s racist past” should be exposed. For starters, we can begin to demand that Planned Parenthood, which receives support from tax payers to the tune of over $500 million a year, remove any and all references to Margaret Sanger from the organization, issue a formal apology to the minorities and poor of this country for their founder’s racist and classist words and actions, and hire an independent firm to investigate the past actions of the organization in order to determine if and where Planned Parenthood owes reparations for the immense harm caused by Margaret Sanger’s racist policies.

Another step in eradicating the blight of racism from the taxpayers’ dole is to take to task those who have received the Margaret Sanger Award, especially public figures like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Both Clinton and Pelosi have twitter accounts – @HillaryClinton and @NancyPelosi. Let’s inundate their Twitter, Facebook, and email accounts with respectful requests that they return the Margaret Sanger Award and apologize for their lack of short-sightedness in accepting an award that is tainted by racism. While on Twitter and Facebook, use the hashtag #AbortRacistSangerAward.

Finally, share this article on your social media accounts. Or, better, write an article in your own words that expresses your disgust with Planned Parenthood’s continued connection and devotion to their racist founder and practices. It’s possible that many of your friends who support Planned Parenthood are unaware of its direct and continued connection to racism; there was a time when I supported Planned Parenthood while ignorant of the truth. Let’s get the word out. The summer of 2015 will be remembered for many things, including the beginning of the removal of the Confederate flag from the public square; the summer of 2015 can also be remembered as the time when Planned Parenthood shed itself of its racist identity.

[1] My current political feelings aside, I’m still thankful that the first President that my kids were aware of wasn’t a white man.

[2] At the time, soon-to-be-President Obama was firmly opposed to gay marriage. I wasn’t. Although not really connected to the election, the topic came up from time to time; mainly because I would bring it up.

[3] Originally called the American Birth Control League.

[4] Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 29.

[5] Which reminds me of Ayn Rand, by the way.

[6] Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 41.

[7] Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 64.

[8] Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 66.


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