Planned Parenthood

Right now, for some bizarre reason (I have no idea how the topic relates to Intelligent Design), Uncommon Descent (“serving the Intelligent Design Community”) has an OP by Barry Arrington presented “without comment”, and consisting entirely of an image of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, next to a sickening piece of racist text, which is attributed to her.

It turns out (h/t to various members here) that this quotation is widely attributed to Margaret Sanger on the web, usually to the Birth Control Review, April 1933, No such words are found in that journal – indeed, no article by Margaret Sanger appears in that journal that I can find. Another reference gives it as Birth Control Review, October 1926. Well, I can’t find it there either.

In other words, this calumny has been passed around the web, with faux “authoritative” citations, with nobody bothering to check the primary source, which is, in fact, easy to check.

Perhaps Margaret Sanger was a racist. But I have seen no evidence of this. She was certainly a eugenicist, as were a great many people prior to the second world war. This is not surprising, given the twin scientific advances in genetics and fertility control – the idea that major disorders, including mental disorders, might be eradicated, just as vaccination had eradicated some of the most devastating infectious disorders, must have been a tempting one. We now know that heritability is complicated, and that there are appalling consequences when one section of society decides another is not fit to breed. But I see nothing in anything I’ve read of Margaret Sanger to indicate that she was either a racist (ironically, one of the articles in the October 1926 Birth Control Review is by a Rabbi, on The Synagogue and Birth Control) nor that she advocated anything but voluntary sterilisation.

More to the point: The scientific advance that has allowed women to take control of their own fertility has been a genuine liberation. Before birth control, women had to choose between career and marriage. When my mother, mid PhD and in training for a career in surgery, told her professor that she was getting married, he said: “If you want a life spent hanging nappies on the line instead of a career in surgery, that is your decision. But know this: when you leave this hospital, the door slams behind you”. Because of birth control, women are able to have the number of children they want, and to resume their careers. They are able to stop having children when they no longer want to risk their lives (as they did until organisations like Planned Parenthood also campaigned for better perinatal healthcare) on yet another pregnancy. Life expectancy among women has shot up since women’s healthcare improved, thanks to organisations like Planned Parenthood.

My mother had four children, all Planned. She worked part-time when we were small, running a Family Planning clinic, then went into General Practice. She did her Obstetrics training in Dublin, where perinatal mortality was high, and where multiparous women begged doctors to “give them something” so that they need not have any more. And she counselled women with two handicapped children who did not want a third – and those with family histories of Huntington’s, or haemophilia, who chose to adopt rather than pass those disorders on to their children. And of course she saw the terrible consequences of illegal abortion.

She was also a devout Catholic, and wrote a thoughtful book on the difficult ethical issues she faced, and how she came to resolve them. At her requiem, a Jesuit moral theologian gave the eulogy, and thanked her for “saying what we dared not”.

Yes, there are real ethical dilemmas about how we should face life and death in an era in which we, thankfully, have choices that our forebears, did not. But the way to tackle them is not to re-post careless calumnies of the pioneers who fought to make the world a better place for women and their children.

Shame on you, Barry.

31 thoughts on “Planned Parenthood

  1. While I agree with you about Planned Parenthood, there may be those here who do not. However let’s hope that everyone can agree in condemning false (and slanderous) quotations.

    So far at Uncommon Descent the few critics of ID and some not-so-critical commenters have raised the issue of the fake quote. Not one of the core commenters there has apologized, nor has Barry, who posted the fake quote. They are busy justifying a blatant falsehood.

  2. As you follow the conversation there, it becomes clear, I contend, that several of the UD commenters are not just anti-abortion but also anti-contraception. At work here is a very peculiar fantasy about what kinds of people use birth control to begin with — people who are young, hedonistic, and promiscuous. This is, among other things, a very masculine fantasy about how one should (and should not) express one’s sexuality. It seems not to have occurred to them that all sorts of people use birth control for all sorts of reasons — even people who are happily married!

    And they really do not have any shame at all about an ad hominem attack on one of the few national organizations that cares for women’s health. They don’t have any shame, or embarrassment, or regret, at all — nor do they have any about using a fabricated quote to do it with. (The newest move we see over there is where Philip and Joe are saying, “you agnostics don’t have an objective moral compass, so you don’t have the right to criticize Barry for his mendacity.” That’s grade-A chutzpah right there.)

  3. That link I gave seems to have a great number of Margaret Sanger’s works in their entirety, on pdf.

    I challenge Barry to find the quote. I also challenge Philip to find the quote he gives, and supply context.

  4. Kantian Naturalist: (The newest move we see over there is where Philip and Joe are saying, “you agnostics don’t have an objective moral compass, so you don’t have the right to criticize Barry for his mendacity.” That’s grade-A chutzpah right there.)

    I’ve met that before. I find it extraordinary.

  5. However this woman seems quite ugly and being the posterboy for feminism and abortion and birth control says it all.

    by the way martin luther was the greatest man in human history, changing mankind for the better, and any comments on his nations issues with Jews is fair and square.

    Robert Byers

  6. Of course they’re very quick to shout fake when H.D. Kettlewell posed his moths on vertical tree trunks. But they hold their tongues when young-earth creationists say all sorts of blatantly false nonsense.

    Margaret Sanger was involved in the eugenics movement in the 1920s, and she was also involved in the anti-immigration agitation of that era. But the quote is wildly over the top, a crazy fakery.

    The quote about “blacks, soldiers, and Jews” is one that would have been suicidal for Sanger. She sought, and got, support from Jewish philanthropic organizations in New York. She sought cooperation from leaders in the African-American community. And to have attacked “soldiers” in the superpatriotic anti-radical atmosphere of the 1920s would have been utterly crazy.

  7. More to the point: The scientific advance that has allowed women to take control of their own fertility has been a genuine liberation.

    And this is what offends the religious right. They seem to see women as inferior beings who must be kept in their proper place.

  8. So no-one at UD, that acme of moral rectitude, is prepared to say “Hang on, we’re better than this…” and set the record straight?
    Shocked, but not surprised. That place has become one of the slimiest pits on the web, particularly since Arrington and Mullings have controlled it.

  9. A couple of regulars, including KF, have called for correction. Even the bottom of the barrel has layers.

  10. Well, that’s good. I don’t like seeing that stuff on the web – precisely because that’s the way these malattributions are propagated. I haven’t yet found Philip Joe G’s quote about infanticide, but having read the first few chapters of the book, much of which is devoted to an argument against infanticide – saying that it is a “horror” (as she also describes abortion) that good birth control can help prevent, my guess is that there is important missing context.

    And the idea that it is somehow OK to leave these things standing because the person pointing out the error doesn’t have an “objective morality” leaves me speechless, frankly.

    What’s more “objective” than pointing out that an attribution needs to be checked, as it there is good reason to think it is incorrect?

  11. Well, I see it has now been taken down. Good.

    He’s replaced it with a great rant about Sanger, by Jonah Goldberg, who at least can be responsible for his own misattributions, allegations, and decontextualised quotations.

    I’ve found the context for Philip Joe G’s quote. It’s from Chapter V of Woman and the New Race, and the context is a table that shows that with every additional child, the death-rate within the first year rises (to 60% for the 12th child) and the observation that the additional children also raise the death-rate of the existing children. Her rhetorical point, clearly is: use birth control.

    I’m not defending her views on race (whatever they were) but clearly there is some deliberate smearing going on (someone must have made that quote up, and deliberately fabricated an attribution). From what I have read of her writings so far, her primary mission was to eradicate the horrors of poverty (including perinatal mortality and disease) by giving women the tools with which to limit their families.

    Interesting article here.

  12. I suppose I could emulate Barry’s tactics by using Barry as a source for false quotations. That relieves me of responsibility. Right?

  13. Since Robert Byers associates ugliness with moral turpitude, I dedicate a Frank Zappa song to him.

    What’s the ugliest
    Part of your body?
    What’s the ugliest
    Part of your body?
    Some say your nose
    Some say your toes
    (I think it’s your mind)
    But I think it’s YOUR MIND

    That thread really has brought out the creepy crawlies at UD.

  14. REC from AtBCs post deserves repeating here:

    BTW, here’s a real, sourced Sanger quote:

    “While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.”

    She thought prudent use of birth control was a preferred solution. Why does the right feel the need to convolute abortion, involuntary eugenics and a choice birth control in their attempt score points?

  15. What bothers me most about this, is that what Margaret Sanger might have said is not relevant to anything.

    You have already mentioned that this has nothing to do with ID.

    It seems to me that if the aim is to discuss abortion, then whether Sanger was a racist has no relevance to the question of whether abortion should be legal. Or, if the aim was to discuss Planned Parenthood, then whether Sanger was a racist has no relevance to the question of whether Planned Parenthood is a worth organization.

    It seems to me that this post, even in its modified form, is pure ad hominem. Whatever happened to the rules of right reason?

  16. It seems to me that this post, even in its modified form, is pure ad hominem. Whatever happened to the rules of right reason?

    Perhaps I succeeded all too well in convincing them that there are no such things. 🙂

  17. “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.” — Martin Luther King

    “Words are inadequate for me to say how honored I was to be the recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award. This award will remain among my most cherished possessions. While I cannot claim to be worthy of such a signal honor, I can assure you that I accept it with deep humility and sincere gratitude.” — Martin Luther King

    “I am proud tonight to say a word in behalf of your mentor, and the person who symbolizes the ideas of this organization, Margaret Sanger. Because of her dedication, her deep convictions, and for her suffering for what she believed in, I would like to say that I am proud to be a woman tonight.” — Coretta Scott King

  18. The reason is in the Wedge document. If UD counted for anything, it would be imprudent, but it’s certainly not bizarre.

  19. I am pro-life and have for years heard Sanger say this or that in support of yucky things regarding birth control.
    if its a wrong quote its a very common one out there.
    Eugenics was a agenda and was very ugly in its principals.
    It seems rejected today.
    I’m sure sanger never gave intellectual attention to the whole matter that a fetus is a child person and arrived in all its glory as a human being before delivery day.
    Christians are more convinced of the fetus identity as a kid and so act accordingly in its defence.
    in having abortion one is not controlling ones reproduction but rather killing what ever has been already reproduced. Reproduction is over upon conception.
    Concepts matter.
    anyways scientific evidence surely should draw one to belief in fetus equals kid and pretty far back in the pregnancy.
    The fetus is not another species of human.

    Planned parenthood stuff will appear on forums where presumptions about diminishing human dignity are tied between evolution and establishments which embrace those ideas as they did back in the day.

  20. Robert Byers:
    if its a wrong quote its a very common one out there.

    So lots of people have repeated this lie. It’s still a lie. It’s not that hard to check facts.

    As for abortion, scientific evidence does not draw one to belief that fetus=baby goat, but rather to the conclusions that a fetus cannot feel pain until the third trimester, it does not have brain wave activity until 6-8 weeks, no higher brain activity until 22-24 weeks, and is not viable outside of the woman until at least 23 weeks.

    Personhood of a fetus is a live debate.

    Having said all this, there is a good argument that a woman is not obliged to carry a child to term even if we grant that it is a person. I don’t subscribe to that argument myself, but it is an argument that has to be taken seriously.

    There probably is a correlation between acceptance of the theory of evolution and support for a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, but that is because most denial of the theory of evolution is from conservative theists, who naturally endorse the historical status quo, in particular patriarchy.

    It is respect for human dignity that motivates pro-choice discourse. Anyone who is serious about the debate recognizes this. Your assertion to the contrary is due to an ignorance of pro-choice arguments.

  21. I’m both pro life (is anyone really anti-life?) and pro choice. It is a desperately hard decision for anyone to make. I’d rather people didn’t get to the stage of having to make it – and so did Sanger. Hence birth control. The morons who still believe that every sperm is sacred … let us mix the 21,000,000,000,000,000 eggs and
    600,000,000,000,000,000 sperm currently floating around the population! At random. Each pairing will make a tiny soul. And the sperm that are lost – their forlorn cries will haunt us in our sleep. Or not.

  22. I’m staggered by the irony of KF asking people not to “poison the well” by ascribing nefarious motives to Barry in posting the original piece of well-poisoning, when the “corrected” OP now consists entirely of ascribing nefarious motives to Margaret Sanger. KF seems to have the concept of “ad hominem” precisely backwards – he condemns perfectly legitimate criticisms of an argument as “ad hominem”; while dismissal of an argument on the basis of [often fictional] perceived moral turpitude, he considers legitimate criticism.

    What does he think that ba77’s jibes about atheists not having a moral point worth making because they don’t have “a basis for morality” are, but ad hominems?

    And does it occur to none of them to wonder why someone somewhere made up that quote, if not to “poison the well”? And that perhaps they need to examine primary sources rather than trust other potential well-poisoners?

    And, that perhaps, when coming to a balanced view of Margaret Sanger, they should take into account the accolades she received from Jewish and black leaders, including Martin Luther King?

  23. Phinehas:

    (on the relative merits of ad hominem vis a vis Luther and Sanger):

    The notion of “planned parenthood” follows quite naturally from the philosophical underpinnings behind eugenics.


  24. Odd, isn’t it? I’m sure that if folk were to plan or postpone their parenthood by means of abstinence from sex, that would be perfectly OK with UD denizens.

    But planning/postponing parenthood by using contraception but still, horror of horrors, enjoying sex, is to be frowned upon.
    Do these finger-waggers enjoy anything at all about being human?

  25. These are people – as New Hampshire Rep Peter Hansen (R – Amherst) so gloriously illustrated – who think of women as nothing more than incubators and house tenders. The idea that women are people, never mind equals who can make decisions for themselves, goes against the god-given design of authority: that of Jesus being the head of the church and the man being the head of the family.

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