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The Attack On Black Women’s Choice

by Sister Toldja on February 3, 2011

in Features,Politics & Policy

The Attack On Black Women’s Choice (Part 1)Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a media breakfast at the Planned Parenthood offices in Manhattan to discuss issues surrounding the organization’s work and the sexual and reproductive health of African-American women. Co-sponsored by Essence Magazine, the event brought together a group of bloggers and journalists to meet with Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, as well as some of the key African-American players in the organization: Dr. Vanessa Cullins, VP for Medical Affairs, Veronica Byrd, Director of African-American Media and Dr. Willie J. Parker, Medical Director for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC. Lyna Floyd, Senior Heath and Relationships Editor for Essence Magazine, rounded out the panel.

The event was extremely timely, as there have been controversial ad campaigns launched across the country by anti-choice groups targeting Black women and using misleading and damning jingoism to suggest that sisters who choose to terminate their pregnancies are committing some sort of crime against the race (“Abortion is the number one killer of Black children”, for example). Right-wing nuts such as Rick Santorium have recent condemned President Obama for having the nerve to be both Black and pro-choice. Also, given the recurrent discussion regarding Margaret Sanger’s alleged views on race and her attachment to the eugenics movement AND the conspiracy theorists who believe that PP is a covert operation bent on Black genocide (I felt silly even typing that, but some of your cousins believe this very strongly), I was glad for the opportunity to have this discussion.

Byrd kicked off the event by discussing how she first discovered that Planned Parenthood was an option for her via an Essence article that she read a few years ago during a period of unemployment. She was one of many Americans to take advantage of the critical health services available to uninsured and underinsured women AND men. Richards pointed out that PP is the largest provider of female health care in the United States, with African American women making up 15% of their clientele. Despite their reputation in the eyes of many as an “abortion clinic”, abortion actually makes up only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services, with preventative care making up the vast majority of their work. Richards also remarked that they are “the largest sex educator in America”, reaching some 1.2 million young people each year. Planned Parenthood has also used the internet to tap into the sex-ed market; while there were 3 million visitors to their service centers last year, there were some 2.2 million online visitors to the site and it’s social media pages in the last three days.

Facts sheets provided confirmed that many of the statistics regarding African-Americans and their sexual and reproductive health are still quite grim. Among them:

  • African-American women with cervical cancer are twice as likely to die as a result of the disease than White women.
  • African-Americans account for 71% of gonorrhea cases and almost half of all chlamydia, HIV/AIDS and syphilis cases in the country, despite only making up 13% of the population.
  • African-American women are more likely to be uninsured or under-insured than White women and often are forced to delay important care because of an inability to pay for it.
  • In 2009, 23% of African-Americans were uninsured.

Given these facts, one would imagine that the presence of Planned Parenthood in and near communities where Black folks live would be treated as good fortune, considering that the clinics provide services to women and men regardless of their ability to pay. And there are many of us taking advantage of that: in 2009, some 400,000 African-Americans were patients of PP. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of African-American male patients increased 225%. Again, while so many folks would have you believed that Planned Parenthood is some sort of abortion factory, 97% of their work is providing Pap tests, birth control, emergency contraception, STI-testing and treatment, breast exams and other forms of preventative care. Things that Black people obviously need access to…so why so much backlash from our folks (and those who claim that they have our interests in mind, such as highly suspect PP employee turned anti-choice darling Abby Johnson) when you mention the organization?

Well, there are two glaring reasons. For starters, there are the questionable social views of Margaret Sanger, who in 1921 founded the American Birth Control League, which is the direct predecessor of Planned Parenthood. Once of 11 children born to a mother who had 16 pregnancies and died of cervical cancer, Sanger saw the connection between a woman’s ability to decide when and if she would become a mother and her ability to lead a productive and personally-fulling life. She also felt that women had a right to enjoy sex lives without worrying over getting pregnant at any given encounter. This was during a time when distributing contraceptive devices and literature was illegal. Sanger devoted her life to making birth control available to all women, opening the first American family planning clinic in Brooklyn in 1916.

For all the great things one can say about Sanger’s work, it’s hard to ignore her ties to eugenics, a movement that advocated social engineering by restricting the procreation of “morons” and the “mentally and physically defective” using sterilization. As these views were espoused at the same time that pseudo-science was used to explain the inherent inferiority of Black people, and as Julianne Malveaux wisely points out, Sanger never addressed the harshly racist undertones of eugenics philosophy, many have come to the conclusion that the birth control heroine was also a hardcore racist. The fact that clinics in the South (none that were run by Sanger herself) did, in fact, sterilize Black women against their will doesn’t help exonerate her at all.

Was Margaret Sanger a racist? I can’t say yes or no with any certainty. She worked with W.E.B. DuBois’ “Negro Project”, alongside Mary McLeod Bethune and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., to bring Black women in the South access to birth control. In 1930, Sanger opened a clinic in Harlem which was staffed by Black doctors and social workers and supported by both the Amsterdam News and the Abyssinian Baptist church; she also spoke publicly in the 1940′s about the problem of racism in the United States. Perhaps she had a change of views, perhaps not. I do believe that, as Malveaux stated, she is a “tarnished heroine”, who did many things that have improved the quality of life for women across the planet, even if she did have some terrible ideas about race at any point during her life. To live in America is to have benefited from ideas and systems that were designed by people who had despicable views on race, Black folks specifically. The forefathers of this country were racist. Abraham Lincoln was a racist. Hell, many of our current elected officials…racist. If a racist woman who has been dead for 50+ years is the reason that I can go and get a pap smear, which can save my life, despite lacking health insurance, than so be it.

At this point, 95 years into the history of Planned Parenthood, I honestly don’t care what Margaret Sanger felt about Black people. I see no evidence of this organization leading some sort of genocidal movement in the Black community or amongst any other group of people. What I DO see is Planned Parenthood addressing the suicidial failure of far too many Black folks to use protection and to seek out preventative care when it comes to their sexual health. I see a group of people who likely prevent far more abortions than any right-wing fundamentalist group, by providing people with the tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And, regardless of your views on abortion, if you don’t see a need for Black women to have access to family planning tools and sexual wellness treatments, then I’m curious to know what your investment is as it relates to Black people and what sort of solutions you might have. If you respond “Abstinence only” or “Just put the baby in the foster care system and wait for someone to love it!”, we can have a little fun in the comments section today.


Malveaux, Julianne (2001). Sanger’s Legacy Is Reproductive Freedom and Racism. Retrieved 1 February 2011 from Women’s eNews.


Post Summary

At this point, 95 years into the history of Planned Parenthood, I honestly don’t care what Margaret Sanger felt about Black people.

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1 bitter black dude February 3, 2011 at 7:44 am

a little crazy black people make up 70% of this and half of that yet only 15% of their patients. granted we are only ten percent of the population, i figured wed use them more. maybe we should.

i thought all they did was abort fetuses and give out birth control. go figure.


2 Garfield February 3, 2011 at 10:15 am

I went to PP for BCP while in undergrad…but I won’t lie, I thought their primary reasoning for existence was an abortion clinic. I also didn’t know Sanger was dead and I thought all the fervor of her thought process was about someone who was currently alive. Not the person that was was dead when my grandmother was 7. *shrugs*


3 Miss Jae February 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

To be honest, I thought that PP was mainly an abortion clinic as well…I’ve never been to one, but when I hear about women going to them, it’s normally for an abortion. The statistics were definitely a surprise…only 3% abortions?! This was very informative.


4 Bob February 3, 2011 at 11:34 am

I agree that regardless of the reason PP has provided health care options to a number of women that may not have otherwise had them. However, if you google map the PPs in your city, I bet you will find that the vast majority of them are in our neighborhoods. It makes it tough to determine whether that is the case, b/c that is where PP type access is most necessary, or b/c that is where PP wants access to be most available.


5 Sister Toldja February 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

“However, if you google map the PPs in your city, I bet you will find that the vast majority of them are in our neighborhood.”

Why would you post a theory that you could test out (and prove wrong) without taking the time to check it? Beyond that, even if there were such a higher concentration of PPs in some Black communities, it would likely have more to do with economics. These are clinics that serve people regardless of ability to pay. They aren’t as critical in affluent areas, where women tend to have insurance.


6 Bob February 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I am pretty sure we said the same thing, “makes it tough to determine whether that is the case, b/c that is where PP type access is most necessary, or b/c that is where PP wants access to be most available.” The only difference being that I don’t agree with you unequivocally. While, I am pro-choice, I am not pro-abortion, and I have always found the placement of PPs interesting (having lived within walking distance of 2). Which made me very glad to hear that abortions make-up less than 3% of their total services.

Furthermore, before posting I did Google map PPs in 3 cities in which I have actually lived & can identify the neighborhoods & in all 3 over 80% are in Black / Brown communities. So, if you are saying that I could check it for every city in America – I couldn’t b/c I would be unable to identify the neighborhoods, and it would be a little ridiculous. Plus, I said that I would “Bet”, not that it is was a fact, so if this isn’t true in your city – great! I get it – “you’re an artist, and you’re sensitive about your shit,” lol


7 Mr. Riley February 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

Well I never have been one to agree with abortions from the jump, and especially with this story about PP. I was just watching a story on the clinic yesterday on fox news were one of there clinics was exposed by way of a private investigation concerning sexual abuse cases concerning minors with correlations to abortions


I know, I know, yes this is only a minimal infraction, which should not skew the work that is done by the agency on a larger scale, however IMO all aspects of the agency should be bought into question if situations like this are happening with no recourse or thought involved. Am I saying PP is wrong for there practices? No, however i think an assessment should be done in the case of there practices to insure good standing in the services they provide. As for PP’s sex ed and preventive care measures, I know little about but Im sure it has its practical uses, but as with anything there is always a grey area.

Also, that was some very interesting info on the founder Ms. Sanger, and yes I do call into question her motives concerning her involvements in the AA community, especially her ideals on eugenics and the correlation between class status and the social ills associated with it.


8 Carah* February 5, 2011 at 3:07 am

Hey Mr. Riley. That piece you linked to was interesting. Shameful, actually. But you know, any time you have a large organization, there’s going to be mess. That doesn’t make it right, but that’s the reality. I’ll agree that PP needs to do a better job of making sure these pimp/underage girl situations don’t happen in the future. It seems like PP is taking the necessary steps, as the link you shared went on to state, by doling out suspensions and firings, resignations, numerous state investigations and probation.

However, the fact that the site goes on to call for “the immediate freezing of all federal and state funds to this organization–funds that add up to over 300 million of taxpayer dollars.” Well, that’s a bit much. No, that’s actually absurd. Using that logic, the budgets of police departments should be frozen because of a couple ‘bad cops’ who may operate in an unethical manner. Ditto school districts. Heck, even local, state and federal government at times. But usually the good outweighs the bad. Some ish may have gone down at a couple of PP facilities. But overall, thousands — if not millions — of young women AND men who couldn’t have afforded this care otherwise have been helped.

And at least PP is being proactive about all aspects of sex: education, health, family planning. It’s a taboo topic that many of us sweep under the rug. I mean, preaching ‘Abstinence Only’ isn’t going to be much help to Kisha if she already has gonorrhea. #imjustsayin Just my 2 cents… or maybe that was a quarter ;o)


9 KaNisa February 3, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I went to PP in college for my gyno checks as they were free and I could get appointments faster there than at my regular doctor. No wait or anything once you get there either.

It’s sad that abortions are all they’re known for.


10 JustDrea February 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm

It’s surprising that so many upwardly mobile and educated people don’t know the full service range of PP. I didn’t know they did abortions until in ’06. LoL..Guess we all gotta do better.


11 yadi February 4, 2011 at 11:49 am

i went there during the 90s while in undergrad…the only thing i knew is they provided little/no cost gyno care/contraceptives…i never heard one word of abortions…hmmmmm


12 Carah* February 5, 2011 at 2:46 am

Very informative piece. Thank you for sharing. I, too, was shocked about the 3% abortion statistic for PP. I think that PP needs better PR in order to better communicate these types of enlightening, often generally unknown facts. I think staunch Pro-Lifers may actually get quiet for a couple seconds (just a couple… not for long) from that 3% statistic.

I just heard about the conspiracy theory about “PP being a covert operation bent on Black genocide” last year. I literally laughed aloud, because it was so ridiculous. I often muse that instead of bashing people who choose to get abortions (black, white, brown, purple… whateva); peoples’ energy would be better spent by caring for the thousands of foster children that need homes. Adopting a young person, even. Let’s focus on the living instead of harping on people who have indicated that they don’t want to have a child at that specific time in the first place. #duh #hello #getaclue

I understand the religious component. But hey — each of us must answer for ourselves. So that’s between you and the Lord.

Again, well done Sista Toldja


13 bitter black dude February 5, 2011 at 9:11 am

they actually made mention of margaret sanger and the killing black folks genocide theory at my hbcu undergrad. wasnt part of the curriculum or anything, but we were definitely given those tidbits to digest.


14 Carah* February 6, 2011 at 12:31 am

I’d be disappointed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Margaret Sanger’s ultimate plan was for a Black genocide. Lord knows African Americans have been getting crapped on since we set foot in this country… but we persevere.

My thing is that the modern-day role that PP plays in America is generally positive. And I think the fact that it’s oftentimes in poorer communities is somewhat of a godsend, y’know? What would some folks do otherwise — go to the Health Dept or the emergency room?

But playing devil’s advocate here, do you think it’s a crutch? By having birth control and health services readily available and accessible, is this giving a license for folks to behave in a reckless manner, sexually? Like, if birth control and abortions were harder to come by, would this give people pause before going raw? *shrug* Perhaps….


15 bitter black dude February 6, 2011 at 10:22 am

lol..ive wondered allowed where would black folk be without our much loved social programs. i think wed be better off. ever the optimist you know? my hope in my peoples ability springs eternal


16 Captain No Marriage February 6, 2011 at 9:46 am

Yes, there needs to be more conversation around PP and abortion. This especially true in our poorer neighborhoods where having a baby is a virtual guarantee of staying below the poverty line and continuing the cycle.

Not to mention all the women who drop out of college to have a baby then never go back and end up struggling for the rest of their lives.


17 ThePurpleSky.com February 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Interesting that its only 3% abortions. I’d be curious to know what that looks like in terms of physical numbers. I’ve read that On average, 1,876 black babies are aborted every day in the United States. That’s 684,740. Over time that’s crazy. I think the real problem in this country is our lack of respect for life. First-we’re to irresponsible. Second – we don’t value life enough to bring babies safely into the world even when its our own fault we got pregnant in the first place (the percentage of abortions that occur b/c of rape and incest is so small its ridiculous). Third-if we do bring a child into the world that we choose not to care for or are ill equipped to care for there is no system in place that safely protects and honors the child. We need to honor what God honors and that’s life. IF we did it would change the way the whole thing is set up. Less selfishness, excuses and more love and solutions. This isn’t about rights as far as I’m concerned. It’s really about the unborn and the unwanted.


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