Planned Parenthood Quietly Stops Distributing Margaret Sanger Award
The abortion giant called this award its ‘highest honor.’
WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood made headlines last month when one of its affiliates announced a plan to remove the name of the organization's founder Margaret Sanger from its Manhattan facility, citing her support of eugenics. However, that is not the only way Planned Parenthood has begun to distance itself from its founder.
In a statement, Karen Seltzer, chairwoman of the board at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, called the plan to remove Sanger’s name from the facility “a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color.”
“Margaret Sanger’s concerns and advocacy for reproductive health have been clearly documented, but so too has her racist legacy,” Seltzer continued.
The announcement — which came in the midst of national protests about racial inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody — marked a significant change in tone from the nation’s largest abortion provider, who often characterized its founder as a trailblazer for women’s equality and empowerment.
But while this change was highly publicized, Planned Parenthood appears to have made another, quieter change to its relationship with its founder.
On its website, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America calls the Margaret Sanger Award “our highest honor,” and says the award is given annually in recognition of “leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement.”
However, the last recipient of the award listed on the website is Dr. Willie Parker in 2015. Parker, an abortionist, is known for his contentious claims that his Christian faith influences his work. He was accused of sexual assault in 2019, which he denied.
Other recipients of the Margaret Sanger Award range from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to actresses Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn.
In addition to the Margaret Sanger Award, Planned Parenthood once distributed the Maggie Awards for Media Excellence, which appears to have shifted to The Planned Parenthood Federation of America Media Excellence Awards, also within the last few years.
Planned Parenthood did not return the Register’s request for comment on the status of the awards.
The Media Research Center tracks recipients of both awards. Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture for MRC, told the Register “as far as we can tell, it looks like they’ve disappeared.”
“I think they saw the writing on the wall,” Gainor said, citing a national “reckoning” with figures from the past.
“I think even they realized, this is a woman who spoke to the Klan,” he said. “You’re not getting away with that.”
Who Was Margaret Sanger? Planned Parenthood traces its origins to a birth control facility founded by Sanger in 1916. In a 2016 document marking its centennial, Planned Parenthood called its founder “a woman of heroic accomplishments,” admitting that she was “complex and imperfect.”
The document acknowledges her association with the eugenics movement, but claims eugenics “was a theory accepted by most American scientists and physicians.” It also acknowledges Sanger’s speech to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, which Sanger referenced in her own autobiography.
Angela Franks, author of Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility, told the Register that Sanger saw birth control as the key means of equality for women, but also the key to population control.
Sanger’s worldview, Franks said, could be summarized by the phrase “quality not quantity.”
“Eugenicists often connected poverty with genetic problems,” Franks said. “So she believed that if you eliminated the poor, then there would be no more poverty. Instead of eliminating the problem, she would eliminate the people who had the problem.”
Franks said Planned Parenthood’s admission that Sanger has a “racist legacy” is accurate.
“The eugenic mindset that she had divides up people into these classes, and calls them either fit or unfit, based on an arbitrary set of criteria, and that way of thinking harmonizes with a racist mindset, which is essentially the same kind of thing, its viewing groups of people in the abstract as having negative qualities,” Franks said. “Eugenics always promoted a bigotry that the so-called fit would be able to make decisions about the so-called unfit.”
Franks said this ideology is evident today in Planned Parenthood’s presence in impoverished neighborhoods.
“It really follows directly from Margaret Sanger’s eugenic worldview,” Franks said.
Planned Parenthood’s change in tone on its founder, Franks said, can be traced to the availability of many of Sanger’s writings on the internet.
“It’s a big change in tone because they’ve always been aggressive, not defensive, about Sanger,” she said. “I wish I could say that what I’m seeing is a change of heart on Planned Parenthood’s part, but I doubt that. I fear that what we’re seeing is a public relations move. But it’s better to reject Sanger’s legacy than to embrace it. I think more soul-searching is required for this to really be consistent on their part.”
Billy Hallowell, author of Fault Line: How a Seismic Shift in Culture Is Threatening Free Speech and Shaping the Next Generation, said stripping Sanger’s name from Planned Parenthood facilities and awards can begin to separate her legacy from her organization in the eyes of the public.
“She had a viewpoint that is very much tied to the activities of the organization, and people are not stupid, they will connect her name to the organization,” Hallowell said. “They need to separate from these things, and they know that. And so they’re making these moves because words matter, names matter, and the history of what people believe matters.”
Hallowell likened Planned Parenthood removing Sanger’s name from its facilities and awards to its efforts to “muddy the waters” on the abortion debate by using terms like “fetus” instead of “baby” or “reproductive rights” instead of “abortion.”
“It seems like what Planned Parenthood is doing is realizing they’ve had years and years and years of people pointing out their history and pointing out Margaret Sanger and what she believed, and the speeches she made, and the things that she wrote, about eugenics and these other issues,” Hallowell said. “And for a long time, they just ignored it, sort of denied it, glossed over it, pretend it didn’t happen.”
In the face of a growing awareness of racial inequality in the United States, Hallowell said, Planned Parenthood is “realizing they have to say something and do something.”
Hallowell said that Planned Parenthood may be making a show of reckoning with Sanger’s legacy to “drum up good will before the election.”
“They know that they’re going to be active in the election, and if they don’t say something, they’d have big problems come September or October when they’re running ads for Joe Biden and this issue is coming back to haunt them,” he said.
Kristan Hawkins, president of pro-life group Students for Life of America, told the Register “this is a reckoning that Planned Parenthood knew was coming.”
“This is an organization that continues to live out her mission,” Hawkins said.
Students for Life recently launched a campaign called “Strike Out Sanger,” drawing attention to remaining areas in which Sanger is honored and to call for their removal: a bust in the National Portrait Gallery, Margaret Sanger Square in New York City, and a statue on the Freedom Trail in Boston.
Hawkins said, “It wouldn’t take much to make this correction, but it would be a powerful step in acknowledging that this woman who has been for so long celebrated throughout our nation, really should not be celebrated.”
Kate Scanlon is a producer for EWTN News. She writes from Washington, D.C.