Part of the From Margaret to Cecile: Planned Parenthood’s 100 Years of Scandals Series
Over the 100 years that Planned Parenthood has been in business, the organization has been mired in repeated scandals. From founder Margaret Sanger’s support of eugenics policies to the alleged selling of aborted preborn baby tissue for medical research under Cecile Richards, the company has a long history of questionable positions and activities. Planned Parenthood has long operated as a business that by many accounts appears to prey on women in the most vulnerable of circumstances, and ignore the most basic of medical ethics.
Legal Troubles: The law was always a challenge for Margaret Sanger. Throughout her early years of activism, Margaret was arrested multiple times for various offenses. The first time she was arrested was in 1914 for circulating issues of The Woman Rebel, which was considered by the authorities to contain obscene material. Facing a probable long prison sentence for violating federal law, Margaret jumped bail and fled the country for England.
She eventually returned to the U.S. for trial in October 1915, but the charges were dropped by a sympathetic court after the death of her only daughter that November. Margaret would be arrested many more times and have various clinics raided, but public sympathy and a higher profile helped her avoid a longer prison sentence than the short stints she served.
Eugenics: One of the most horrifying legacies of Margaret for Planned Parenthood is her support of the eugenics movement. A popular theory in the early 20th century, eugenics led to large scale abuses against those considered undesirable, like individuals with special needs and certain races, and eventually culminated in the racial and genocidal policies of Nazi Germany. Margaret did not agree with all aspects of the eugenics movement, but supported the idea that the birth of “diseased or defective children” should be avoided at all costs.
Here are some of her quotes on the subject:
- “Bringing children into the world – that have disease from their parents, (and) that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically. Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they are born. That to me is the greatest sin – that people can commit.” Mike Wallace Interview, 1957.
- “Those least fit to carry on the race are increasing most rapidly…Many of the children thus begotten are sub-normal or feeble-minded; many become criminals. The burden of supporting these undesirables has to be borne by the healthy elements of the nation…To create a race of well-born children it is essential that the function of motherhood should be elevated to a position of dignity, and this is impossible as long as conception remains a matter of chance.” What We Stand For: Principles and Aims of the American Birth Control League, Harvard Library, 192-.
Racism/Classism: Margaret’s views on race have been questioned extensively over the years, especially towards African-Americans. The Negro Project was established in order to address concerns about the growing rural African-American population in the South. Though she did not explicitly call for the racial genocide of African-American people, Margaret was interested in expanding her eugenics views and eliminating people considered undesirable through education on contraception and institutionalization. Part of the controversy over the Negro Project program is that Margaret recruited African-American pastors to help her organization approach local communities in the South so they would be more receptive to her cause, namely decreasing the population.
There is little doubt— based on her writings and activities—that Margaret harbored some racist ideas and feelings, though the extent is unknown. However, there is strong evidence that she was classist. As a child, she envied the factory executives who lived on the hills and despised the workers that lived on the flatlands. She equated class with the number of children in a family and concluded that large families were more likely to have delinquents.
In her autobiography, she wrote, “Large families were associated with poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness cruelty, fighting, jails, the small ones with cleanliness, leisure, freedom, light, space and sunshine.” She also stated that she had concerns that the “[lower] birth rate among the upper and educated classes and the increase among the unfit, the consequences of which were sure to be race suicide.”
The foundations of Planned Parenthood reside in some of the most radical and dangerous thinking of the early 20th century. As Cecile Richards took the reins as president in the early 21st century, the organization had changed and yet remained the same. The goal, it seems, has been to consistently target the most vulnerable.
Undercover videos: In 2015, the Center for Medical Progress released the first of many undercover videos. Those videos show Planned Parenthood executives and clinic administrators haggling over the price of aborted preborn baby body parts and discussing how they could manipulate the abortion procedure to get the best specimens. (Donating aborted preborn baby tissue for medical research is legal, but selling tissue or changing the procedure to get a better specimen is illegal.) The media firestorm that erupted put Planned Parenthood on the defensive, and Cecile was the face of the organization’s calculated response that consisted of repeatedly saying that the videos were altered.
In response, members of Congress attempted to defund Planned Parenthood. Though it wasn’t successful, the organization came under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as state law enforcement agencies.
The Mammogram Question: After the release of the Center for Medical Progress videos, Cecile Richards appeared on ABC News with George Stephanopoulos in July 2015 defending Planned Parenthood. In the interview, Cecile stated that Planned Parenthood clients accessed other services at their clinics besides abortion. She said this includes “breast screenings,” which is defined by the Center’s for Disease Control (CDC) as a mammogram. However, Planned Parenthood’s own website explains that they only do “breast exams,” a physician conducted procedure similar to self-exams that women can do at home. It is not a mammogram.
While Cecile didn’t use the word, “mammogram,” other high-profile defenders of Planned Parenthood did. The defense of continued public funding for Planned Parenthood because of its role as a community provider of mammograms was frequently used by advocates to demonstrate the organization’s crucial role in cancer screening and prevention for women. The Washington Post Fact Checker determined that any statement about Planned Parenthood giving “mammograms” is considered to have “significant factual errors.” The fact that some Planned Parenthood advocates claimed that women receive mammograms at the organization’s centers appeared to perpetuate a culture of deceit and misrepresentation that seems to surround the nation’s largest abortion seller.
Rapes/Underage Patients: One of the most disturbing trends under Cecile is the pervasive underreporting by Planned Parenthood clinicians of possible cases of statutory rape. Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit Christian law firm, gathered information about a variety of cases where Planned Parenthood employees failed to report sexual abuse and helped conceal the crime by selling an abortion and/or providing contraception to the minor girl. Some of the girls also reported abuse directly to Planned Parenthood employees, but were reportedly returned to their abuser where their torment continued, sometimes for years. In one case, a Planned Parenthood employee allegedly told the girl that she did not want the “hassle” of reporting the assault.
Though some of the cases reported happened before Cecile became president, it does not appear that significant changes occurred to address the lack of medical ethics and illegal activity alleged among her employees. As an organization supposedly dedicated to women’s health, she did remarkably little to help demand that Planned Parenthood protect some of the most vulnerable and underage clients.