Once I saw a billboard that encouraged black women to abort their unborn babies. It read: “Black women take care of their families by taking care of themselves first. ABORTION IS SELF-CARE.”
But in truth, abortion is devastating the black community. Eighty percent of Planned Parenthood's abortion clinics are within easy walking distance of minority neighborhoods and 60 percent are in minority zip codes. According to Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute, “In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women.” This is troubling: Black women constitute 13 percent of the female population, but they are getting 36 percent of the abortions. Planned Parenthood argues that black and Hispanic women get more abortions because of a higher rate of unwanted pregnancies, not because of “aggressive marketing by abortion providers to minority communities.” But all of Planned Parenthood’s high-volume abortion clinics are disproportionately located in or near minority communities.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, is the second black woman to head the organization. An activist scholar, she has promised that under her leadership, the organization will be “turning inward and dedicating ourselves to calling out injustice and reckoning with our own institutionalized racism long-term.” Several months ago, I and more than 100 other black leaders signed the Human Coalition’s letter to Johnson. We wrote this letter to alert the woke to Planned Parenthood’s “systemic racism” and the harm its policies are doing to black America. Johnson never responded to us.
Johnson has an opportunity to demonstrate that black lives matter to her at every stage of human life. Last year, one Planned Parenthood facility in Manhattan rightly removed Margaret Sanger's name from its building. But Planned Parenthood is still the face of the systemic racism of abortion and its eradication of the black population. Planned Parenthood’s behavior would be considered genocidal if the perpetrators had not co-opted so many black leaders. Yet many publicly defend Planned Parenthood against allegations of racism—allegations that date back almost 80 years to Sanger (who actually founded America’s first abortion clinic in 1916).
Johnson needs to reckon with the legacy of Sanger, a eugenicist who believed society would be better off without immigrants, blacks, and people with mental disabilities. Just like Planned Parenthood today, Sanger used black Americans to persuade other blacks to support her organization’s hidden agenda. In a widely quoted letter to Dr. Clarence J. Gamble, Sanger wrote, “We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten that idea out if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
Sanger lived long enough to see one of history’s greatest black leaders receive Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award. On May 5, 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. was given the award “for his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity.” Planned Parenthood reprinted King’s acceptance speech to advertise itself and praise Sanger. The organization encouraged black families to use family planning as a path to betterment.
Fast forward to today. In 2008, pro-life activist Lila Rose, then a UCLA student, hired an actor to pose as a racist prospective Planned Parenthood donor. This actor called Planned Parenthood clinics and offered donations to “lower the number of blacks” by paying for abortions. Planned Parenthood clinics in seven states accepted the proposed contribution.
At this political moment, the world is still focused on preventing coronavirus deaths; the language of politicians and health officials suggests a reverence for the sanctity of human life. Yet most are nonchalant about the deaths of the unborn. During the lockdowns, abortion clinics remained open, even while we declared our national commitment to saving lives.
Our response to the coronavirus has revealed a contradiction in values that should trouble every Christian American. God will not hold us guiltless for our refusal to stand up for the sanctity of human life at every stage of development. We are at a critical moment in American history. Planned Parenthood continues to rake in millions of our taxpayer dollars. Unborn lives matter. We must seize this occasion to defend the unborn and bring about the moral changes our nation needs.
An earlier version of this article misquoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We regret the error.
Carol M. Swain is a former tenured professor at Vanderbilt and Princeton universities.
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