Margaret Sanger, Eugenics, and Genocide


Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, is one of the Left’s favorite heroes. But her true legacy is to be found in her advocacy of a Nazi-like eugenics totalitarianism for the United States.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele made news recently in combination with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham when he criticized the NAACP and its relationship with Planned Parenthood. According to Steele, the latter organization used “abortion to eliminate and limit the number of African Americans.”

In reply, radio host Ingraham noted, as quoted by Mediaite: “Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger, who sought to control the population of the undesirables and black and brown Americans were in her crosshairs….”

This sounds outrageous. Planned Parenthood is one of the political left’s favorite organizations, heroically “helping” people despite intense opposition from the paleolithic, uninformed conservatives and various religious zealots, especially those of the Catholic faith. And Margaret Sanger was the “enlightened” and progressive founder of the organization. Was she really that bad?

The answer is, yes. Sanger was a provocateur who advocated racist and eugenicist views. Despite this, there are many who defend her, including among the liberal elite of academia. An example is the Margaret Sanger Papers Project at New York University. An article published in the Winter 2002-2003 newsletter for the project, and available online, calls criticism of Sanger’s efforts a “disinformation campaign.” The article concludes that the real problem isn’t Sanger’s eugenicist beliefs, but the availability of massive quantities of information on the Internet.

“With sensational headlines, comical juxtapositions, bold assertions and a kind of Twilight Zone aura about them, these anti-Sanger web sites appear to have a sizeable and growing audience. And therein lies the problem; the proliferation of extremist material makes it all seem less extreme, more acceptable to students, journalists and others looking for a quick take on a controversial and complicated figure. History is never that easy.”

The real extremist material, though, is that which carries Sanger’s own name. Incredibly, the Sanger Papers Project’s apologia proves the point, quoting some of Sanger’s inflammatory and horrible rhetoric as delivered in her infamous 1932 speech entitled “My Way to Peace.”

According to the article, Sanger said in this speech that public policy should “…keep the doors of Immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feeble-minded, idiots, morons, insane, syphiletic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class . . . apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization, and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.”

This, the NYU Sanger Papers Project insists, should not be taken to mean that Sanger was a fascist statist advocate of enlightened genocide. No, she never was as virulent in her beliefs “as others in the eugenics community.”

By this ridiculous standard of logic, Himmler must not have been as bad as Hitler.

Unfortunately for Sanger’s defenders, their hero went on and on in describing her final solution for peace.

First, in her “My Way” speech, Sanger called for Congress to create a body to manage the nation’s population. This “Parliament of Population Directors” would “direct and control the population through Birth rates and immigration, and direct its distribution over the country according to national needs consistent with the taste, fitness and interest of the individuals.”

As it functions, it would keep out the morons and the idiots and “apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization” as quoted above, but it would also “insure the country against future burdens of maintenance for numerous offspring as may be born of feeble-minded parents, the government would pension all persons with transmissible disease who voluntarily consent to sterilization.”

Moreover, under the reign of terror she describes, “the whole dysgenic population would have its choice of segregation or sterilization.” These unfortunates would also be enslaved by the state under Sanger’s plan: “there would be farm lands and homesteads where these segregated persons would be taught to work under competent instructors for the period of their entire lives.”

It’s worth quoting at length how Sanger sums up her plan:

The first step would thus be to control the intake and output on morons, mental defectives, epileptics.

The second step would be to take an inventory of the secondary group such as illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, dope-fiends; classify them in special departments under government medical protection and segregate on farms and open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct.

Having coralled this enormous part of our population and placed it on a basis of health not punishment, it is safe to say that about fifteen or twenty millions of our population would then be organized into soldiers of defense–defending the unborn against their own disabilities.

The third step would be to give special attention to the mothers’ health, to see that women who are suffering from tuberculosis, heart or kidney disease, toxis goitre, gonorrhea, or any disease where the condition of pregnancy disturbs her health; place these mothers under public health nurses to instruct them in practical scientific methods of contraception in order to safeguard their lives–thus reducing maternal mortality.

There would be a careful follow-up in the homes where infants have died, to ascertain the causes and to prevent when possible the further increase of children until the causes have been removed–reducing infant mortality.

In the end, under Sanger, there would be no freedom, no area of life that the eugenics state would not manage. “There would then be a definite inexorable ruling that the population should increase slowly at a specified rate, in order to accommodate and adjust the increasing numbers to our social and economic system.”

If this platform sounds somewhat familiar, you’ll find its closest analogue in the grisly Nazi reign of terror.

Sanger apologists find the association of their hero with the Nazis to be inappropriate. She abhorred them says the NYU Sanger Papers Project — “she was deeply shocked and horrified by the evils and dangers of fascism, Hitler and the Nazi party,” the Project’s newsletter proclaims.

In fact, the Nazis were only implementing her plan as laid out in her 1932 speech. In 1933, the new Hitler government enacted the “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring.”

This law required that “Any person suffering from a hereditary disease may be rendered incapable of procreation by means of a surgical operation (sterilization)…” Among those to forcibly sterilized against their will were those with congenital mental deficiencies, schizophrenia, manic-depressive insanity, hereditary epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, hereditary deformities, and even alcoholism.

This Nazi law also created “Genetic Health Courts” that would decide who would be sterilized.

Once it is concluded, as both Sanger and the Nazi’s concluded, that various classes of people judged to be defective could no longer procreate or even live outside the management of the State, it becomes possible, by following the statist logic to its necessary ends, that the state may condemn these unfortunates to death. After all, if the state can prevent life, may it not also take life for the same reasons?

Sanger may have not reached this conclusion (she preferred to segregate and enslave the unwanted on collective farms instead), but the Nazi’s did. In 1939 Hitler authorized euthanasia, writing: “Reichsleiter Bouhler and Dr. Brandt, M. D. are charged with the responsibility of enlarging the authority of certain physicians to be designated by name in such a manner that persons who, according to human judgment, are incurable can, upon a most careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness, be accorded a mercy death.”

Apologists complain that comparisons like this of Sanger with the Nazi eugenics program is nevertheless unfair because Sanger really only campaigned for birth control, and even opposed abortion. But, as Holocaust researcher Max Wallace makes clear in his book The American Axis, Sanger advocated birth control for eugenics ends.

As Wallace notes, she wrote: “The campaign for birth control is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical with the final aims of eugenics.” This, Wallace observes, she wrote in 1921, long before the Nazi reign of terror.

According to Wallace, she continued: “As an advocate of birth control, I wish … to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’ admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation.”

A year later, Wallace noted, she wrote: “Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race.”

It would be wrong to argue that Sanger was the only, or even the most outrageous, proponent of eugenics in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. She was not. But she was, as Max Wallace points out, part of the virulent eugenicist milieu then operating in the country that allowed for and participated in “the cross-pollination of racist ideas from the United States to Germany.”

Tragically, Sanger continues to be highly regarded by the women’s rights movement and by the political left in general. But there is no denying that her eugenicist views bear a seriously uncomfortable similarity to those in Nazi Germany and elsewhere that resulted in the creation of the most thoroughgoing and bloodiest genocidal regimes in all human history.

Sanger, in sum, was no hero. She was instead a statist and totalitarian of the first rank, exceeded in infamy only by the tyrants that possessed the power to put into concrete action the eugenicist program she favored.

Self-Educated American Associate Editor, Dennis Behreandt, is the Founder and Editor In Chief of the American Daily Herald. Mr. Behreandt has written hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from natural theology to history and from science and technology to philosophy. His research interests include the period of late antiquity in European history as well as Medieval and Renaissance history.