Who was Margaret Sanger? Racist quote debunked as Planned Parenthood history comes under scrutiny online

Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood (Image via Hulton Archive/Getty Images, and Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood (Image via Hulton Archive/Getty Images, and Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Following the overturn of Roe v Wade ruling on abortion, the Planned Parenthood organization and its founder Margaret Sanger have received a lot of hate online. The majority of the criticism appears to focus on Sanger's history of racist practices and past allegations about the organization.

These reactions seem to have been fuelled by recent referrals to the organization from celebrities like Michelle Obama and singer-songwriter Lizzo after the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court about abortions.


Some individuals who supported the pro-life movement and the recent US Supreme Court's overturn of the Roe v Wade decision from 1973, also targeted these celebrities and reminded them of Sanger's history.

What is known about Margaret Sanger? Exploring accusations of her being racist


Margaret Sanger (née Margaret Louise Higgins) was a nurse, s*x educator, and an advocate for reproductive welfare. Sanger is credited as the founder of the birth control movement, which was reportedly started by her around 1914.

The activist is further credited with having popularized the usage of the term “birth control” in the US. Sanger’s motivation for advocating the cause came from her mother, Anne Higgins, who passed away from tuberculosis at the age of 49. Higgins’ health deteriorated as she had conceived 18 times, which included 11 births and 7 miscarriages.

In 1916, Margaret Sanger, along with her sister Ethel Byrne and activist Fania Mindell, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. After the clinic was shut down, Sanger found legal ambiguity and started the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau and the American Birth Control League, which would later become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (PPFA).

The New York native also initiated the research for the first birth control pill, which would ultimately be a popular choice for contraceptives at the time. According to the South Avenue Women’s Services,

“Thanks to Margaret Sanger, and the effort of many other men and women who fought for the legalization of birth control and a woman’s right to contraception, most of today’s contraceptives are safe, reliable, and easy to use.”

The birth control advocate passed away on September 6, 1966, at the age of 86.

Netizens react to Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger’s racist history

With the allegations amid reactions to the overturning of the historic abortion ruling of Roe v Wade, past rumors about Planned Parenthood have resurfaced online. In particular, allegations of a racist quote from Sanger were shared by many netizens who pointed out other claims about the birth control activist.

Margaret Sanger and her belief in the racist theory of eugenics


Sanger was a firm believer in the theory of eugenics at the time, which has since been debunked. Eugenics deals with the scientifically wrong theory of genetically perfecting humans with segregation or excluding people who were deemed unworthy of reproducing. Often the supporters of the theory made way for some people to be sterilized if they were found to be inferior according to them.

According to Planned Parenthood’s acknowledgment of this dark past, their website stated:

“She held beliefs that, from the very beginning, undermined her movement for reproductive freedom and caused harm to countless people. Sanger was so intent on her mission to advocate for birth control that she chose to align herself with ideas and organizations that were ableist and white supremacist. In 1926, she spoke to the women’s auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) at a rally in New Jersey to promote birth control methods.”

Sanger’s viral quote:

The aforementioned viral quote from the activist, which has recently resurfaced, is real. However, the entire context is not stated, which makes it seem that Sanger had intended to reduce the population of African-Americans in the country.

According to Factcheck.org and TIME magazine’s investigations about the quote in 2011 and 2016, respectively, Sanger’s quote was taken out of context. As per the original 1939 letter, Sanger wrote:

“The minister’s work is also important, and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation, as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

However, the viral quote from social media cut off the text to “exterminate the Negro population.” Thus, it seems that Margaret Sanger may have been involved in some racist practices at the time, but did not aim to "exterminate" the African-American population.

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Edited by Babylona Bora
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