If Margaret Sanger sounds familiar, it’s because you might have encountered her in history class.
A nurse and educator, Sanger opened in 1916 the first birth control clinic in the United States, which was illegal at the time. Her arrest and conviction led to a court ruling said that physicians could prescribe contraceptives to women for medical reasons. In 1923, Sanger opened a new clinic staffed by female doctors which eventually became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
But your history book may not have mentioned the darker side of Sanger, like her views on eugenics, a discredited belief in improving the human race through selective breeding. Eugenics practices targeted the disabled, people of color, and poor people. Sanger died in 1966.
On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY) announced that it would be removing Sanger’s name from their Manhattan Health Center.
“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” said Karen Seltzer, the chair of PPGNY’s board. “Margaret Sanger’s concerns and advocacy for reproductive health have been clearly documented, but so too has her racist legacy.”
Planned Parenthood is one of the country’s largest providers of reproductive health services for poor women; 40% of American women who receive health care via Title X get that care at Planned Parenthood. The organization, however, is dropping federal funding over the Trump administration’s rule blocking the reproductive rights organization from talking to patients about abortion services.
“It’s not complicated. She championed birth control and she supported racist ideas. Both of those things are true,” said Merle McGee, chief equity and engagement officer at PPGNY, in a statement emailed to CNN. “This is about saying while we value the work that Margaret Sanger did, we recognize that in the process she caused harm. So we don’t want to commemorate ‘our heroes’ in a way that doesn’t reflect their actions fully, especially since women of color continue to be shamed for accessing health services and for supporting our organization,”
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York said it is working with a community board, the New York City Council and the community to rename an honorary street sign that marks Margaret Sanger Square at the intersection of Bleecker and Mott Streets in the East Greenwich Village area of Manhattan.
The organization said the new name would be announced soon.