Guardian Op-Ed

Herman Cain’s Planned Parenthood ‘genocide’ slur
African American leaders welcomed the women’s health services my grandmother started. And Republicans supported them, too

Alexander Sanger, Tuesday 1 November 2011 11.33 EDT
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Margaret Sanger, founder of the Planned Parenthood Federation. Photograph: Corbis
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain issued a blistering, and factually incorrect, attack on Planned Parenthood on Sunday’s Face the Nation. During the interview, Cain confirmed remarks he made six months ago at the Heritage Foundation, where he said: “When Margaret Sanger – check my history – started Planned Parenthood, the objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world. It’s planned genocide.”

Cain’s accusation is not only dangerous, it’s inaccurate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, white women account for 36% of abortions compared to 30% of black women and 25% of Latinas. Sixty-three per cent of abortion clinics are in neighborhoods where more than half the residents are white. Beyond that, Planned Parenthoods do much more than provide safe abortion services: contraception, prenatal care, HIV testing and breast and cervical cancer screenings, to name a few.

Similarly, Cain could use a history lesson. When my grandmother started Planned Parenthood in 1916, her first clinic was in Brownsville, Brooklyn, then a mixed neighborhood of primarily European immigrants. Within a decade and a half, her nascent organisation received the endorsement of several prominent African Americans, including Mary McLeod Bethune, WEB DuBois and Rev Adam Clayton Powell Jr. At their urging, in 1930, Harlem’s first birth control clinic was opened, in partnership with the New York Urban League. In years to come, African American leaders endorsed her efforts to bring contraceptives to poor, rural black residents – the same services Planned Parenthood delivered to poor, rural white residents.

To think that my grandmother was clever enough to enlist prominent black religious and community leaders to exterminate their own race is not only nonsensical; it’s racist. Throughout her career, my grandmother’s driving force was to ensure that every child was a wanted child.

While it took 30 more years for America to catch up to my grandmother, the goal of securing reproductive healthcare for all was less controversial than it is today. In a 1969 address to Congress, Republican President Richard Nixon stated that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” A year later, Title X of the Public Health Service Act passed the House by a landslide and the Senate unanimously, giving low-income and uninsured women access to family planning and reproductive healthcare services.

Back then, Republicans supported voluntary family planning programs as much as Democrats did. Back then, sound public health policies trumped politics when it came to women’s health.

Today, the debate has shifted, and militant conservatives are waging a war on women in an effort to advance politically. Cain and the other Republican presidential hopefuls now support eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides millions with vital health services, including contraceptives, each year. But it doesn’t stop there: House Republicans are attempting to abolish funding for family planning programs throughout the world.

If my work has taught me anything, it is that there is a universal desire among women, and men, to plan their families to give their children the best chance of being born healthy and loved. And if Cain’s experience as a businessman has taught him anything, he’d recognise that it’s a simple matter of supply and demand: more than 200 million women around the world want access to family planning, but lack these basic services.

If we don’t supply them, women will go without. The result? A rise in unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions. And we don’t think that even Herman Cain would want that.

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