NEW YORK – Planned Parenthood of Greater New York will remove the name of Margaret Sanger, a founder of the national organization, from its Manhattan health clinic because of her “harmful connections to the eugenics movement,” the group said Tuesday.
Sanger, a public health nurse who opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brooklyn in 1916, has long been lauded as a feminist icon and reproductive-rights pioneer.
But her legacy also includes supporting eugenics, a discredited belief in improving the human race through selective breeding, often targeted at poor people, those with disabilities, immigrants and people of color.
“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,” Karen Seltzer, chairwoman of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement.
The group is also talking to city leaders about replacing Sanger’s name on a street sign that has hung near its offices on Bleecker Street for more than two decades.
The actions thrust Sanger onto a growing list of historical figures whose legacies are being re-evaluated amid both widespread protests against systemic racism and a pandemic that has exposed racial and economic inequalities in health care services.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the national organization, has defended Sanger in the past, citing her work with Black leaders in the 1930s and 1940s.
As recently as 2016, the group issued a fact sheet saying that while it condemned some of her beliefs, she had mostly been well-intentioned in trying to make birth control accessible for poor and immigrant communities.
The national organization said in the fact sheet that it disagreed with Sanger’s decision to speak to members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1926 as she tried to spread her message.
It also condemned her support for policies to sterilize people who had disabilities that could not be treated; for banning immigrants with disabilities; and for “placing so-called illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope fiends on farms and in open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct.”
In a statement, the national organization said it supported the New York chapter’s decision to strike Sanger’s name from the clinic.
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, which was formed when five area chapters merged in January, is now the national group’s largest affiliate and wants to recognize the Black women and others who also championed the reproductive justice movement, said Merle McGee, the New York chapter’s chief equity and engagement officer.
“We’re not going to obliterate her,” McGee said. “If we obliterate her, we cannot reckon with her.”