As someone who has dedicated her career to understanding how structural racism impacts health, I’m deeply troubled by Ross Douthat’s recent column reprinted from the New York Times (“Systemic racism: Planned Parenthood has a prime example,” July 31).

We know that Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger perpetuated a number of problematic beliefs and actions and we vehemently denounce her ideology that certain people — specifically people of color, people with low incomes and people with disabilities — should be prevented from having children. This repugnant belief runs directly counter to Planned Parenthood’s current mission of supporting every person in choosing when, and whether, to become a parent.

While the experience of Black women in this country is indeed intersectional, Douthat is wrong when he implies that the topic of abortion presents us with “intersectional dilemmas no doctrine can resolve.”

We know there is a well-documented history of racism and violence in sexual and reproductive health care since the beginning of gynecology. We also know that birth rates are not a measure of a person or a community, as Douthat dangerously insinuates. Historic myths about Black women’s health — steeped in racism — continue to haunt us, but the right to safe, legal abortion is not one of them.

Overall, Douthat conflates the unequal impact of public policy on Black communities with the fundamental right of Black women to control our own bodies. His position reflects the ideals of a white, patriarchal society that is pushed onto minority groups that are too often set up to struggle in a society built by and for white people.

What Black women want and deserve is access to the best medical care available, including the full range of reproductive health options so we can determine our own destiny. Our bodies are our own, and we won’t apologize for it.


Rachel R. Hardeman is associate professor, Blue Cross Endowed Professor of Health and Racial Equity, University of Minnesota, and a member of the board of directors, Planned Parenthood North Central States.