Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Anti-Choice Logic 101 – Margaret Sanger believed in Eugenics

You hear this from anti-choicers all the time. Margaret Sanger, one of the founders of Planned Parenthood, was a bigot who believed in eugenics. She thought that birth control should be used to wipe out “lesser” populations.

Well, it’s true that Margaret Sanger held these terrible beliefs. But it’s important to think about what the anti-choicers are trying to prove when they point this out. While many don’t state them outright (it’s easier to hide the flaws in your logic when you leave your conclusion unstated), there are 2 conclusions that they are usually trying to get people to draw. The first is that Planned Parenthood is an inherently racist organization that is trying to wipe out the African American population. The second is that the pro-choice ideals that Sanger held – the belief in the right of women to access contraception and abortion – must be wrong.

Let’s take the second of these conclusions first. According to this anti-choice argument, because Sanger was wrong about eugenics (and I mean really wrong), the rest of her beliefs must be wrong as well. Particularly her beliefs about birth control and abortion. Once the argument is clearly laid out, it should be immediately apparent how fallacious it is. Buddha was a sexist, therefore everything Buddha says must be wrong. But that’s just silly. People have both good and bad beliefs, but the presence of bad beliefs does not somehow magically poison all the other beliefs. Ghandi was a racist. Does that mean that everything he had to say about peace and harmony and passive resistance was wrong? Of course not. Buddha was a sexist. Does that mean that everything he had to say about spirituality was wrong? No. The founding fathers were slaveholders who thought they slavery was the way things were supposed to be. Does that mean that their beliefs in the democratic process and the value of liberty were wrong? Not at all. Their beliefs about slavery may have impacted the way they viewed democracy and liberty, just as Sanger’s belief in eugenics may have impacted the way she thought birth control should be used. But that doesn’t make the belief in the rights of women to have access to contraceptives and abortions wrong any more than the founding fathers’ misguided sense of how to dole out liberty makes their belief in the principles of liberty and democracy wrong. This argument is just a blatant non-sequitur.

Now, the first conclusion. The argument here is as follows: Margaret Sanger believed in eugenics and she was a founder of PP. Therefore, PP is a racist organization that is trying to wipe out the African American population. Now, as should be clear, this is the same sort of non-sequitur in the argument above. Just because the founder of an organization had a certain belief does not mean that the organization itself subscribes to it. The fact that the founder of PP believed in eugenics does not mean that PP believes in eugenics. To show that you will have to provide independent evidence.

And the anti-choice movement has attempted to do this. They point, for example, to statistics that show that African Americans have higher abortion rates. What they fail to mention, however, is that African Americans also have higher poverty rates, meaning that it is less likely that an African American woman who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy will have the resources to raise that child. They also fail to note that higher poverty rates usually means less access to contraception, making it more likely that a woman will find herself with an unwanted pregnancy.
So the fact that African American women have higher abortion rates doesn’t mean that this is the result of some evil eugenics plan of PP. Just another example of the “logic” of the anti-choice movement.

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