The conspiracy issue: Planned Parenthood was created to control the black population!
I stumbled onto this explosive provocation only recently, made in passing by a video journalist who happens, not incidentally, to be an African-American woman. But the notion that federally funded reproductive health clinics crop up in black communities as part of a disgusting plot to abort black fetuses has been simmering for some time. And it’s faker than Donald Trump’s tan.
Like other conspiracies, this one starts with a few facts that opportunists have extrapolated into an Ayn Rand fever dream.
Here are the kernels of truth: Before founding what would eventually become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Margaret Sanger was such an evangelist for birth control that she shared that gospel with just about any group that would have her, including a women’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey in 1926. Sanger was also reportedly sympathetic to the eugenics movement, a since-debunked pseudo-science that argued that controlled breeding could improve the human race. The philosophy was used to justify the forced sterilizations of tens of thousands of people in California alone, a majority of whom were Latinos and other people of color. The Nazis later credited our template for their heinous eugenics experiments during World War II. So ew all around.
There’s no evidence that Sanger supported sterilizing people without their consent so much as she proselytized the importance of conscious conception. She even opined that abortion, which was illegal then, wouldn’t be necessary if every woman had access to contraception. But nuances be damned. Right-wing operatives have pounced on Sanger’s problematic bio and the black community’s understandable distrust of the medical profession to divide and conquer African-Americans and progressives.
The cynical ploy resurfaced on the high-speed disinformation trail heading into the 2016 presidential election. In those fevered months, Cheri Greven, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which represents the Sacramento region and the East Bay, says she started seeing and hearing about videos posted to Facebook, splicing bits of audio of Sanger speaking to unsavory groups and video of Hillary Clinton espousing her admiration for Sanger.
The not-so-subtle point? Hillary Clinton does not care about black people.
“That stuff takes hold,” Greven said. “For someone who already has skepticism about the health-care system,” correlating abortion myths to the Clinton campaign, she added, makes for “effective propaganda.”
Citing the cellular robbery of Henrietta Lacks and the decades-spanning Tuskegee clinical experiments, which involved black men with syphilis being duped into thinking they were getting treatment, Flojaune G. Cofer, the director of state policy and research at Public Health Advocates in Sacramento, says it should be easy to understand why African-American communities would be susceptible to the notion that health clinics are out to get them.
“All of this is layered on top of just a general mistrust that comes from the centuries of abuse [and] experimentation on black people,” explained Cofer, an epidemiologist. “When I have conversations with people who don’t have a background in reproductive health like I do, their conversations are always … ’You know they don’t want us to have kids.’ If you listen to the talking points of the Republican Party, if you listen to the talking points of libertarians, if you listen to the talking points on Breitbart … they see an opportunity to make their point and prey on a real vulnerability in the community.”
Debunkers have been plentiful (Vox had a reliably well-sourced explainer. NPR fact-checked the theory into oblivion. Time profiled Sanger), but this conspiracy theory has proved stickier than Mitch McConnell’s uvula. Pro-life groups like the Family Research Council, the Life Issues Institute and even the black Christian think tank Center for Urban Renewal and Education have parroted it in some form. But Greven says this wedge isn’t being driven by African-American leaders (incidentally, local NAACP prez Betty Williams’ first job was at Planned Parenthood, Greven says), but by white, religious anti-abortion crusaders, whose tactics aren’t always very Christlike.
“They’ll be outside our health centers shouting ’black lives matter’ to our African-American staff members,” Greven said. “I mean, it’s rough.”
It will only get rougher. The Supreme Court recently ruled that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” don’t have to divulge to the public that they’re anti-abortion fronts with questionable medical practices (like telling women getting an abortion increases the risk of breast cancer). Meanwhile, President Trump is about to steer the court further right following the announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing vote. There is a real conspiracy to roll back women’s access to contraception, prenatal care and all forms of reproductive health-care, including abortion; it’s just not the one your conservative uncle is forwarding you.
So how does Greven respond when someone brings the thorny claim that Planned Parenthood operates on a secretly racist manifesto? She says she leans in.
“I just respond with the truth that our founder Margaret Sanger, in her efforts to spread the message about birth control … made poor choices speaking to organizations,” Greven said. “Just meeting people where they’re at, [providing] accurate information and letting them make their own decisions.”
Letting women choose—what an endangered concept.
Conspiracy rating: Jenny McCarthy knows the secret about vaccines!