Part 1: The First 40 years
By Jim Sedlak
This special two-part series will briefly examine the impact of one of the deadliest and morally corrupt organizations in the United States.
On October 20, 1916, Margaret Higgins, who dropped out of nursing school in White Plains, New York, to marry William Sanger, joined with two other women to open a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. The clinic was quickly closed by local authorities, as it was breaking the law. That clinic was the first effort in what was to become the American Birth Control League in 1921. The ABCL became the American Birth Control Federation in 1939, and its name changed to Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942. Except for 10 years when it was known as Planned Parenthood–World Population, PPFA retains that name to this day.
Sanger brought with her to Planned Parenthood three basic philosophies that continue in the organization to the present day. Those philosophies were uninhibited sex, small family size, and eugenics.
Sanger and her husband lived in Greenwich Village, New York, and she used to attend weekly discussion sessions at the home of Mable Dodge. Dodge would later tell a Sanger biographer Madeline Gray,that each week the discussion was led by another person, and whenever it was Sanger’s turn, her topic for the evening was always about sex. Dodge commented that “Sanger was the only woman I knew that openly talked about the joys of the flesh.”
Sanger was the sixth child in a family of 11 children. Her mother died in her early 50s, and Sanger blamed her mother’s death on the fact that she had to work so hard to take care of 11 children. Sanger worked tirelessly to champion the need for small families. She considered a large family to be any that had more than two children. She was so committed to this that she seriously proposed a law to require birthing licenses in the United States. In 1995, Sanger’s grandson—Alexander Sanger—became head of Planned Parenthood in New York City. The New York Times did an article on Alexander, which contained the following quote from him: “My grandmother very strongly believed that two, at the outside three, was the right number of children to have. So, when my mother was pregnant with me, No. 4, she, and my father flipped a coin over who would call Margaret Sanger to tell her. You know what she said? ‘You’ve disgraced me. I’m going to Europe.’”
Sanger’s third philosophy—eugenics—was expressed in her famous talks about the earth being a garden and the need to stop human weeds from taking over the garden. In 2020, Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson admitted, for the first time in Planned Parenthood history, that Sanger was a racist and that her racist and White supremacist philosophies still operate inside Planned Parenthood today.
Although Planned Parenthood is now trying to distance itself from Sanger, these three philosophies still operate within the organization—the first through its sex indoctrination programs, the second through its birth control clinics, and the third through its fanaticism concerning abortion.
Margaret Sanger wrote the first sex education book, What Every Boy and Girl Should Know, for children. Beginning in 1948, Planned Parenthood embarked on a mission to bring classroom sex education to the United States from Sweden. Dr. Leena Levine, the person in charge of sex ed inside PP, told a 1952 conference that Planned Parenthood’s intention was to teach children how to obtain sexual satisfaction before marriage.
Planned Parenthood’s early years were spent in relative obscurity. It’s non-acceptance by the general public was demonstrated in the 1950 film Cheaper By The Dozen, when a representative from Planned Parenthood visited the Gilbreth home and ran out after realizing the family had 12 children. Regrettably, this hilarious scene was not included in the 2003 remake.
In the 1940s, Sanger got courts to strike down the Comstock Laws and allow sex information to be sent through the mail. Playboy later gave PP a donation. Five decades later, Planned Parenthood joined a 1996 lawsuit that led to a court finding the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional. The CDA would have protected children from sexual information and abortion promotion on the Internet.
Also in the ‘40s, Planned Parenthood got another judge to rule that physicians could give information about birth control to their patients. After that, Planned Parenthood would open clinics where it had physicians who would agree to head it. Early financial records show its total income in 1956 was $2 million—75 percent of it coming from friends of Sanger’s second husband, oil magnate J. Noah Slee (who died in 1943).
Although contraception was not, yet, legal in every state, Planned Parenthood began planning for the day when the contraception battle would be over. It knew the next major battle would be to get abortion decriminalized.
We will look at that fight and the growth of Planned Parenthood in Part 2 of this series [which will be reprinted at all.org on Monday].
Jim Sedlak is executive director of American Life League, founder of STOPP International, and host of a weekly talk show on the Radio Maria Network.