In a series of recent interviews, entertainer Nick Cannon has linked Planned Parenthood to population control, genocide, and “modern day eugenics.” His comments reflect a decades-long association between birth control and the subjugation of the black community, a distrust that grew in the 1960s and is perpetuated online by pro-life advocates today. But his comments, however well intentioned, are also false.
Planned Parenthood provides a variety of health care services to approximately 2.5 million men and women every year. It was also founded in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, who was linked to the United States eugenics movement of the 1920s. However, data and investigative reporting have clearly demonstrated that in no way has Planned Parenthood ever contributed to any of Cannon’s claims.
“For all her positive work, Margaret Sanger made statements some 80 years ago that were wrong then and wrong now,” Veronica Byrd, director of Planned Parenthood’s African American media told The Washington Post, “Those statements have no bearing on the high quality health care Planned Parenthood provides today.”
When Cannon says that Planned Parenthood is “modern day eugenics,” his opinions are a reflection of legitimate — though now outdated — 1960s-era fears. PBS explained the roots of this tragic history in its series, The Pill:
“In the 1960s, many African Americans around the country deeply distrusted the motivations behind government funded birth control clinics, fearing it was an attempt to limit black population growth and stunt black political power. Their fears were well grounded in past experiences. . .Sterilization abuse of African American women by the white medical establishment reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s. Women who went into the hospital to deliver children often came out unable to have more.”
As forced sterilization was part of the eugenics movement, it seemed reasonable to adequate federally funded birth control initiatives to eugenics. Eugenics in the United States was based on the idea of “selective breeding” to eliminate negative traits. In 2014, biologists Laura Rivard and Teryn Bouche wrote in the journal Nature that, “[Not] surprisingly, ‘undesirable’ traits were concentrated in poor, uneducated, and minority populations.”
But access to birth control is not, and has never been, eugenics. To conflate the two is to undermine the medical services that Planned Parenthood provides as well as the agency of the women who use those services. In its fact-check of Hermain Cain’s correlation between Planned Parenthood and purposeful black population control, The Washington Post notes that, “Black women do have much higher abortion rates than white women, but that is linked to the fact they they have much higher rates of unintended pregnancies — not where clinics are located.”
Claims that Planned Parenthood clinics are disproportionately placed in predominantly black neighborhoods is frequently used as evidence that the the nonprofit is trying to, as Ben Carson has asserted “control that population.” But a survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that 60 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are in majority-white neighborhoods. In a response to Carson, Planned Parenthood’s assistant director of constituency communication, Alencia Johnson, told NPR, “It’s a shame that a doctor, who should understand the barriers black women face accessing high-quality preventative and reproductive health care services, would pander so clearly to anti-abortion extremists on the right.”
In his discussion of Planned Parenthood, Cannon told the radio show The Breakfast Club that he uses his platform “to tell the truth.” Unfortunately, in his fight against racism, Cannon is in turn undermining the rights of women and spreading falsehoods about what services Planned Parenthood provides.