On July 21, 2020, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York decided to remove the name of Margaret Sanger, one of the main founders of this organization, from its Manhattan clinic. The reason that Planned Parenthood of Greater New York gave for removing the name of Sanger was that she possessed, in their own words, “harmful connections to the eugenics movement” and it was “both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color.”
We should hope that this decision is not just an example of the wave of “canceling” historical figures left and right that we have recently seen, but the product of a serious reflection about ideas Margaret Sanger shared and promoted. There is a stark difference between an organization deciding to change the name of one of its buildings — or a group of citizens asking through legal means to change the name of a street or remove a statue — and the mob mentality of imposing a certain concept of history to the whole of society by tearing down whatever monument a group of people decide to destroy.
The same fairness that we demanded for St. Mother Cabrini during the controversy about her statue, or for St. Junípero Serra more recently, should apply to Margaret Sanger. Cabrini and Serra are saints we revere while we abhor the promotion of abortion and Sanger’s racism.
But in each case, the way we remember them should be based on serious historical perspective and the decision to have buildings or statues to honor them should be based on civil debate, not fanaticism or anachronistic judgments.
Margaret Sanger was clearly a woman who held views that were racist, classist, anti-poor, anti-immigrant, and against people with disabilities. Planned Parenthood has recognized the evil and harm wrought by Margaret Sanger, and we pray that this is a first step in coming to realize the slaughter of the innocents to
which it is contributing.
Perhaps this will spark the process of realizing that abortion takes a human life and snuffs it out before it can even be born. Perhaps Planned Parenthood will realize the harm that it imposes in its abortion mills.
The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception. She clearly teaches that all life is precious, from conception to natural death. She clearly teaches that abortion and the procuring of abortion is a grave moral evil. Yes, the Church must be completely pro-life in the fullest sense, engaging the Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give alms to the poor, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
All life has value — the unborn, the elderly, the prisoner, the disabled, the poor, the immigrant. Unless we give life a chance, unless we commit to being completely pro-life in all we say and do, in our actions and in our attitudes, we cannot say we are living up to the mandate of the Lord to “love one another.” Margaret Sanger’s name being removed is the start. Let’s pray that this will lead to those in Planned Parenthood to rethink their actions and attitudes, to turn away from the culture of death, and to fully embrace a culture of life.