Swans Commentary » swans.com March 22, 2010  



Planned Parenthood For Capitalists


by Michael Barker





(Swans - March 22, 2010)   The Planned Parenthood Federation of America serves a critical role in contemporary society, not as a harbinger of charity and health, but instead as an integral humanitarian tool in capitalism's war against life. This blunt description runs counter to this group's liberal self-image as a trusted, informed, and passionate advocate for reproductive health worldwide, and most likely does not reflect the ideological proclivities of a large number of their well-meaning supporters. Nevertheless, last month, Planned Parenthood's national president, Cecile Richards, was rewarded for her outstanding commitment to the ruling class when she accepted a coveted position on the Ford Foundation's board of trustees -- a foundation that is well accepted as being one of the main financial engines for capitalist policy-planning networks. Cecile Richards' recruitment to the board of this philanthropic giant was entirely predictable considering the historical role that liberal foundations have fulfilled in creating and sustaining the population control establishment, an establishment within which Planned Parenthood holds a leading position. Thus, given the strong influence that Planned Parenthood exerts over popular thought on reproduction, this article will provide a brief history of this organization, thereby demonstrating why their activism has always served the interests of a small capitalist elite and not the best interests of the targets of their work -- the rest of the planet.

From the first day of its inception in October 1916, Planned Parenthood has been a capable ally in capitalism's Malthusian war against humans, especially those individuals drawn to the merits of socialism. Ironically, the organization's founder, Margaret Sanger, was not always so inclined and had previously "teamed up with labor radicals [like the International Workers of the World] and bohemians to organize strikes and pickets and pageants in the hope of achieving wholesale economic and social justice." In fact, "Margaret quite clearly adopted her feminist ideology, and much of the rhetoric she later claimed as her own, from Emma Goldman," the popular anarchist. However, like many other elitist reformers of her era who were eager for rapid change, she "soon jettisoned Socialism in favor of an alliance with progressives, confident that capitalism might reform itself voluntarily." (1)

Numerous pressures were born to bear on radical activists of the day, especially upon those who, unlike Sanger, continued to fight for economic and social justice by opposing World War I. The formation of the National Birth Control League in March 1915 similarly helped undermine the remnants of Sanger's radical politics as their conservative membership "rallied around" her cause. While yet another external force that may have had a particularly strong influence on Sanger's political evolution was the sudden interest that the liberal press showed in her work. Thus prior to 1915, the "only coverage" of Sanger's work had come from "predictable supporters on the left" (like The Call and The Masses), but in March 1915 things began to change and the newly formed journal, The New Republic, rallied to her side featuring "an emphatic defense of contraceptive advocacy." Other elite media like Harper's Weekly soon joined the reproductive bandwagon, and birth control started to garnish serious legitimacy when the The New York Times decided to focus on Sanger's activism. By 1916, although "still identified in the newspapers as a 'Socialist leader,' Margaret [Sanger] was clearly courting an elite constituency," although it is interesting to note that even at this stage her work was still supported by the radical community. (By the end of World War I, however, "few of Margaret's old friends on the left remained in positions of national leadership or authority, and those who did disdained her priorities, as much as she abandoned theirs.")

Upon forming Planned Parenthood, Sanger, whose intellectual origins lay in the anarchist movement, was befriended by a soon-to-be long-time supporter of her work, Juliet Rublee, the wife of George Rublee -- a powerful individual who served as a legal adviser to both the Wilson and FDR administrations. Juliet, it seems, established Sanger's "legitimacy with a large network of powerful and wealthy individuals in New York, Washington, and Chicago"; but other important benefactors of Sanger's activities included Gertrude Pinchot and "Dorothy Whitney Straight, the activist philanthropist who with her husband Willard published The New Republic." (2)

Sanger's reliance on elites to promote her vision of birth control activism meant that to "achieve full acceptance and credibility," it was "necessary for her to repudiate all radical implications of birth control." To make this transformation, Bonnie Mass observes how "Sanger digested the notions of Samuel Gompers of the conservative American Federation of Labor, and re-emphasized them for eugenic and neo-Malthusian purposes." (3) By 1922, as Thomas Shapiro observed, Sanger was now of the mind that "misery was attributable not to economics and political dislocation, but to the fecundity of the working class itself." (4) Such views were evident even earlier though, as in 1921 when she founded the American Birth Control League, she picked eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard, who was the author of infamous book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), to serve on the League's board of directors. (5) Sanger's commitment to eugenics meant it was hardly surprising that she then joined the capitalist siren call for immigration restrictions that eventually led to the passing of the racist immigration restriction law of 1924.

The increasing caliber, scope, and synergies of Sanger's network became apparent as she began organizing an international conference to take place in New York in 1925. Consider, for instance, her itinerary during a preparatory visit to London. In a thirty-six-hour period she dined with her friend and lover Havelock Ellis, the world's leading sex researcher, saw John Maynard Keynes the next day for lunch, had tea with the author and MP Harold Cox, shared another meal with reigning Malthusians Alice and Charles Vickery Drysdale, and met the next morning with H. G. Wells (another lover). Among others whom she saw on this trip, often multiple times, were Lord Buckmaster -- the former lord chancellor, George Bernard Shaw, and two physicians to the royal family. (6)

During this period, Margaret Sanger's ideological reorientation made her a favourite grantee of the Rockefeller family's philanthropic treasure trove, but her second marriage (in 1922) to oil tycoon Noah Slee similarly helped her activism tremendously. During the Depression however, Margaret...

... stepped up her efforts to accommodate the new circumstances [at her Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau] by replacing the volunteer women who had previously assisted her as fund-raisers with a weightier board of directors, which included the wives of some of New York's best known and wealthiest industrialists and financiers like J. P. Morgan, William K. Vanderbilt, Thomas Lamont, and Otto Kahn. ...

Most significantly, perhaps, Margaret carefully cultivated Arthur Packard, who was by then the senior and most influential member of the Rockefeller charitable staff and could generally be relied on for small bequests whenever asked. Packard took Margaret's side in almost all of the disputes that arose among birth control factions in the 1930s... (7)

During the 1920s, "eugenists had a great influence not only on Sanger but on the whole birth-control movement," and these two interest groups in turn had a strong influence on the formation of the population control movement that rose to ascendancy in the 1940s. "Indeed, viewed from the perspective of professional demographers and birth-control reformers, population control was the successor to eugenics in every respect -- ideologically, organizationally, and in personnel." On this point, Linda Gordon observes how it is especially notable that...

... all the major population-control organizations of the 1970s were born from the Planned Parenthood Federation. In 1948 Sanger got the Brush Foundation (with its head, Dorothy Brush, previously a funder of eugenic work) to finance, along with the Osborns, the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Its headquarters, in London, were provided free of charge by the English Eugenics Society. IPPF work was focused on international population control. In 1961 the U.S. PPFA launched a new division called Planned Parenthood-World Population which dominated PPFA's whole orientation for the next decade. Until the women's liberation movement, feminist birth-control propaganda and services were practically nonexistent in the United States. (8)

Throughout these years, population control activist Hugh Moore had a strong influence on Planned Parenthood and eugenic activism more generally. Having read William Vogt's Malthusian-inspired Road to Survival (1948), Hugh Moore -- who had already formed a foundation in his own name to promote Malthusian propaganda and was supporting the work of the eugenically inspired Human Betterment Association of the United States (a group he became president in 1964) -- re-devoted himself to population control by backing Vogt's work, and in 1951 Vogt went on to become the national director of Planned Parenthood. At the head of Planned Parenthood, "Vogt's chief concerns -- cheaper contraceptives, education and incentives to increase demand, and linking food aid to population control -- helped set an agenda that would persist for thirty years." (9)

As Donald Critchlow notes, Moore "gave Vogt credit 'for really waking me up' to the fact that global overpopulation was 'the basic cause of future wars' and 'the spread of tyranny and communism.'" In the early days, however, Moore was intent that Vogt should focus more resolutely on the real threat, the international population problem, a concern that led Moore and Sanger to form the International Planned Parenthood Federation (in 1948). However, even after creating this organization Moore was not content, and in 1953 he set up a group called the Population Action Committee so he could make more decisive interventions into the population debate, of which an important one was his publication (in 1954) of a pamphlet called The Population Bomb. Of course, this activism did not prevent Moore from continuing to collaborate closely with Planned Parenthood, and in 1961 Planned Parenthood-World Population was created as a result of a merger of Planned Parenthood and Hugh Moore's World Population Emergency Campaign -- a group whose founding conference, which was held in March 1960, was organized by Moore and General William Draper Jr. (10) Yet even this rerouting of Planned Parenthood's work did not satisfy Moore. "If the overpopulation crisis was to be remedied, [Moore] believed, individual rights might have to be disregarded in the interest of society; voluntary choice in family planning could not necessarily be relied upon to meet a crisis that threatened the entire planet." (11) This lead Moore to found another separate action orientated group in 1965, again with the aid of General Draper, known as the Population Crisis Committee, a group that now goes by the name Population Action International. (Current individuals residing on Population Action International's council include Africare cofounder, C. Payne Lucas, Sr., green revolution researcher, Norman Borlaug, and Robert McNamara, an individual who in 1968, while serving as a Ford Foundation trustee, "emphasized the central importance of curbing population growth" in his inaugural speech as the World Bank's new president.)

While Moore's dedication to Malthus, in the name of national security, was making him a cause célèbre within elite networks, more moderate population activists distanced themselves -- in some instances anyway -- from his overtly racist politics. That said, the difference between Moore and his moderate colleagues appears to be largely rhetorical, as when Moore launched his 1969 mass-advertising campaign as part of the Committee to Check the Population Explosion:

Although the more academic Population Council and the Population Reference Bureau did not formally endorse these ads, many of their leaders did. Eugene Black, on the board of Planned Parenthood and once vice-president of Chase Manhattan and head of the World Bank, signed the ads, as did Frank Abrams, former chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey (owned by Rockefeller) and a director of the Population Reference Bureau. Of fifty-eight regular signers of the ads, thirty-six were previously part of the population-control establishment, fourteen others were closely associated with Planned Parenthood, and four of the remaining eight were close associates of the Rockefellers. (12)

As this article has shown, historically speaking Planned Parenthood have the dubious honour of contributing to the promotion of the type of elitist Malthusian ideas that have successfully harnessed reproductive health to the military-industrial complex. The outcome of this project has been devastating, and Planned Parenthood is very much a part of the population establishment that benefits from the "humanitarian" largesse of government agencies and philanthropic foundations (like the Ford, Gates, and Rockefeller foundations), which are first and foremost committed to sustaining capitalism, not human life.

In contrast to this sorid history, Planned Parenthood's Web site blithely points out how "For more than 90 years, Planned Parenthood has promoted a commonsense approach to women's health and well-being, based on respect for each individual's right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning." By this they must mean a capitalist approach that benefits the ruling class at the expense of everyone else. Contrary to the ideological orientation of many of their on-the-ground activists and supporters, Planned Parenthood has aways promoted a commonsense approach to the principles of elite domination and ruling class well being, based on respect for economic property rights, and elite planning. Now that their president, Cecile Richards, is a trustee of the Ford Foundation, Planned Parenthood is advertising their elite credentials for the world to see. They are effectively demanding that groups concerned with women's health rise to the challenge and create radical and humanistic alternatives to supplant Planned Parenthood's toxic legacy of social engineering. Sterilization in this instance can be used to our advantage, as the sooner we cut off our activism from the life- (rather, death-) providing monies of capitalists, the sooner we will be able render such elites sterile, so that we can start creating movements for social change that will be capable of aborting capitalism once and for all.


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1.  Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (Simon & Schuster, 1992), p.13, p.81, p.13. In the acknowledges to this book, Chesler observes that in preparing her book she was "awarded a two-year grant from the Program for Population Research in the Social Sciences, sponsored Jointly by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations." (p.609) Since publishing Woman of Valor, Chesler moved on to serve from 1997 through 2006 as the head of George Soros's Open Society Institutes's $35 million program in reproductive health and rights.

Emma Goldman "introduced Margaret to a neo-Malthusian ideology then fashionable among European Socialists, who disputed Marxist orthodoxies that condemned contraception as hopelessly bourgeois and encouraged a high proletarian birthrate. They argued instead that women's control over reproduction was no less essential to the goals of a revolutionary class struggle than control over conditions of employment. After attending the historic meetings of the Socialist International in Paris at the turn of the century, where this ideology became conventional wisdom among the Europeans, Goldman returned to the United States and began to promote contraception in her own lectures." (p.86)  (back)

2.  Chesler, Woman of Valor, p.131, p.129, p.141, p.162, p.167. "In 1914 there had been only three articles in the Times on birth control, and only fourteen in 1915, but in the following two years, there were a total of ninety." (p.130)

Later in 1952, when Sanger visited India to launch the International Planned Parenthood Federation -- a group for which she served as their first president -- Chesler reports how, "At the urging of Iphigene Sulzburger, the formidable wife and mother of the publishers of The New York Times and a longtime admirer of Margaret's, the proceedings at Bombay received front-page coverage in America's newspaper of record, making it one of the first major stories to call attention to the world population problem." (p.424)  (back)

3.  Bonnie Mass, Population Target: The Political Economy of Population Control in Latin America (Zed Press, 1976), p.30. "Sanger's leadership in the birth control movement, with her emphasis on sexual liberation and exploration of the inner self, served to reinforce many of the oppressive social biases which traditionally held women in bondage. According to historian David Kennedy, bourgeois women's interests pursued along a path similar to Margaret Sanger's would be self-defeating: 'Birth control in America, provided new encouragement-and new technological feasibility to the Victorian dogmas and pieties that many feminists were trying to escape. In pursuit of sexual and psychological liberation, Margaret Sanger had found in Freud a false liberation and had embraced a confining and deterministic, in some respects, reactionary, set of ideas. Hers was eventually to become a characteristic attitude of American women.'" (p.31)  (back)

4.  Thomas Shapiro, Population Control Politics: Women, Sterilization, and Reproductive Choice (Temple University Press, 1985), p.42. "A major achievement of the capitalist class has been to incorporate population policy within the welfare state. This achievement institutionalizes the population control motives of an elite and makes their interests appear universal. It also shifts the financial, organizational and ideological burden for population control from private endeavors and charitable contributions to public agencies and taxpayer support. In the process population policy is rationalized, allowing for a greater degree of coordination and planning. Finally, it signifies the acceptance of population control assumptions at the public level; no longer are they merely privately held views about the world." (p.18)  (back)

5.  "The introduction to The Rising Tide was written by Madison Grant, a lawyer, member of the upper class of New York, treasurer of the second and third international congresses of eugenics, in 1921 and 1932 respectively, a co-founder of the Galton Society, a president of the American Eugenics Society and a member of the Immigration Restriction League." Eric Ross, The Malthus Factor: Population, Poverty, and Politics in Capitalist Development (Zed Books, 1999), p.67.  (back)

6.  Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard University Press, 2008), pp.63-4.  (back)

7.  Chesler, Woman of Valor, p.293. Chesler points out that before Franklin Roosevelt "became governor of New York in 1928, his wife, Eleanor, had served on the board of [Margaret Sanger's] American Birth Control League." (p.339)  (back)

8.  Linda Gordon, Women's Body, Women's Rights: Birth Control in America (Penguin, 1977), p.274, p.395, p.397.

"In 1952 population control gained impeccable establishment credentials when John D. Rockefeller III invited thirty prominent U.S. conservationists, Planned Parenthood leaders, demographers, and development experts to a population conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. At the conference the Population Council was born, embodying Rockefeller's conviction that 'the relationship of population to material and cultural resources of the world represents one of the most crucial and urgent problems of the day.'" Betsy Hartmann, Reproductive Rights or Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control (South End Press, 1995), p.102.  (back)

9.  Connelly, Fatal Misconception, p.130.  (back)

10.  Fairfield Osborn -- who had in earlier years founded the Conservation Foundation -- would later became a leader of Planned Parenthood-World Population. World Population Emergency Campaign co-founder, General William H. Draper, Jr. -- "perhaps best remembered as the American government official who most helped Nazi and Zaibatsu industrialists re-concentrate their power after World War II" -- went on to help Moore co-found and later chair the Population Crisis Committee, a group now known as Population Action International.

"Incensed by [President] Eisenhower's public disavowal of the Draper Panel [which had included Ford Foundation chair, John McCloy], Hugh Moore called a group of prominent citizens together in Princeton, New Jersey, in March of 1960 to consider what could be done voluntarily to address the population issue. Margaret promised to be there -- 'if humanly possible, if I have to crawl,' as she put it. Though quite nervous about her health, she did make the trip and brought along $25,000 from Martha Rockefeller toward the $100,000 that Moore put together to launch a World Population Emergency Campaign, which would run for two years and generate a membership of 10,000 individuals and more than a million dollars in funding for the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

"So long as Moore could attract powerful men to the cause, like General Draper and Lammot duPont Copeland, of the industrial family, Margaret was willing to forgive the Dixie Cup king his rhetorical excesses, not to mention the fact that he was already on his fourth wife..." Chesler, Woman of Valor, p.456.  (back)

11.  Donald Critchlow, Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America (Oxford University Press, 1999), p.31, p.17. Hugh Moore "assigned the director of the Moore Fund, Thomas O. Griessemer, a former German refugee who had fled Nazi Germany and a follower of Clarence Streit's World Federalist movement, to draft the constitution for IPPF." (pp.31-2) Greissimer then became head of IPPF's New York office.

"Professor Hans Harmsen, whose name has been associated with the compulsory sterilization of handicapped people in Nazi Germany, joined the population control establishment after the war and founded the German branch of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), naming it 'Pro Familia'. He was president of this institution for a long time, and played an important role in shaping population control policies for the Third World." Maria Miles, "New Reproductive Technologies: Sexist and Racist Implications," In: Maria Miles and Vandana Shiva (eds), Ecofeminism (Zed Books, 1993), p.182.  (back)

12.  Gordon, Women's Body, Women's Rights, p.398.

Matthew Connelly in his book Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard University Press, 2008) notes how President John F. Kennedy "himself finally endorsed aid for family planning in April 1963 in response to a reporter's question planted by [Robert W.] Barnett and Planned Parenthood staff. That summer, at Draper's urging, Senator William Fulbright added an amendment to the foreign aid bill that explicitly authorized "skittish' bureaucrats to support research on population problems. Planned Parenthood was assured that 'population was now [the U.S. Agency for International Development's] Number One problem.'" Notably, Connelly adds that Barnett "owed his State Department job to the Ford Foundation and Planned Parenthood staff." (p.199)  (back)


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Published March 22, 2010