Birth control was presented both as an economic betterment vehicle and as a health measure that could lower the incidence of infant mortality. At the 1942 BCFA annual meeting, BCFA Negro Council board member Dr. Dorothy B. Ferebee--a cum laude graduate of Tufts and also president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's largest black sorority--addressed the delegates regarding Planned Parenthood's minority outreach efforts : With the Negro group some of the most difficult obstacles . . . to overcome are: (1) the concept that when birth control is proposed to them, it is motivated by a clever bit of machination to persuade them to commit race suicide; (2) the so-called "husband rejection" . . . (3) the fact that birth control is confused with abortion, and (4) the belief that is inherently immoral. However, as formidable as these objections may seem, when thrown against the total picture of the awareness on the part of the Negro leaders of the improved condition under Planned Parenthood, or the genuine interest and eagerness of the families themselves to secure the services which will give them a fair chance for health and happiness, the obstacles to the program are greatly outweighed.
Birth control as an economic improvement measure had some appeal to those lowest on the income ladder. In the black Chicago Defender for Jan. 10, 1942, a long three-column women's interest article discussed the endorsement of the Sanger program by prominent black women. There were at lease six express references, such as the following example, to birth control as a remedy for economic woes:" . . . it raises the standard of living by enabling parents to adjust the family size to the family income." Readers were also told that birth control" . . . is no operation. It is no abortion. Abortion kills life after it has begun. . . Birth Control is neither harmful nor immoral."
But the moral stumbling block could only be surmounted by Afro-American religious leaders, so black ministers were solicited. Florence Rose, long-time Sanger secretary, prepared an activities report during March 1942 detailing the progress of the "Negro Project." She recounted a recent meeting with a Planned Parenthood Negro Division board member, Bishop David H. Sims (African Methodist Episcopal Church), who appreciated Planned Parenthood's recognition of the extent of black opposition to birth control and its efforts to build up support among black leaders. He offered whatever assistance he could give.
Bishop Sims offered to begin the "softening process" among the representatives of different Negro denominations attending the monthly meetings of the Federal Council of Churches and its Division of Race Relations.
These and other efforts paid off handsomely after World War II. By 1949, virtually the entire black leadership network of religious, social, professional, and academic organizations had endorsed Planned Parenthood's program.
More than a decade later, Planned Parenthood continued targeting minority communities, but without much success.
In 1940, nonwhite women aged 18 to 19 experienced 61 births per 1,000 unmarried women. In 1968, the corresponding figure was 112 per 1,000, a 100 percent jump. What other factor could account for the increased rate of sexual activity than wider access to birth control, with its promise of sex without tears and consequences?
Alan Guttmacher, then president of Planned Parenthood, was desperate to show policy-makers that birth control would produce a situation whereby "minority groups who constantly outbreed the majority will no longer persist in doing so. . . "
Despite claims that racial or ethnic groups were not being "targeted," American blacks, among whose ranks a greater proportion of the poor were numbered, received a high priority in Planned Parenthood's nationwide efforts. Donald B. Strauss, chairman of Planned Parenthood—World Population, urged the 1964 Democratic national Convention to liberalize the party's stated policies on birth control, and to adopt domestic and foreign policy platform resolutions to conform with long-sought San gerite goals: [While almost one-fourth of nonwhite parents have four or more children under 18 living with them, only 8% of the white couples have that many children living at home. For the Negro parent in particular, the denial of access to family planning professional guidance forecloses one more avenue to family advancement and well-being..
Unwanted children would not get the job training and educational skills they needed to compete in a shrinking labor market; moreover, unwanted children are a product and a cause of poverty.
Surveying the "successes" of tax-subsidized birth control programs, Guttmacher noted in 1970 that "[Birth control services are proliferating in areas adjacent to concentrations of black population." (In the 1980's, targeting the inner-city black communities for school based sex clinics became more sensitive than expected.)
Guttmacher thought that as long as the birth rate continued to fall or remained at a low level, Planned Parenthood should certainly be introduced before family size by coercion is attempted."
Reaching this goal, he thought, would best be accomplished by having groups other than the PPFA preach the doctrine of a normative 2.1-child family, as doing this would offend Planned Parenthood's minority clients. He suggested that family size would decrease if abortion were liberalized nationwide and received government support. In this prediction he was right on target.
But Guttmacher did not completely reject forced population control: Predicting 20 critical years ahead in the struggle to control the population explosion, Dr. Alan Guttmacher, president of Planned Parenthood World Population, continues to urge the use of all voluntary means to hold down on the world birthrate. But he foresees the possibility that eventual coercion may become necessary, particularly in areas where the pressure is greatest, possibly India and China. "Each country," he says, "will have to decide its own form of coercion, and determine when and how it should be employed. At present, the means are compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion. Perhaps some day a way of enforcing compulsory birth control will be feasible.
Coerced abortion is already practiced in China, with the International Planned Parenthood Federation's approval.
Despite its past, Planned Parenthood has managed to present the image of toleration and minority participation through the vehicle of its divorced, telegenic, African American president, Ms. Faye Wattleton, appointed titular head of the PPFA in 1978, a post she still holds. Though paid in the six-figure range, she has impeccable minority credentials that would have fit the public relations criteria for both Margaret Sanger and Dr. Clarence Gamble.
LEARN was officially established in 1993 at the African American Pro-Life Planning Conference in Houston, Texas. One of the primary goals of LEARN is to facilitate a strong and viable network of African American and minority pro-life/pro-family advocates.
L.E.A.R.N. Northeast is part of the Life Education And Resource Network (LEARN), a national network of Christian pro-life/pro-family advocates who are dedicated to protecting the pre-born and promoting traditional family values.
This article first appeared in the January 20, 1992 edition of Citizen magazine and can be found on the LEARN website (link closed). Read the article on the Physicians for Life website. Reprinted with permission.