The history of Planned Parenthood

This is a few weeks old, but it’s absolutely fascinating: Jill Lapore’s article Birthright: What’s next for Planned Parenthood in the New Yorker chronicling the history of  Planned Parenthood and the birth control movement, and how that movement became politicized, and then later violently attacked, and now so deeply partisan and entrenched in the public consciousness that it seems we’ll never be able to get around it.  So many very vocal critics have gotten its history so wrong. Amazingly, the history of Planned Parenthood itself has never been written, although histories of many of its founders and leaders have.  In order to write the article, Ms. Lapore had to go through the archives at the Library of Congress (where Margaret Sanger’s papers reside), Smith College (which houses Planned Parenthood Federation’s records), the Houghton Library at Harvard (home to the records of the American Birth Control league, which later became Planned Parenthood), and Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library for the History of American Women.  Ms. Lapore’s journey is chronicled in some amazing photos which are also up in a slideshow at the New Yorker.

When members of Congress (i.e. Rep. Tom Price) can say with a straight face that “there’s not one woman” who can’t afford her birth control in the country right now, it’s amazing to discover that it was actually Republicans who were some of the staunchest supporters of federally funding birth control clinics in the beginning.

Here is where we are. Republicans established the very federal family-planning programs that Republican members of Congress and the G.O.P.’s Presidential candidates are this year pledging so vigorously to dismantle. Republicans made abortion a partisan issue—contorted the G.O.P. to mold itself around this issue—but Democrats allowed their party to be defined by it. And, as long as Planned Parenthood hitches itself to the Democratic Party, and it’s hard to see what choice it has, its fortunes will rise and fall—its clinic doors will open and shut—with the power of the Party. Much of the left, reduced to a state of timidity in the terrible, violent wake of Roe, has stopped talking about rights, poverty, decency, equality, sex, and even history, thereby ceding talk of those things to the right. Planned Parenthood, a health-care provider, has good reason to talk about women’s health. But, even outside this struggle, “health” has become the proxy for a liberal set of values about our common humanity. And it is entirely insufficient

It’s good to be reminded of the real history, whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life.


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