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Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson recently said that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. partnered in a conspiracy to promote black genocide.
"Margaret Sanger was the head," Robertson said. "She wanted a black Christian leader to be like a Judas goat and lead the blacks to genocide. Remember that? And they picked Martin Luther King as their spokesman."
Robertson made the statement on the Nov. 8 broadcast of "The 700 Club," his long-running television show that airs from Virginia Beach. It came during his interview of Wellington Boone, a black Christian minister and author from Duluth, Ga., who shares many of Robertson’s socially conservative views.
Both men are unrelenting critics of Planned Parenthood, a woman’s health care organization that is the largest single abortion provider in the U.S.
Boone, during his interview with Robertson, accused Planned Parenthood of being in cahoots with "the left" in a plan to slow black birthrates. That’s when Robertson weighed in with his comment on Sanger and King. Let’s unpack it.
In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League to distribute contraceptives and promote their use. The organization changed its name to Planned Parenthood in 1942.
Robertson and Boone are hardly first to accuse Sanger of espousing black genocide.
The charge initially was made by some African-Americans in the early 1930s who distrusted the efforts by Sanger, who was white, to set up a birth control clinic in their Harlem neighborhood, according to Jean Baker, a Goucher College professor and author of the biography "Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion."
Baker, in an email, told us Sanger’s motives at the time were misunderstood and that Sanger was "far ahead of her time in opposing segregation" and "saw birth control as a solution to black poverty."
Baker added, "... to not offer clinics to blacks would have been a racist action by a woman who promoted contraception for every woman."
But Robertson and many other foes of Planned Parenthood say there’s smoking-gun proof that Sanger had racist intent. They point to a Dec. 10, 1939, letter she wrote to a benefactor discussing her plans to begin The Negro Project - an effort to offer birth control and other social services to Southern blacks.
"We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members," Sanger wrote.
Baker told us it’s a "far stretch" to interpret those words as evidence of a conspiracy to eliminate blacks. She said that Sanger, sensitive to the criticism she had received in Harlem, concluded that if she was to ease suspicions about her goals in the South - during a time of lynchings and segregation - it was essential to teach black ministers and physicians about birth control and convince them to encourage it.
It should be noted that Sanger enlisted two prominent black civil rights leaders to serve on the advisory board of The Negro Project: W.E.B. DuBois and Mary Bethune. It’s hard to imagine either would have joined an effort to exterminate blacks.
That brings us to another civil rights leader.
Robertson, you’ll remember, also said that King was the black minister who was chosen to be "spokesman" for Sanger’s efforts. Chris Roslin, a spokesman for Robertson, says the claim is based on a 1966 event.
Planned Parenthood that year gave King its Margaret Sanger Award in honor of his support of family planning. King could not attend the event, but his wife, Coretta, showed up to accept the award and read his speech. In it, King wrote:
"There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger's early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist – a nonviolent resister."
In other words, King did not regard Sanger as a racist.
Sanger, who was suffering from congestive heart failure, did not attend the event. She died four months later.
It should be noted that Planned Parenthood started providing abortions in 1970, four years after Sanger’s death, according to Katherine Lozada, a spokeswoman for the organization. They were offered by the chapter in Syracuse, N.Y., after the repeal of a state law that criminalized abortion.
Planned Parenthood’s role as an abortion provider took off after the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 1973 Roe v Wade decision, ruled that women have a right to abortions.
Sanger, in a 1932 article for The Nation, wrote, "Although abortion may be resorted to in order to save the life of the mother, the practice of it merely for the limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious."
Baker told us that "in time, she became upset by the rise in incidence of illegal abortion and pushed the idea of staff physicians administering pregnancy tests and referring pregnant women to hospitals for ‘therapeutic’ abortions.
"Sanger's ideas were changing, but she was always sensitive to the idea because she believed that birth control could effectively prevent conception, and abortion would be unnecessary," Baker said.
Robertson said that Sanger "wanted a black Christian leader to be like a Judas goat and lead the blacks to genocide. Remember that? And they picked Martin Luther King as their spokesman."
His statement twists a sentence Sanger wrote in a 1939 letter - discussing the need to seek the support of black ministers in a program to promote birth control in the South - into a murderous conspiracy.
His claim that King became the spokesman for the effort is just as preposterous and rests on a 1966 award the civil rights leader received from Planned Parenthood for his support of family planning.
We rate Robertson’s incendiary statement Pants on Fire.
The 700 Club, Pat Robertson interview with Wellington Boone, Nov. 8, 2016 (comments at 20:10 mark).
Emails from Jean Baker, author of "Margaret Sanger: a Life of Passion," Nov. 10, 2016.
National Right to Life, "40 years, Planned Parenthood becomes abortion empire," winter 2013.
National Public Radio, "Fact Check: Was Planned Parenthood started to ‘control’ the black population?" Aug. 14, 2015.
Margaret Sanger, Letter to Dr. C.J. Gamble, Dec. 10, 1939.
Margaret Sanger, "The Pope’s position on birth control," Jan. 27, 1932.
Email from Chris Roslin, spokesman for Christian Broadcast Network, Nov. 10, 2016.
Email from Katherine Lozada, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, Nov. 10, 2016.
The Margaret Sanger Papers Project, "Birth control or race control? Sanger and The Negro Project," Fall 2001.
PolitiFact New Hampshire, "Did Margaret Sanger believe African-Americans ‘should be eliminated?’" Oct. 5, 2015.
PolitiFact New Hampshire, "NH Rep. Bill O’Brien says Margaret Sanger was active participant in KKK," March 18, 2015."
PolitiFact Georgia, "Cain claims Planned Parenthood founded for ‘planned genocide,’" April 8, 2011.
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