Politics & Policy

The Alt-Right Carries on Margaret Sanger’s Legacy of Eugenics

White Nationalist and supremacist leader Richard Spencer (Reuters: Jim Bourg)
The founder of Planned Parenthood favoured birth control as a tool for rooting out society’s ‘undesirables.’ Richard Spencer and his ilk do too.

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) is good at what it does. That’s why it is now trying to tie the white supremacists of the alt-right to the pro-life movement, even though the opposite is closer to the truth. “White supremacists at #Charlottesville have close ties not just to Trump, but GOP & anti-choice groups,” NARAL announced on Twitter. After connecting one racist marcher to a College Republicans chapter and pointing out that another attended a March for Life, the group rested its case:

It should be no surprise why white supremacists promote #antichoice policies. They disproportionately harm women of color.

— NARAL (@NARAL) August 16, 2017

This doesn’t make much sense. For it to be true, the alt-right would have to want to keep abortion away from racial minorities, even though it knows that abortion reduces America’s black and Hispanic populations. Indeed, NARAL’s point can be made more effectively the other way around: It is not anti-abortion laws that disproportionately harm women of color, but abortion itself, which has claimed the lives of 19 million black babies since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

That is the reason why, contrary to NARAL’s protestations, the leaders of the alt-right are actually pro-choice. They don’t oppose abortion because it’s good for racial minorities; they support abortion because it kills them. They hate black people and think America would be better if fewer of them were born.

Though this is terrifying to contemplate, it should not be unfamiliar. In fact, the alt-right tends to praise abortion for the same reasons that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, praised birth control: They help to rid the country of “undesirables.”

Richard Spencer, the keynote speaker in Charlottesville and the central figure of the alt-right movement, finds abortion useful. He has explained that abortion will help to bring about his vision of an elite, white America: “The people who are having abortions are generally very often Black or Hispanic or from very poor circumstances.” The people whom Spencer wants to reproduce, he says, “are using abortion when you have a situation like Down Syndrome.” It is only “the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics,” he claims, “who use abortion as birth control.”

Contrary to NARAL’s protestations, the leaders of the alt-right are actually pro-choice.

On this understanding, abortion is a form of eugenics, helping to shape the population to produce more desirables and fewer undesirables. This is why Spencer supports the practice — not because he believes that it is a moral good or that women are owed the right to choose, but because he views it as a morally neutral tool that improves the American gene pool by making it whiter and richer.

Spencer has specifically contrasted his position on abortion with that of National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru. Spencer mocks Ponnuru for undertaking a “human rights crusade,” built on the assumption that “every being that is human has a right to life.” Spencer, of course, doesn’t believe that is true.

He has openly mocked conservatives who worry about a “black genocide” or “how [abortion] is destroying black communities.” He knows that an estimated 75 percent of women who have abortions are poor. He knows that black women, receiving an outsize 36 percent of all American abortions, are almost five times as likely to terminate their pregnancies as white women. Nothing could make him happier.

Also secure in that knowledge is the pseudonymous alt-righter Aylmer Fisher, who writes in Spencer’s Radix Journal. “It is important we not fall prey to the pro-life temptation,” Fisher proclaims. Her reasoning is predictable: “The only ones who can’t [avoid an unwanted pregnancy] are the least intelligent and responsible members of society: women who are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, and poor.”

This sort of racism is largely foreign to today’s pro-choice movement. Its members genuinely believe that a fetus either does not count as human life or does not carry moral value. The task of pro-lifers is to convince them on the science and ethics, and show that abortion preys on women more than it empowers them.

But abortion hits racial minorities harder than any other group, and this fact has not been incidental to its history in America. As National Review’s Kevin Williamson detailed extensively in a cover story earlier this year, progressive eugenics was “the intellectual ferment out of which rose the American birth-control movement.”

Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, wanted “to make the coming generation into such physically fit, mentally capable, socially alert individuals as are the ideal of a democracy.” In other words, she sought to improve the human race.

However, she faced an obstacle — the same one that so troubles Richard Spencer and his acolytes: “The feebleminded are notoriously prolific in reproduction,” wrote Sanger in Woman and the New Race. This would be a problem with a solution to which Sanger devoted her life’s work: controlling the birth rate, especially among the “unfit” (read: the poor, blacks, and Catholic immigrants).

This goal brought her into contact with Clarence C. Little, the president of the American Eugenics Society (AES), and a founding board member of the American Birth Control League (ABCL), which eventually became Planned Parenthood. Little’s two associations are not coincidental: The ABCL, founded by Sanger in 1921, even shared office space with the AES. Moreover, as Williamson notes, “Little believed that birth-control policy should be constructed in such a way as to protect ‘Yankee stock’ — referred to in Sanger’s own work as ‘unmixed native white parentage.’”

Linda Gordon, author of The Moral Property of Woman: A History of Birth-Control Politics, examined the ABCL’s in-house publication, the Birth Control Review. She reports that, “A content analysis of the Birth Control Review showed that by the late 1920s only 4.9 percent of its articles in that decade had any concern with women’s self-determination.” Furthermore, “It was Sanger’s courting of doctors and eugenists that moved the ABCL away from both the Left and liberalism, away from both socialist-feminist impulses and civil liberties arguments toward an integrated population ‘program for the whole society.’”

There is little doubt that the alt-right would like to pursue just such an “integrated population program for the whole society.” Unlike pro-lifers, its acolytes have no desire to protect life for its own sake.

Or, as Spencer himself has put it, “pro-lifers want to be radical . . . human rights thumpers — and they’re not us.” On this point, I won’t argue. Neither should anyone whose movement’s intellectual progenitor is Margaret Sanger.

READ MORE:

In Charlottesville, the Alt-Right’s Chickens Come Home to Roost

Conservatism’s Game of Footsie with the Alt-Right

Campus Conservatives Gave the Alt-Right a Platform

Elliot Kaufman — Elliot Kaufman is an editorial intern at National Review. He studies political theory and history at Stanford University. His writing has previously appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Stanford ...

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