The late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernadin spoke and wrote about the consistent ethic of life and health care reform throughout the early 1990s. In addresses and articles of that title in 1994, he said, “The foundation for … these discussions (on health care, euthanasia and technologies to assist human reproduction) is a deep conviction about the nature of human life, namely that human life is sacred, which means that all human life has an inalienable dignity that must be protected and respected from conception to natural death.”
Therein rests a relevant notion for the current national debate on health care. Abortion is neither health care nor a community service. As Christians we are called to protect human life (and dignity) in a consistent manner against all potential abuses. Killing of the unborn is a deeply flawed understanding of “health care” and does not serve the Christian understanding of community.
One of the nation’s leading providers of abortions, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has always been at odds with the church and its teaching on the sanctity of life, and the organization’s opposition continues today.
In her time, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger inveighed against the church. In a response to New York Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes’ 1921 pastoral letter pleading for tolerance in safeguarding the dignity of all persons, including those afflicted with physical and mental deformities, she called his remarks “extreme” and referred to him personally as a “menace to civilization.”
In recent remarks, Cecile Richards, the current president of Planned Parenthood, showed little has changed. In an Aug. 18 Web posting, Richards attacked the U.S. Catholic bishops for their opposition to including abortion in authentic health care, saying the bishops’ position against abortion would make women “second-class citizens.”
I believe it is important to understand that Planned Parenthood’s philosophies and policies are based on a deep interest in population control, which Sanger advocated.
In addition, Sanger was an early advocate of eugenics, the practice of improving future human generations by ridding the gene pool of so-called unfit genes and increasing the “fit” or “good” genes through selective and restrictive human reproduction. She wanted to reduce live births in certain specific socioeconomic and racial groups.
Artificial contraception and abortion are tools to achieve ridding the human gene pool of “unfit” or “bad” genes. (In Sanger’s own words, “birth control … is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives.”)
Planned Parenthood’s Web site will not inform you about its founder’s belief in eugenics. Instead, its (and Sanger’s) aims are couched in terms like “liberating women,” “freedom” and “choice.” Sanger is lauded as a champion feminist, someone interested in emancipating women from their fertility. This doesn’t reflect the truth. Genuine feminism champions for all dispossessed persons, the very ones Sanger targeted to eliminate.
Angela Franks, a genuine, courageous and committed feminist, states: “The future of feminism as a vital and authentic emancipatory force depends on a critical examination of conscience. The temptation to apply eugenic solutions to human problems is among the gravest threats to feminism today.”
Sanger believed that all people are not created equal. She was prejudiced against immigrants, the poor and other socially distressed people.
In Sanger’s 1917 “The Case for Birth Control,” an entire chapter is devoted to her belief in an excessively high birth rate, especially among the poor and uneducated. She allied herself with the British “Neo-Malthusians” whose mantra referred to the idea that “quality is better than mere quantity in children.” She used this as the foundational principle of the organization she founded, the Birth Control Federation of America, the forerunner to Planned Parenthood.
She was a prolific writer. In “Wasted Lives – Wasted Dollars,” she said 37 percent of Americans are “wholly or partially wasted … this means only 63 percent of babies born in the U.S. in 1940 will be healthy, normal boys and girls able to become independent, productive (emphasis mine) citizens of the state … .”
Eugenics is not a historical oddity – the idea remains viable. William Vogt, a former president of Planned Parenthood wrote, “It seems to me that perhaps we could … spread birth control under the guise of maternal health.”
Other terminologies have been used to couch eugenics ideology in more acceptable ways, such as “individual rights” and “societal progress,” or by an appeal to reduce human suffering (by eliminating the sufferer) or an appeal to “the people” about the obligations of all good citizens to help reduce medical waste and promote productivity.
Eugenic abortion is present today as evidenced by the fact more than 90 percent of fetuses showing a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome are aborted.
Clearly in the view of eugenics, the dignity of the human person is not something inherent, or, as our founding fathers said, “inalienable.” Rather it is something conferred arbitrarily and externally by some agency in our society that defines the worth of any human being by their usefulness and productivity.
For more than a century, the Catholic Church has often been the lone institutional voice denouncing the enactment of eugenic measures found in restrictive immigration laws, sterilization laws and initiatives by governments to pay for abortions and artificial contraception.
Let us remain vigilant and seek to resolve this national health care debate with common sense and Christian charity toward all. Let us be consistent in protecting life at all stages and in all circumstances. As members of the church, let us work to uncover hidden agendas and biases. This includes understanding the sordid history of eugenics in America and Planned Parenthood’s role in it. Let us seek the truth and speak for those counting on us – the unborn, the poor, the dispossessed and elderly.
Dr. Ralph Capone had an internal medicine practice for 23 years at the former Jeannette District Memorial and Mercy Jeannette Hospital. He is a member of the administrative board of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and president of the diocese’s St. Luke Society. This column is from remarks he gave at a society symposium this summer. It first appeared in the Sept. 3, 2009, issue of The Catholic Accent, the newspaper of the Diocese of Greensburg.