During my days at Rutgers-Newark I was blessed to receive the Graduate Dean’s Award for Outstanding Master’s Thesis for my research on controversial and illegal uses of the Norplant contraceptive. Having been primarily tested on poor women of color, the FDA’s approval of this drug was immediately followed by calls to prescribe this long-lasting form of birth control, along with monetary incentives, to curtail procreation rates specifically among this group of people.[i] As my thesis revealed, such practices are rooted in eugenics, a 19th century science obsessed with “improving human stock by giving the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable.”[ii] Consequently, eugenics robbed countless individuals of their fundamental right to procreate through forced sterilizations. At its extreme, Nazi Germany carried out millions of experiments on and executions of people they perceived as “undesirables.”
What might surprise some folks is at the forefront of the early days of the eugenics movement was Margaret Sanger, better known to many as the founder of “Planned Parenthood.” By advocating for “more children from the fit, less from the unfit,” Sanger warned that “uncontrolled reproduction of the illiterate and degenerate threatened our way of life,” as she ultimately called for “the sterilization or segregation by sex of those whose offspring would be unfit—the whole dysgenic population.”[iii]
While the 1942 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Skinner vs. Oklahoma set a critical precedent against targeting specific populations, some 25 years after the completion of my masters’ thesis, Sanger’s message rang on as billboards strongly pushing abortion started cropping up in some of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. According to a recent article in Decision, the signs carried messages that included “Abortion is safer than childbirth” with an aim toward African American women who already account for 36 percent of abortions despite being only 13 percent of the population. So concerning are ongoing efforts to limit population growth among this group of people that both pro-life and civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, find themselves on common ground on this issue some are calling “black genocide.” [iv]
Such concerns extend far beyond Cleveland. Coupled with the well-documented history of eugenics, both the left and the right have true cause to be concerned as New York City’s health department reported abortions outranked the number of births among African American women by 18,000 between the years of 2012-2016.[v]
As Solomon tells us in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun.”[vi] While the trials at Nuremberg and cases like Skinner should clearly spell out the importance of equal protection for all people, let us beware of the resurgence of eugenics practices that are always based on judging others in a way that runs in complete contrast to Jesus’ call to “love one another.”[vii] Such attempts, including the recent expansion of legislation that legalizes abortion on babies capable of living outside the womb, should give serious pause to all of us, lest we suddenly find ourselves a party to yet another Holocaust. As Scripture tells us: God so loved the world and that includes people of every tribe, color and nation and, consistent with the message of Genesis, each one’s inherent right to be “fruitful and multiply.”[viii] Consequently, in the midst of a fractured world, let us take a stand with those on the left and the right against attempts to curtail population growth among specific groups of people and, in turn, celebrate the diversity that makes America unique. As Jesus tells us: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” [ix]
– Catherine DeBenedetto .”
[i] Boldt, David R., “Poverty and Norplant: Can Contraception Reduce the Underclass,” The Philadelphia Inquirer as quoted in DeBenedetto, Catherine, “Compromising Choice in a Quest to Control: Some Eugenically Based Problems with Norplant,” p.27
[ii]Galton, Francis, “Inquires into Human Faculty,” Macmillan’s Magazine, 1883, pp.24-25 as quoted in Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, University of California Press, 1985, p.11 as quoted in DeBenedetto, Catherine, p. 6.
[iii] Knight, James W. and Callahan, Joan C., Preventing Birth: Contemporary Methods and Related Moral Controversies: Ethics in a Changing World, University of Utah Press, 1989, p. 35-40 as quoted in DeBenedetto, p. 16.
[iv] Pierce, Jerry, “Targeting Black America,” Decision, February 2019, p.16
[v] Riley, Jason L., “Let’s Talk About the Black Abortion Rate,” the Wall Street Journal, July 2018 as quoted in Pierce, Jerry, p.17.
[vii] John 15:12