Tamika Turner is the Constituency Communications Officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Before I tell strangers I work at Planned Parenthood, there’s always a split second of hesitation. Are they going to judge my job because of the stigma surrounding reproductive health care? Have they heard lies about the work that we do? Do they believe them? But most pressing is my concern that they’ll spit out an old and painful falsehood — that abortion, which Planned Parenthood offers, is an attempt to wipe out Black Americans and commit “Black genocide.”
Black women who’ve had abortions or who support ensuring that abortion is legal and accessible have been subject to a mass misinformation campaign meant to shame them for making their own health care decisions and governing their own bodies. I work for Planned Parenthood because Black women want and deserve access to the full range of reproductive health care — but this persistent lie is threatening their ability to obtain it.
The anti-abortion movement is largely white, with a sizable portion being male, and yet they’re some of the loudest voices proclaiming that a Black woman choosing to have an abortion is tantamount to genocide. They co-opt our communities’ very real history of mistreatment from the medical community and turn that fear into yet another shaming tactic used to block Black women from making their own reproductive health care decisions. But it’s clear their interest in Black women’s actual lives and health care needs begins and ends with abortion.
These anti-abortion ideologues can find the money to erect inflammatory billboards shaming pregnant women, but not to fund “bailouts” of the people targeted by mass incarceration. They have the energy to harass women as they enter health centers, but they’re noticeably absent from conversations about how police violence endangers Black lives. It’s clear that the folks pushing this false narrative don’t care about improving the quality of Black lives — they only want to control Black bodies. And when these anti-abortion activists insist that health care providers are pulling the wool over our eyes, they expose the ugly truth about what they really think about Black women — that we’re not smart or strong enough to make our own health care decisions. They infantilize Black women and paint us as easily manipulated pawns incapable of thinking for ourselves.
The truth is, long before Planned Parenthood was founded, Black women fought for the right to be able to time their pregnancies, postpone their pregnancies, or forgo pregnancy altogether. And as our founder Margaret Sanger was working to make birth control safe, accessible, and legal, many Black women and their families were inviting her to open health clinics in their communities. Even today, Black women — from reproductive justice leaders to medical professionals to individuals — are leaders in the fight to expand reproductive health care and break down barriers to accessing safe, legal abortion.
This tradition of reproductive activism is rooted in the desire to claim agency over our own bodies — an essential part of achieving liberation after a history of forced pregnancies, sterilization, withholding of medical information and care, and deliberate attempts to make preventive health care unaffordable and inaccessible. Instead of stigmatizing the services provided by Planned Parenthood and other health care providers, we need to trust that Black women are capable of making deliberate decisions about their bodies and families.
I don’t intend to retread the specifics of why it’s a lie that Sanger founded Planned Parenthood to commit “Black genocide.” Politifact has already rejected that claim, and Imani Gandy of Rewire has debunked the many falsehoods about Sanger without excusing the ways in which her work to bring birth control to women across the country was racist and paternalistic. My support for Planned Parenthood and its mission to provide accessible reproductive health care and education would stand regardless of Margaret Sanger’s history. If I rejected every institution with a racist past, I’d have to sever ties with the United States altogether. Instead, I’m choosing to acknowledge the past and stand with Planned Parenthood as it works to create a better future.
When Coretta Scott King accepted Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award on behalf of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966, she read the following from his acceptance speech:
Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by non-violent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern.
This special and urgent concern is what drives my support of the comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive health care services that Planned Parenthood provides — and what informs my advocacy for expanding abortion access. When people shout down the stories and voices of Black women who decide to have abortions, deny our bodily autonomy, and limit our access to complete and accurate reproductive health information, these are intentional efforts to refuse us our full humanity. If you truly respect Black women, you need to support our decisions as well.