Our VoiceImmigration

Reproductive Justice Free From Bigotry


Cloee Cooper • May 18, 2010

This month we celebrated the 50th anniversary of an advancement that revolutionized the lives of women: the pill. At the same time, population control advocates have taken center stage with the recent passage of Arizona’s anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070.

Strangely enough, reproductive health and anti-immigrant advocates have historically found common ground on the issue of population control. Although the reproductive health movement has avoided modern racist and eugenics-related trappings that traditional population control advocates have not, it is worthwhile to examine where intersections lie so that we can identify bigoted agendas within progressive movements.

The architect of the nation’s most active anti-immigrant movement, John Tanton, was a regional leader for Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health and maternal and child health services in the US. He served as Chairman of the Great Lakes Public Affairs Committee of Planned Parenthood from 1970-1971 and as organizer and president of the Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood Association from 1965-1971.

Eight years later, John Tanton founded Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the group that takes credit for drafting SB 1070. His leadership in both groups denotes a chilling goal: to curb the rate of population growth in the United States in order to maintain the nation’s white majority.

Planned Parenthood represents numerous milestones for the “pro-choice” movement in the United States. It was cemented through a hard struggle to transfer control of reproduction from the hands of the state or church into the hands of women. With over 850 clinics in the U.S. today, Planned Parenthood makes contraception, abortion, and education about sexuality and reproduction accessible to over 3 million women across the US.

However, Planned Parenthood, like Tanton’s modern anti-immigrant agenda, was once rooted in eugenics and population control. Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood in 1916, was a proponent of eugenics. Sanger’s eugenic policies ranged from exclusionary immigration policy, free access to birth control methods and full family-planning “for the able-minded, and compulsory segregation or sterilization for the profoundly retarded.”

In some of her early documents, Sanger writes:

“Keep the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feebleminded, idiots, morons, insane, syphilitic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred by the immigration laws of 1924.”

In addition she noted:

“The campaign for birth control is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical with the final aims of eugenics…. We are convinced that racial regeneration, like individual regeneration, must come ‘from within.’ That is, it must be autonomous, self-directive, and not imposed from without.”

Her first pamphlet read:

“It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for them. Herein lies the key of civilization. For upon the foundation of an enlightened and voluntary motherhood shall a future civilization emerge.”

From its inception, Planned Parenthood walked a fine line between a woman’s right to choose, and eugenics and population control.

John Tanton’s leadership in Planned Parenthood makes a lot of sense in this context. Tanton, a long-time environmentalist, served on the Sierra Club’s population control committee, was the national president of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) from 1975-1977, and founded the organization that takes credit for Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.

The intersection between reproduction, population control and anti-immigrant sentiment is still strong in these times. California Population Stabilization (CAPS), a population control organization with strong ties to white supremacy said the following in their 2010 spring report:

“Our message continued to advocate a decrease in all legal immigration, stopping illegal immigration and reducing birth rates by voluntary means. Failure to act will be especially tragic in coastal California, one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots” where destruction of unique natural areas and species is ongoing.”

The roots of race betterment theories and eugenics go deep in this country. As we reflect on the 50 year anniversary of a profound advancement of women’s rights, it is important to examine the intersection between reproduction, population control and immigration. Population control advocacy rooted in white supremacy does not deserve a voice within reproductive health circles, environmental constituencies or the immigration debate.

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