Alexander Sanger to be biologically pro-life, one must be politically pro-choice
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2000: Medication Abortion Becomes Available in the U.S

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1985: Violent Attacks Against Family Planning and Abortion Clinics Escalate

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Talking With Margaret Sanger’s Grandson on the 100th Anniversary of Planned Parenthood

Talking With Margaret Sanger’s Grandson on the 100th Anniversary of Planned Parenthood


Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

On Sunday, Planned Parenthood celebrated 100 years since its first clinic opened its doors. That very first clinic, opened by birth-control activist and educator Margaret Sanger in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, was shut down after being open only ten days. Sanger was sentenced to 30 days in a workhouse for being a public nuisance. (She’d avoided jail only two years prior for distributing an illicit newspaper on the subject of birth control, called Family Limitation.) One hundred years later, there are 650 Planned Parenthood clinics serving communities across America — but the fight for women’s reproductive rights and access to care is not over.
Margaret Sanger’s grandson Alexander was the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in New York City from 1991 to 2000; he’s now the chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council, a role he performs as a volunteer. Though Sanger didn’t begin his career in Planned Parenthood, once he decided to work in the field he says he was so invigorated by his grandmother’s mission that he never looked back. Sanger spoke to the Cut about the momentous anniversary, his grandmother’s legacy, and what work still needs to be done.
What was Margaret Sanger like?She was feisty. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she grew up in pretty precarious circumstances. I think they were literally shanty Irish when they were living in Corning, New York. She had an 11th-grade education, and everything after that she was self-educated. She was very ambitious.
She started out as a kindergarten teacher and then, through a friend, she decided to go to nursing school. That was going to be it for her. Then she met my grandfather, who was an architect and a German-Jewish immigrant. He was the one who introduced her to the radicals of New York. He was the entry point for her into this world of activism.
Women’s health care was so poor and precarious at the time — this was around the early 1900s. She came to this breaking point — after being inspired by the radicals and labor organizers she was associated with — where she said, “I’ve got to do something.” She was indicted on nine counts of obscenity for distributing a newspaper called Family Limitation, which was a pamphlet all about birth control. She was facing 45 years in federal prison when she was 35 years old. She had three children at that point. In order to avoid standing trial, she ended up fleeing the country. When she came back, her daughter had died. The government didn’t want to make a martyr out of her more than she was, so they dropped the charges. She went on a nationwide speaking tour afterward, and that’s where everything started.
How did you come to understand the legacy that your grandmother had built? Why did you get involved in this work?The most extraordinary memory I have is of her giving her last speech. I was 12 at the time — it was 1960. She was not well; she was then 81, and had had several heart attacks. She came out on my father’s arm. The place erupted. Everyone was on their feet, cheering. I was sitting there, realizing who she was. I kind of knew she was famous, but I’d never seen a scene like this ever. In her speech, she said, “The law against birth control was asinine, so I broke it, and I went to jail.” She was not afraid. She was in jail about a dozen times. I think everybody on this planet is glad that she went to jail.
I was in college at Princeton when my grandmother died. Because of her ill health, I never talked to her about her work, and by the time I really knew what I wanted to ask her, it was too late. I read the obituaries, which only told part of the story. For my senior thesis, I wrote about my grandmother. I was the first person into her archives after her death. I was the first person to discover all of her affairs, affairs with some of the most prominent men of the 20th century.
I was working as a lawyer on Wall Street when fate intervened. I was at the ballet one night with my wife and I saw one of my partners there and he was with this woman who was on the board at Planned Parenthood. When I told her my name, she asked, “Are you any relation to Margaret?” I said yes. “So why aren’t you on my board?” I never looked back.
What role do men play in the fight for women’s reproductive rights in America?I said to one of my children once, who had asked me for life advice, that you’ve got to wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed because you feel so invigorated about the work that you do. Planned Parenthood and this movement is part of my soul. Men can feel this just as much as women. I’m not a believer in gender specific roles for men and women in this movement. I don’t pigeonhole myself as a male spokesperson. I’m an ambassador for Planned Parenthood.
Clearly men are a major part of women’s problems, but that’s why we work very hard to bring men and boys into our movement, so that they can understand what it really is to be a man. Being a man does not mean beating a woman or treating a woman as a possession. Men have just as much to contribute to solving the problems of reproductive rights in America as women do.
What would reproductive rights look like under a Trump presidency?He’s said that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood. He’ll propose more justices like Scalia. I fear a Supreme Court being packed with people wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade. Private fundraising never makes up for public dollars; we would be faced with turning women away. The rest of the country would become Texas.
That’s why this election is so vital. The fact is, we have one party in favor of reproductive rights and one totally opposed to them. That is not a healthy future for women in this country. It’s really up to Republican women and like-minded men who are progressive thinkers on this issue to say, “Enough is enough.”
We’re celebrating 100 years of Planned Parenthood this year. What is the next frontier for the organization — say, in the next 10, 20 years?
The reality of operating health-care clinics is that we’re part of a health-care system. Every state is different. It’s a very difficult environment to operate in. I have suggested on more than one occasion that Planned Parenthoods in America need to look abroad for examples on how to operate, how to be better embedded in the communities, to defuse opposition, to reach even more women who need help.
In Morocco, they not only operate a clinic, they operate an elementary school, a cooking school. They’re providing career paths for young men and women. The people view Planned Parenthood as a community center. It’s important that women and girls in America see these organizations as their allies in the pursuit of better lives.
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Planned Parenthood celebrates 100 years of activism from its NYC roots

Planned Parenthood celebrates 100 years of activism from its NYC roots

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Chirlane McCray, front, as Planned Parenthood marks it's 100th anniversary at City Hall. Sunday.

One hundred years after a Brooklyn nurse was jailed for selling her patients an illegal pamphlet on birth control methods, Planned Parenthood is still redefining activism.
Supporters of the group saluted the organization during a City Hall celebration on its 100th anniversary Sunday, refusing to rest on its laurels.
“Planned Parenthood and New York City are aligned,” said Planned Parenthood of New York City CEO Joan Malin. “We want to be where people are in the city of New York to provide care. We are seeking to create a city where access to health care and essential human services are a reality for all people.”
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Copy of Margaret Sanger's original flyer held by her grandson Alex Sanger.

Malin joined activists and elected leaders in the City Hall rotunda, which was elegantly lit in bright fuchsia lights for the occasion.
Speakers paying tribute to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger included First Lady Chirlane McCray, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and City Council Speaker Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
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Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards talks at celebration featuring mayor’s wife Chirlane McCray marking the 100th anniversary of Margaret Sanger’s pamphlet on birth control.

The national celebration included well wishes from former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“When Trump and Pence attack Planned Parenthood, they're attacking millions of Americans,” Hillary Clinton tweeted.

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Alex Sanger Discusses His Grandmother, Margaret Sanger
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Margaret Sanger's grandson hopes for a future where we don't need Planned Parenthood

On Planned Parenthood 100th anniversary, the birth control pioneer’s grandson discusses her legacy. 

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100 years of Planned Parenthood celebrated at NYC City Hall

100 years of Planned Parenthood celebrated at NYC City Hall

By   Special to Newsday

Alexander Sanger holds up a copy of a flyer printed by his grandmother Margaret Sanger at a ceremony at City Hall in Manhattan celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Planned Parenthood, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Dozens of supporters, including numerous Democratic candidates at national and local levels, celebrated 100 years of Planned Parenthood on Sunday, telling tales of its impact on them and promising continued support.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said the agency, which advocates for women’s health care, including the right to choose an abortion, will always receive government funding under Democratic leadership.
“Planned Parenthood on our watch will not be attacked or held political hostage and it will never be defunded when the Democrats get to political office . . . and when we have our first woman president,” said Schumer (D-N.Y), who is running for re-election against Republican attorney Wendy Long and two third-party candidates.
Long’s campaign had no response Sunday night to Schumer’s statements.
Schumer was one of a dozen Democratic officials who declared their support for Planned Parenthood after first telling personal stories that were cheered by dozens of health care providers, volunteers and leaders in the rotunda of New York City Hall.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a ceremony at City Hall in Manhattan celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Planned Parenthood, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote
Among those cheering were was Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation, and founder Margaret Sanger’s grandson Alex Sanger, who continues to lead the group’s international clinics in Iraq, Syria and Haiti.
“We are on the same side,” said Schumer, who explained Planned Parenthood “is helping us in our races so we can get a majority in the Senate and a good Supreme Court that will never turn its back on Roe v. Wade.”
At the organization’s inception in a storefront clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Margaret Sanger, the daughter of immigrants who became a nurse, gave women pamphlets on how to prevent pregnancy. Police immediately shut down the clinic and jailed Sanger. Now, more than 64,000 New Yorkers each year receive gynecological care, contraception, pregnancy testing, abortions and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV testing and counseling. There are approximately 650 clinics nationwide.
“My grandmother Margaret Sanger saw how the lives of women were stunted by unwanted pregnancies and she said ‘enough is enough,’ ” Alex Sanger said to the cheering crowd. 
“She put out this little flier in Yiddish, Italian and English along with a 16-page pamphlet with methods of birth control and revolutionized the idea that women should have a choice and should be treated equally.”
Assemb. Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn), said she was a patient of Planned Parenthood when she was a young woman and faced an unwanted pregnancy. “The abortion did not take my ability to reproduce and so many thousands have had the same experience and have come out of those shadows to say we have made these decisions for the best interests of ourselves.”
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the keynote speaker, told the crowd how, as a young man before entering law school, he worked for Planned Parenthood in Washington, D.C. He said he would meet women from Southern states at the airport who had flown to Washington to obtain abortions, “desperate to control their bodies.”
He said the experience showed him “the right to an abortion is freedom.”
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Planned Parenthood is 100 years old, but the fight for reproductive rights goes on
An Op-ed by Alexander Sanger for The Guardian
October 16, 2016

My grandmother served a month in jail 100 years ago. Her crime? Opening the first birth control clinic in the US. Her name was Margaret Sanger, and she was the founder of Planned Parenthood. That first clinic was open for just 10 days in 1916 before the police shut it down; its very existence was considered a “public nuisance”. Today, Planned Parenthood is the single-largest provider of reproductive healthcare services in the country.

At 81, when she was very ill, I saw her give her last speech. “The law was wrong,” she said, standing in front of a crowd in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, “and I broke it.” She recounted her early struggles and the multiple arrests she endured, all to bring reproductive healthcare to women. I have never forgotten that day. Even into her 80s, my grandmother was always on the move. No sooner would she come to visit us in the suburbs than she would hop on a train to New York, an hour away, to attend a meeting, give a speech or lobby her supporters. She was indefatigable.

Her example led me to join her unfinished fight. As chair of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) council for the past 15 years and president of Planned Parenthood of New York Cityfor a decade before that, I have helped continue my grandmother’s legacy. However, she would be appalled that, a century after the founding of Planned Parenthood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the fight for reproductive rights is far from over. 

When you live to be 100, you have either good genes or are doing something very right. For an organisation, it is both. Three million women a year, every year, need Planned Parenthood in the US. We have no national health service. Women are forced to rely on charities to fill the gaps that our federal, state, county and municipal clinics don’t cover. Its mission, to get birth control information to the poor and needy, should have been taken over by government health services, much like countries in western Europe. In the rare US cities where municipal clinics do offer birth control, like New York City, women still come to Planned Parenthood because they know they will get unbiased advice and full options.
It shouldn’t be this way. But Planned Parenthood is doing something right and the US government is doing something, if not exactly wrong, then certainly inadequately. This is made all the more plain by a recent report showing that Texas, a state in the richest country on Earth, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

Of course, the severe stigma surrounding women’s reproductive rights and health isn’t limited to the US. At least 47,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion, many in countries where it is legal. US political posturing around reproductive rights negatively impacts countless women beyond US borders.
The Helms amendment, passed in 1973, prohibits US foreign aid from going to organisations that provide safe abortion among their reproductive healthcare services – even if abortion is legal in the recipient country. The exportation of a policy inconsistent with US law means women suffer, whether in Syria, where rape is a weapon of war, or in Latin America, where the Zika virus threatens the health of women and babies. The US should prioritise policies that help to reduce, not exacerbate, the severe health challenges and unnecessary deaths caused by limited access to reproductive healthcare services – including safe abortions – in all countries.
My grandmother insisted that women could not call themselves free until they could decide whether or not to be a mother. That was her mantra. Born poor, Irish, Catholic, tubercular, with an 11th-grade education, my grandmother was a tough and determined woman. She witnessed injustice and was determined to fix it. As a nurse, she saw women having children they didn’t want or, all too often, dying from illegal abortions. “Enough,” she said. Her eye was on women and their babies.

 When Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger opened a family planning clinic in Brooklyn in 1916, it was promptly shut down. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

Let all women decide for themselves: that is Planned Parenthood’s mantra, and it transcends national borders. My grandmother was also one of the founders of International Planned Parenthood, launched in 1952. Just last week, I visited IPPF’s member association in Morocco, called the Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale. The association not only operates a reproductive health clinic, but also runs a community school for orphans and offers training facilities in hairdressing, dressmaking and cooking, providing career paths for underprivileged boys and girls. The Moroccan people trust and respect our organisation, as do people in 172 countries where IPPF operates.
To the poor and underserved, to the young and marginalised, to the minorities and immigrants that the US government doesn’t reach, my grandmother said: “We are here for you, all of you, no questions asked.”
A century ago, she was persecuted for this by the government, the churches, and many of her fellow citizens. She went to jail. When she got out, she continued the fight. At Planned Parenthood, we have fought the government, politicians, protestors and many anti-choice institutions, including churches and corporations. We have plenty more to do, nor least repealing the Hyde amendment, which prohibits Medicaid – social healthcare for US citizens of limited resources – from including abortion services, thereby depriving poor women of the right and means to decide on whether and when to have children.
Our international movement has never backed away from the fight to give women a choice. And we aren’t tired, even at 100 years old.
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Alexander Sanger
Alexander C. Sanger, the grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council.
Mr. Sanger previously served as the President of Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) and its international arm, The Margaret Sanger Center International (MSCI) for ten years from 1991 - 2000.

Mr. Sanger speaks around the country and the world and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

Beyond Choice
Beyond Choice
The new book by Alexander Sanger published by PublicAffairs

Purchase from

Click here for full book information

With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.

“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.”
—Governor Christine Todd Whitman


» Much more on Beyond Choice, including an excerpt, discussion guides, reviews
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External Links
» Eugenics, Race, and Margaret sanger Revisited: Reproductive Freedom for All?
Hypatia, Indiana University Press
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» Abortion in the Spotlight [PDF]
Tina Morlock, Oklahoma City Pioneer

» Advocate: Abortion does involve morality
Paul Swiech, The Pantagraph

» Planned Parenthood founder: Republican Party is pro-choice
Elaine Hopkins, The Journal Star

» Women's Studies seminar covers controversial topic
Jamie Smith, The Daily Vidette

» Luncheon promotes teen responsibility
Dahlia Weinstein, Rocky Mountain News
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» When Sex Counts: Making Babies and Making Law, by Sherry Colb