On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the anti-choice community is taking the opportunity to insert Martin Luther King, Jr. into their crusade against Planned Parenthood.
In an article published on the eve of the anniversary, anti-choice outlet LifeNews proclaims that “Planned Parenthood doesn’t share Martin Luther King’s dream.” And in a statement published this week, former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer asserts that if King were alive today, he would be an anti-abortion activist fighting against Planned Parenthood. On Wednesday, conservative outlets repeatedly touted quotes from King’s niece to make the case that the civil rights leader would have been pro-life and wouldn’t have supported Planned Parenthood.
Of course, decades after his death, it’s impossible to know what King’s modern-day motivations would be. But during his life, King was hardly a fierce opponent of Planned Parenthood or the range of women’s health services it provides. In fact, his support for the organization’s family planning programs is well-documented.
In 1960, King served on a committee for a Planned Parenthood study on contraception, explaining, “I have always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation.” He repeatedly wrote about why family planning programs are important, and why they need to be funded by the government. In 1966, King received a Margaret Sanger award from Planned Parenthood “in recognition of excellence and leadership in furthering reproductive health and reproductive rights.”
King saw an explicit link between the struggle for racial equality and the struggle for reproductive justice. In the acceptance speech he wrote for his award from Planned Parenthood — which his wife, Coretta Scott King, accepted in his place — he explained that reproductive rights activists like Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger help further broader movements for equality. “Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning. Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her,” King wrote, going on to say that the African American community has “a special and urgent concern” with issues of family planning.
The anti-choice community often claims that even if King supported Planned Parenthood during his life, he would oppose the national women’s health organization now because it stokes racial divisions. Far-right abortion opponents frequently try to make the case that Planned Parenthood endorses “black genocide” by specifically encouraging black women to have abortions.
In reality, the attempted link between race and abortion is a well-documented PR campaign to drum up opposition to legal abortion providers. There’s no real evidence that Planned Parenthood — or the reproductive rights movement at large — targets black women, and reproductive justice leaders say the notion is simply a right-wing effort to drive a wedge into the African American community.
In attempts to co-opt the legacy of the civil rights leader, conservatives also frequently incorrectly assert that King was a Republican. He was actually strictly nonpartisan, and never endorsed a single political figure.