For the second time this month, self-described “GREAT THINKER” Nick Cannon has aimed his considerable critical THINKING skills at Planned Parenthood’s raison d’être. The reproductive health care services Planned Parenthood provides constitute “real genocide,” Cannon said on a New York morning radio show on Nov. 17. “It’s been like that for years.” When a Splash News reporter asked him to elaborate on Friday, he accused the organization of propagating “modern-day eugenics” and “population control.”
Later, on Twitter, he expanded his argument to include McDonald’s, Hennessy, private prisons, and public schools in the alleged eugenics scheme.
Cannon’s comments echo a bit of racist messaging that has animated anti-choice activism for decades. Opponents of abortion rights like to raise Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s belief in eugenics theories as evidence of some nefarious plan the organization has hatched to halt the breeding of people of color and those living in poverty. Politicians such as Ben Carson have falsely claimed that Planned Parenthood puts most of its clinics in black neighborhoods in order to pressure women into terminating their pregnancies. Anti-abortion activist groups have targeted communities of color with billboards likening abortion to slavery and calling a black woman’s uterus “the most dangerous place for an African American.”
Eugenics was long ago debunked and exposed as racist hogwash, but in Sanger’s time, it was a popular, scientist-endorsed doctrine that counted many prominent progressive activists as believers. In other words, Sanger’s misguided beliefs were a disgraceful product of her time, not the main driver of her push for reproductive freedoms. (She also exploited her era’s prevailing anti-Catholic sentiment to cast the church’s opposition to birth control as authoritarian bunk.) There’s no evidence that Sanger coerced women into contraception or abortion; however, she collaborated with W.E.B. DuBois on a program to get birth control to black women who desired more control over their reproductive health.
The line of reasoning Cannon is parroting doesn’t address actual documented instances of reproductive coercion, such as the history of forced sterilization of women of color. Instead, it promotes an image of black women as incapable of making informed decisions about their own bodies and lives, perpetuating genocide in their own families. It suggests that the best role a woman can play is that of a mother, and choosing a different path makes her a traitor to her community. That narrative has informed anti-abortion activists’ current attempt to hijack the rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement to blame black women, not racist and militarized police forces, for the real epidemic of killings in the U.S.
If Cannon and his ilk truly cared about reproductive justice and bodily autonomy for women of color, they might push for better sex education, affordable contraception, and policies that support working parents. Instead, they demonize health care providers, casting patients as pawns instead of people.