This fall, Hillsdale’s Students for Life joined the growing campaign to remove the bust of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, from the “Struggle for Justice” exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through petitionary action.
The petition enumerates the club’s grievances with Sanger, which include her use of birth control and abortion as population suppressants in African-American communities. They feel that this an insult to the integrity of the exhibit, which was created to feature individuals who fought for the rights of society’s marginalized, especially since Sanger was also involved in the eugenics movement, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Nazi Party.
“[Sanger’s] life’s work was to eliminate those who she deemed “lesser”, mostly through the atrocity of abortion,” said Erik Halvorson, Secretary of Students for Life. “ As of now, she sits among great figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. in the ‘Struggle for Justice’ exhibit. This is a disgrace seeing as her ideology is the complete antithesis of theirs.”
So far, 266 students, faculty, and community members have signed the petition since President of Students for Life Kathleen Russo set it in motion this summer.
“I actually had the idea while was reading a book this summer, ‘Merchants of Despair,’” Russo said. “It talks about Sanger’s involvement in eugenics and how the rise of Planned Parenthood was part of a repackaging of eugenics into population control and how that was marketed to the country and the world in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Hillsdale’s Students for Life is not the first to attempt to remove Sanger’s bust from the exhibit. In 2014, a group of African-American pastors called ForAmerica undertook a similar quest, but their efforts were rebuffed by Kim Sajet, director of the gallery. Sajet wrote a letter to the president of the group explaining that the “Struggle for Justice” exhibit was intended to highlight figures who have championed the civil rights of marginalized groups, and that Margaret Sanger fits into that category, regardless of her history with eugenics.
“There is no ‘moral test’ for people to be accepted into the National Portrait Gallery,” Sajet said in a letter according to CNSNews.
While Students for Life’s ultimate goal is to persuade the National Portrait Gallery to remove the bust from the gallery, it recognizes that this may not be possible. Therefore they are focusing their campaign not only on filing the petition, but also on spreading awareness about the issue.
“The problem with Margaret Sanger is that she is so celebrated when there is such blatant evidence that she was actually racist,” Russo said. “If we can just shed some light, and maybe change the tide of this movement, that would be awesome. There is just a huge discrepancy between the reality and the messaging. We are trying to bring these two things back together.”
The National Portrait Gallery did not respond to a request for comment.