February 06, 2012
Not from "The Onion"
Over at The Huffington Post, Bennett Gershman discusses Justice Holmes's (in)famous decree, in Buck v. Bell, that "three generations of imbeciles are enough." As I started the piece, I thought, "right on! HuffPo has its political leanings, clearly, but they are clear-eyed enough to see the troubling connections between the founding of Planned Parenthood and the early-20th-century eugenics movement. Good for them!" In fact, though, the piece's author is interested in, and worried about, the alleged connections between Holmes's view (and the eugenics movement generally) with today's "anti-choice" movement. He says nothing about the fact that the leading (and, perhaps, really the only) consistent voice against eugenics and its supporting ideology, before WWII, was the Catholic Church. He says nothing, at all, about the enthusiasm for eugenics [by Planned Parenthood's founder] Margaret Sanger. It's really one of the least self-aware pieces I can recall reading. He ends with this:
But Buck v. Bell has never been overruled, and the legacy of that case, albeit a footnote in constitutional law, is a brooding presence that continues to unsettle our national conscience. States may continue to express regret for what they did in the name of fraudulent science and social hypocrisy, but the stain really doesn't go away.
UPDATE: I revised the text above, to take account of the fact that, as a correspondent noted, Sanger often expressed opposition to abortion. That said, my strong impression -- formed after reading what I can find on the matter -- is that her opposition reflected primarily her concern that illegal abortions, at that time, were unsafe for women, that women were often pressured by men to have abortions, and that expressions of opposition to abortion were useful in gaining support for increased access to contraception. I do not think her record suggests any reservations, though, about the desirability of a move to legalized, safer abortions (or about the justifiability of abortion in the service of eugenics).
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