Image features a picture of Simone Biles with this text:
In 1997, a girl born to an “unfit” drug-addicted mother and abandoned by her father was Planned Parenthood’s perfect target.
Would later become arguably the best gymnast in the world.
Earlier today, I came upon the above image on Facebook. There are at least two things wrong with this meme. First, the meme mischaracterizes Planned Parenthood. Second, it forgets who actually targets children like Simone.
Neither Planned Parenthood nor any pro-choice activist I know of would call a woman “unfit.” Why is the term included in the meme, then? Because pro-life activists spend a lot of time and effort drawing connections between Planned Parenthood and the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately for them, their efforts fail. Eugenicists of the early twentieth century worked to sterilize women who were considered unfit. In contrast, Planned Parenthood works to empower women to make their own reproductive decisions.
Some years ago, I spent time volunteering at Planned Parenthood as a counselor. I remember my training well. If a woman came in for an abortion but expressed a desire to keep her pregnancy, we were instructed to do everything we could to help her find the resources she needed to do so. We had brochures on rehab programs, information on qualifying for pregnancy medicaid and subsidized childcare. Had a poor, drug-addicted mother come into the clinic for an appointment and said she wanted to keep her pregnancy, but didn’t know how she could possibly do so, we would have moved heaven and earth to make it happen.
Being pro-choice is about enabling women to control their reproduction—to choose whether and when to have children. Ensuring that women who want to do so are able to keep their pregnancies is central to that mission. Planned Parenthood does not go about targeting “unfit” mothers with abortions. Instead, the organization focuses on empowering women to make their own reproductive decisions and ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to do so. That mission is antithetical to calling any group de facto “unfit.”
I actually do know a group that uses words like “unfit,” though. Republicans in several states have moved to keep anyone on drugs from qualifying for welfare, literally taking food out of the mouths of children like Simone. Prominent Republicans such as Rick Santorum have argued for denying teen mothers welfare eligibility altogether, which would disqualify women like Simone’s biological mother. Many Republicans have argued that unmarried women—like Simone’s biological mother—should keep their legs shut, and that producing children like Simone was irresponsible and bred crime.
I don’t know whether Simone’s biological mother was poor or on government programs. I do know that blackness has long been woven into Republican rhetoric about “welfare queens,” and that drugs, blackness, criminality, and unwed motherhood are often mixed together in toxic stereotypes. I also know that Republicans do not look fondly on women who have children out of wedlock. Simone was the sort of child Republicans would prefer not be born in the first place. Simone’s biological mother is the kind of woman Republicans point to and stigmatize when creating laws to repeal welfare or discourage premarital sex.
As it turns out, Simone Biles wasn’t Planned Parenthood’s perfect target. Instead, she was the Republican Party’s perfect target.
This is exactly the reason I lost faith in the pro-life movement years ago.