Early 20th C. eugenics still predominates in Progressive abortion circles

A conversation with a young college student revealed that the Progressive abortion obsession has changed little since the early 20th Century.

beautiful life black baby abortionI’ve been brooding for a few days now about a conversation I had last week with a student attending Oberlin. During the course of our talk, the student earnestly told me that, thanks to his Anthropology 101 class, he fully understands why it is imperative that we keep abortion entirely legal throughout a pregnancy. (Thankfully, he did not try to argue, as this college student did, that abortion ought to be extended into a child’s second year out of the womb.)

As best as I could tell what the young man was arguing, his teacher showed the class statistics for prison populations in America. Most of these prisoners came from damaged communities. Apparently the teacher taught, or the student concluded on his own initiative (or the zeitgeist at Oberlin holds), that the best way to shrink the American prison population is to abort potential children in poor, damaged communities (which I understood to mean inner city black communities).

This argument, of course, is the ultimate utilitarian take on the Freakonomics assertion that the reason we’ve seen an overall drop in crime since 1973 is that multiple generations of would-be criminals were terminated ab initio thanks to Roe v. Wade. If past abortion reduced present crime, the Oberlin student seemed to be saying in his muddled way, we can pretty much eliminate future crime with more present-day abortions!

I was shocked spitless and, indeed, suffered a terrible attack of l’esprit de l’escalier (or, in Yiddish, trepverter) — that is, the perfect responses to this eugenics worldview didn’t strike me until the student was gone. You’ll notice I said “responses” (plural) because there are so many.

I did manage to choke out the first argument in the list below, but the remainder came to my mind later, as I was brooding about this discussion. The first three arguments are the quick and easy ones. The fourth argument provided the title for this post.

Here goes:

1. It’s entirely possible that young people in those damaged communities have grown up to be violent criminals because the prevalence of abortion in their community tells them that life has no value. To support this argument, I told the student something he did not know: Planned Parenthood clinics are most common in poor communities. PP supporters would say that’s because they go where the need is greatest; PP opponents argue that PP is targeting vulnerable populations.

2. The criminal problems in poor neighborhoods may arise because, at the same time that legalized abortion came along, single motherhood started climbing. Children raised by a single mother do not fare well. Boys without fathers are more likely to engage in crime. Girls without fathers are more likely to become promiscuous and depressed. And both boys and girls unlucky enough to have a mother who is not particular about the quality of the men who roll through her life, are at extreme risk of abuse and death. While these statistics hold true for fatherless children of all races, the reality is that the scourge is worst in the black community — the same black community that abortionists target and in which Democrats continue to push government welfare over fathers.

3. A continuation of the last clause in the previous paragraph — “in which Democrats continue to push government welfare over fathers” — is that all of these damaged communities have had generations of Democrat politicians and their policies. Perhaps before we take more lives in abortion clinics, those communities should give different political ideologies a try. Trump’s policies, for example, have seen the best black employment in decades, which may well benefit all those damaged communities.

As an aside about Trump, it’s ironic that the president who is presiding over a rising tide lifting black-owned boats and who is protesting abortion policies that are most likely to destroy black babies, is relentlessly castigated as a racist. The Democrat narrative may be false, but it sure is strong.

4. The student is making the same argument that Progressives were making in the 1910s when they pushed for sterilization, birth control, and even euthanasia for the underclasses. Jean Webster, writing in 1915 in Dear Enemy, made the classy intellectual’s argument for stopping the “feebleminded”:

It seems that feeblemindedness is a very hereditary quality, and science isn’t able to overcome it. No operation has been discovered for introducing brains into the head of a child who didn’t start with them. And the child grows up with, say, a nine-year brain in a thirty-year body, and becomes an easy tool for any criminal he meets. Our prisons are one-third full of feeble-minded convicts. Society ought to segregate them on feeble-minded farms, where they can earn their livings in peaceful menial pursuits, and not have children. Then in a generation or so we might be able to wipe them out. (Emphasis mine.)

Better living through science (and carefully targeted murder). Americans were certainly receptive to these arguments phrased, as they were, for the greater betterment of society. In the first third of the 20th century, As Dinesh D’Sousa compellingly shows in The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, Progressives made a lot of headway sterilizing the “unfit”:

“America led the way in legalizing and promoting coerced eugenic sterilizations,” historian Angela Franks writes. [fn. omitted.] Progressives had their first success in 1907 when Indiana passed a law requiring sterilization of “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.” Over the next thirty years, twenty-six other states passed similar laws. In the early 1930s, when the Nazis came to power, American states were sterilizing 2,000 to 4,000 people a year. In all, around 65,000 people were sterilized against their will as a consequence of progressive eugenic legislation in the United States. (D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, Kindle Locations 2579-2583. Regnery Publishing.)

The Progressives’ real target, though, wasn’t the “feebleminded”; it was, instead, the darker races, who were deemed automatically both feebleminded and criminal:

Basically, progressive educators and health officials would begin by classifying uneducated, lower-class women—the majority of them black, Hispanic, or American Indian—as congenitally “imbecilic” or “unfit.” The police were then called, and these women were imprisoned or segregated from the general population, ostensibly to avoid them contaminating others. In some cases, women were held indefinitely, with the goal of preventing them from breeding throughout their reproductive years.

After a period of incarceration or forced confinement, the women would be given the option of being sterilized and returning to normal life. Faced with the choice of segregation or imprisonment on the one hand, or sterilization on the other, many women consented to being sterilized. Consequently, progressive social service officials listed the sterilizations as “voluntary” rather than coerced. (The Big Lie, Kindle Locations 2609-2616.)

Once you start coming up with ideas to stop certain people from breeding — which is what this young Oberlin student believed was a good thing — the problem is that, if you are at all modern, you’ll start looking for a more efficient way to deal with the problem of those dark-skinned, inner-city criminals. After all, stopping them from having babies fixes the problem in the future, but not in the present. Euthanasia, which would operate for society’s immediate benefit, is the obvious next step although, thankfully, it never got off the ground in America:

Progressive eugenicists in America also introduced the idea of euthanasia as an alternative to incarceration and forced sterilization. The leading advocate for killing off undesirables was the California geneticist Paul Popenoe, who argued in his textbook Applied Eugenics that, when it came to the congenitally feebleminded or the habitually criminal, “the first method which presents itself is execution.” [fn. omitted.] Popenoe proposed “lethal chambers” to carry out these executions. Popenoe’s suggestion was controversial from the outset. Ultimately progressives rejected euthanasia as a viable program for getting rid of disposable people, while affirming the principle that such people ought to be eliminated in other ways. (The Big Lie, Kindle Locations 2616-2622.)

Incidentally, one of the most important points D’Souza makes in The Big Lie is that the Nazis didn’t inspire the crazy eugenicists in America; it was the eugenicists — or, more accurately, the Progressives, Democrats, and Jim Crow Democrats — who inspired the Nazis:

At international eugenics conferences, the Germans were typically considered the second most advanced eugenic community in the world, and the Americans the most advanced. Perhaps the most significant of these was the Third International Congress of Eugenics, hosted in 1932 at New York’s Museum of Natural History. One year before the Nazis came to power, the German press enthusiastically reported on the “progress” of America’s eugenic policies.

“Germany had certainly developed its own body of eugenic knowledge,” Edwin Black writes in The War Against the Weak. “Yet German readers still closely followed American eugenic accomplishments as the model—biological courts, forced sterilization, detention for the socially inadequate, debates on euthanasia.” For American progressives, even before the Nazis, “a superior race of Nordics was increasingly seen as the final solution to the globe’s eugenic problems.” And when the Nazis implemented their eugenic policies, American progressives were openly envious, with one of them protesting that “the Germans are beating us at our own game.” [fn. omitted.] (The Big Lie, Kindle Locations 2632-2641.)

If you read The Big Lie — and I recommend that you do (and buying through this link will send a few pennies my way) — D’Souza also does a great job summarizing how Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, saw it as a vehicle for ridding America of the unfit, especially the unfit who were blacks. As she said, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” (Quoted in The Big Lie, Kindle Locations 2667-2669.)

Amongst today’s Progressives and Democrats, it’s as if the whole 20th century, including the Gas Chambers, never happened. The rap is still that we want to save the dark-skinned races from themselves by culling the herd.

Nor will Progressives consider other ways of saving minorities from themselves — such as promoting fatherhood; treating them like full-fledged humans, rather than half-wits who must forever be latched on the government teat; or apologizing for their community pathologies, rather than having blacks face and fix them. The ultimate efficiency (as the Nazis also concluded) is just to kill them before they cause trouble.

5. I get the feeling that one of the Anthro 101 teachers at Oberlin isn’t particularly fond of children, which may have affected how students perceived the information they received in her class. Crystal Biruk is a bright-eyed, attractive looking person who, like just about every other teacher in the liberal arts cannot resist inserting her personal beliefs or situation into the classes she teaches. (Those few students who have reviewed her classes like her.)

Because Biruk is lesbian, her intro class has a significant LGBT component, despite the fact that, in anthropology at home and abroad, the LGBT community is a statistically small part of any population. Given the small numbers of LGBT citizens in any given population, logic suggests that LGBT issues should be limited to more advanced, focus anthropology class, rather than in an initial survey class.

Nevertheless, if you look at Biruk’s 2012 class syllabus, written just five years before my young friend took the class, you will see that it has a surprisingly generous amount of time allotted to LGBT issues. While the class definitely covers the material one would expect in Intro to Anthro, you also get these interludes:

* Assignment |Anthropology in the real world essays
Due | October 2(#1), November 8(#2), December 4 (#3)

Description |Part of being a good anthropologist is staying informed about everyday happenings; these assignments will help cultivate your anthropological “alertness.”In each of three short papers, you will apply your growing knowledge of anthropological concepts to the “real world.” Write a 2-3-page paper in which you interpret an “object” of your choice through the lens of concepts and insights from the readings or class discussion. Your object can be anything at all: a popular song, a performance you attend, a film, a news story, an art exhibit, or an advertisement. (Google Alerts might be a useful tool to “alert” you to relevant items in the news or on the Web). Examples: one might consider a news story about gay marriage alongside our readings on kinship; one might analyze the Olympic opening or closing ceremonies through the lens of “ritual;” one might consider the class, gendered,or racialized assumptions inherent in advertisements for a popular product, and so on. Your objective is to illustrate to me that you can use core course concepts to interpret social phenomena and objects. The general topic for each paper and due date follows:

1. “The Gift and Gifts,” Due October 2
2. “Race, class, and social stratification,” Due November 8
3. “Gender and sexuality,” Due December 4 (Bolded, italicized emphasis mine)

There’s a definite point of view there. That point of view continues to crop up throughout the semester:

b) Final Research Paper (10 pages)
Due | Tuesday, December 18 at 5pm via email to instructor. . . .
Description |
You should choose a cultural group that is of interest to you and that is represented in the anthropological literature. You may elect to focus on a group of people anywhere in the world, but you must be able to argue that they comprise a “cultural group” and find enough ethnographic sources to answer the assigned questions about the group. Obvious entry points into this assignment are ethnic groups (i.e. the San of southern Africa, the Maasai of east Africa, or the Fore of Papua New Guinea), but you may also choose to study a sub-cultural group if you prefer (such as men who have sex with men in South Africa, diasporic communities in New York City, or anarchists). (Bolded, italicized emphasis mine.)

That slant continues in the description of required reading — and that’s also where I came away with the notion that Biruk isn’t fond of children:

Thursday, September 6| What is “culture?”

*Clyde Kluckhohn. (1949). “Queer customs,” in Mirror for Man: The Relation of Anthropology to Modern Life.


Thursday, September 27| Queering Kinship
*Real World Paper #1 Due (Bring a hardcopy to class)

*E. Teman. (2003). “The medicalization of ‘nature’ in the ‘artificial body:’ Surrogate motherhood in Israel.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17(1):78-98.

*New York Times. (2012). “Same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.”

*Rachel L. Swarns. (2012). Gay couples face pressure to have children. New York Times.


Part 5: Gender and Sexuality in a Transnational World

Tuesday, November 13| Sex and intersections

Gayatri Reddy. With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India, chapters 1 & 2, pp.1-44

Thursday, November 15|Sexing bodies and selves

Instructor out of town, more later

With Respect to Sex, chapters 3 & 4, pp. 44-99

Film: Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990), 78 minutes.

Tuesday, November 20|Producing gender, performing relatedness

With Respect to Sex, chapters 6 & 7, pp. 121-186


Tuesday, November 27|Transnational sexual politics

With Respect to Sex, chapters 9 &10, pp. 211-232.

As I said, a definite point of view infuses the class. Even if Biruk isn’t personally opposed to children, you cannot escape her Progressive worldview. That worldview will not contemplate alternatives to abortion when it comes to saving blacks and other minorities from themselves.

If I’d had the time and the resources at my fingertips (not to mention the presence of  mind), those are the five arguments I would have made to the young man who thought minority prison populations justify abortion. What arguments would you have made?