The controversy centers around her support for eugenics
A bust at a Smithsonian museum is the latest target in a heated back and forth between conservatives and Planned Parenthood.
Conservative groups are calling on the National Portrait Gallery to remove of a bust of Margaret Sanger from the Washington, D.C. museum, the Associated Press reports. Sanger, who died in 1966, founded two groups that eventually became Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has been harshly criticized by conservatives following the release of a series of undercover videos that show employees of the healthcare organization negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. However, a group of ministers lead by former Republican politician E.W. Jackson and the conservative non-profit ForAmerica say their opposition to the bust is based on Sanger’s support of eugenics, a social movement that sought to remove undesirable traits from the gene pool through sterilization and selective breeding.
Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, told the AP that Sanger believed eugenics could be used to “sterilize out of existence the poor, the blacks.”
Republican politicians have echoed these claims. Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas have written a letter to lawmakers that calls the sculpture’s display by the museum “an affront both to basic human decency and the very meaning of justice.”
In a statement to TIME, Planned Parenthood acknowledged Sanger’s flaws, but dismissed the attacks as motivated by anti-abortion sentiment.
“This is a group with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion,” said spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. “There is no doubt that Margaret Sanger made some controversial, harmful statements that Planned Parenthood does not uphold. What we do know is that her fight for birth control access for all women — and her partnership with leaders like W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell — has helped millions of women and people to this day.”
Officials at the National Portrait Gallery say they won’t remove the bust, which has been on display since 2010. A spokesperson for the gallery told the AP that the museum’s displays include some people with “less than admirable characteristics.”
Sanger’s bust is included in the museum’s “Struggle for Justice” exhibit, which highlights Americans who fought for the civil rights of disenfranchised or marginalized groups.
This is not the first time Planned Parenthood has had to defend Sanger. A 2004 fact sheet published by the group comes to the activist’s defense, while also separating the organization from some of her more antiquated beliefs. The fact sheet says that criticizing the family planning movement based on Sanger’s support for eugenics is like rejecting the Declaration of Independence because “it’s author, Thomas Jefferson, bought and sold slaves.”