According to Burnett, the organization has at times made the mistake of downplaying such fears instead of acknowledging the concerns. “There needs to be a more concerted effort from Planned Parenthood to [talk about] Margaret Sanger and say what her past was in the eugenics movement and the impact that has when they enter into black communities, and to lead with that so people don’t think they are trying to avoid the issue,” Burnett said.
Planned Parenthood has begun diversifying its staff and communications to reach a broader audience, but Burnett said that President Obama could be one of the most effective messengers when it comes to family planning, particularly in getting the issue to resonate with black men. “The president could talk about prevention and personal responsibility as it pertains to family planning,” she said, adding that the message should be conveyed that the responsibility for planning a family does not rest just with women. But perhaps even more important, she said, is conveying that the responsibility begins before conception in the choices you make.
The Immeasurable Power of the Bully Pulpit
Certainly no one is encouraging the president of the United States to pass out birth control to people. But if he and his wife expressed to the countless young black men and women who look up to them that part of their own long-term success stemmed from having college degrees — but the other part stemmed from their choice to wait to have their two children until they were emotionally and financially able to support them — the message could go a long way. Much as the first couple’s willingness to take an AIDS test in Africa spurred others to do the same, a message of responsible family planning might also leave a lasting legacy.
In response to a query from The Root, an official from the Obama administration noted that black people make up 20 percent of Title X patients, who are traditionally from low-income communities, seeking affordable care from government-subsidized family planning clinics. The administration further noted that this fall, the Mobile County Health Department in Alabama will implement the family planning program SIHLE, which is aimed at young African-American females.
The administration also touted its record defending and expanding comprehensive sexual-education programs in public schools, after years of an emphasis on abstinence-only education during the last Bush administration — an emphasis that experts blamed for a rise in teen pregnancies in the U.S. during that time. However, recent Washington Post analysis found abstinence-only programs regaining some funding and prominence over the last year.