How Black Women Are Saving Planned Parenthood

Star Jones, Nia Long and other African-American notables are helping boost the organization in communities of color.

Planned Parenthood offices in New York Mario Tama/Getty Images

”A significant faction within the black power movement believed that population growth was key to increasing black political strength. At the 1967 Black Power Conference in Newark, N.J., attendees passed an anti-birth control resolution declaring birth control to be the equivalent of black genocide.

“In the summer of 1969, the situation reached a boiling point, moving beyond inflammatory words to actual threats of violence against a Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood office in the African-American neighborhood of Homewood-Brushton. A small, vocal group of men in the black community vehemently opposed the clinic and the dispensing of birth control, especially the pill. Determined to take action, they threatened the clinic with firebombs and riots. In a panic, the clinic shut down.”

But as recently covered on The Root, access to contraception is one of the key predictors for escaping poverty. And laws that limit contraception access hurt poor women more, many of them black women who continue to have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies of any community. For this reason the fight among employers over contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act, which is headed to the Supreme Court, has become a rallying cry for Planned Parenthood and its supporters. The battle has made Planned Parenthood one of the most visible and prominent political activist groups in the country, and black women have become increasingly crucial to its efforts.

Asked by The Root if having an African-American board chairwoman mattered and helped the organization with its outreach to diverse communities, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards replied, “Absolutely.” She credited, for instance, Alexis McGill Johnson and other board members of color with coming up with the idea for Wednesday’s event. When asked why she felt the event was necessary, Johnson told The Root, “Women of color are leading in so many ways, and I felt it was really important to gather a group of women who have been successful in banking, media and politics, just ideas for how we can use our power to push for the issues we care about. Planned Parenthood is one of those issues.” 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.