Unplanned Parenthood: Why Do Corporations Support the Nation’s Largest Abortion Group?

American Telephone and Telegraph had provided financial support for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 1965. That is why the philanthropic community was surprised when Reynold Levy, president of AT&T’s corporate foundation, announced in April of this year that his corporation would no longer give grants to Planned Parenthood. Robin Caldwell, manager of corporate contributions for AT&T, commented that “as long as Planned Parenthood supports abortion, we won’t support them.” AT&T is not alone in this conviction. In the last two years more than a dozen American companies, including J.C. Penny, Union Pacific Corporation, and Xerox, have discontinued grants to Planned Parenthood. Today, corporate contributions account for only two percent of Planned Parenthood’s $330 million annual budget—one-half the amount corporations contributed in the 1970s. Planned Parenthood still has over 40 corporate sponsors, but that number is decreasing steadily. What is causing this attrition in corporate support for Planned Parenthood?

When AT&T announced its decision, it cited Planned Parenthood’s political activities as the justification. An AT&T spokesman said that Planned Parenthood is “at the forefront of one of the most divisive issues in American politics” and pointed to evidence that Planned Parenthood was preparing to campaign for pro-abortion candidates in the 1990 elections. AT&T also stated that their company “does not give to political organizations.”

In the year since the Supreme Court’s Webster decision allowing states to restrict abortions, Planned Parenthood has become synonymous with abortion rights. Planned Parenthood is not only adamantly pro-abortion today, it was founded precisely to crusade for legal birth control’ and abortion. In its 75-year history Planned Parent-hood has always campaigned for any measure which would decrease birth rates. This might seem to be a benign conviction in light of the supposed Third World over-population problem. Yet Planned Parenthood’s original interest in decreasing birth rates involves a much more controversial agenda, and in pursuing this agenda Planned Parenthood has remained firmly pro-abortion.

Planned Parenthood was founded in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, a self-proclaimed socialist and white supremacist. An advocate of eugenics and abortion, Sanger saw Planned Parenthood as an organization which would create “a race of thoroughbreds” by promoting, “more children from the fit, less from the unfit.” To this end she proclaimed that restricting the populations of “non-Aryans” was “the chief issue of birth control.” Sanger believed that the non-whites posed a “great biological menace to the future of civilization and deserved to be treated like criminals.” In 1939 Sanger created the Planned Parenthood Negro Project aimed at the comprehensive sterilization of blacks. On several occasions Sanger was removed from the Planned Parenthood Executive Board for her radicalism, but she was always reinstated by her loyal followers. She remained active in the organization until her death in 1966.

One would think that Sanger’s successors would have repudiated her racist ideology. Yet Alan Guttmacher, who steered Planned Parenthood into legitimacy in the 1960s, never denounced Sanger. In fact he idolized her, stating “I am merely walking down the path that Sanger carved for us.” Ironically, Faye Wattleton, the black current president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, says: “I am proud to be walking in the footsteps of Margaret Sanger.” Even more remarkable is the extent to which Sanger’s vision has been realized. Fully 70 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are located in black or Hispanic neighborhoods, and 43 percent of abortions in the United States are performed on black women.

The connection between Planned Parenthood and abortion has evolved steadily over the years. Planned Parent-hood has always seen abortion as a legitimate form of birth control, and this posed a problem for the organization in the early 1960s. Planned Parenthood wanted to expand its services throughout the United States and needed an influx of government money. The pro-abortion position of the organization prevented major government subsidies; thus in 1963, after years of internal debate, Planned Parenthood issued the statement “abortion kills the life of a baby,” and federal money quickly started to flow into its coffers. Jo Ann Gasper, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population at the Department of Health and Human Services, has argued that “the organization publicly distanced itself from abortion to gain respectability” but in reality never changed its pro-abortion position.

The Planned Parenthood strategy worked very well. The Johnson and Nixon administrations were concerned about the burgeoning costs of the Great Society programs and saw Planned Parenthood as a means to decrease birth rates and thus the costs of entitlements. In 1964 the Economic Opportunity Act introduced large scale federal assistance for Planned Parenthood. The levels of tax subsidies increased throughout the 1960s and culminated in the 1970 Tydings Act, which created Title X funds (from which Planned Parenthood gets most of its government money) and reorganized and enlarged federal grants for Planned Parenthood. Today Planned Parenthood gets over 36 percent of its $330 million annual budget directly from local, state, and federal government grants.

It is no coincidence that corporations began giving significant amounts of money to Planned Parenthood around the same time that it started receiving federal grants. Federal funding gave Planned Parenthood the legitimacy it could never have achieved alone. As Planned Parenthood established itself as the government’s premier and seemingly most worthy charity, corporations were drawn into funding an organization which secretly campaigned for abortion before Roe v. Wade and moved quickly to take up the mantle of “reproductive rights” once abortion was legalized.

Once the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973, Planned Parenthood went public with its support for abortion. In 1983 it appeased the memory of Sanger by putting abortion officially into Planned Parenthood’s official credo. This devotion to abortion is more than ideological loyalty; abortion is big business for Planned Parenthood. In 1989 Planned Parenthood made $23.5 million directly from the 250,000 abortions it performs or refers annually. This represents 8.5 percent of Planned Parenthood’s annual revenue. Planned Parenthood operates 879 clinics nationally; these clinics refer 37.4 percent of women who receive their pregnancy tests to abortionists, while the abortion referral rate for all other clinics in the nation is 4.7 percent. One Planned Parenthood clinic referred 86.4 percent of pregnant women it tested to abortionists.

Planned Parenthood’s financial and ideological devotion to abortion, coupled with the size of the organization, has made it the nation’s leading pro-abortion group. During the 1970s and early 1980s this status generated little controversy in most quarters because of the assured legality of abortion and the seemingly endless flow of legitimizing federal money going to Planned Parenthood. Yet whenever universal abortion rights have been challenged, Planned Parenthood has moved radically and aggressively to ensure its continued legality, shedding light on its controversial agenda. The 1987 nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court was such a challenge.

Planned Parenthood’s response to the Bork nomination took the form of its “Public Impact Campaign,” an immense slander and defamation campaign designed to lobby the Senate to deny Bork confirmation. Planned Parenthood’s nationally distributed ads described Bork as “an extremist who believes you have no constitutional right to personal privacy” and as an opponent of “civil liberties” in general. These ads also alleged that Bork would allow the government to “impose family quotas for population services, make abortion a crime, or sterilize anyone they choose.” These ads accused Bork of opposing all of America’s “basic freedoms” and of planning an “outrageous assault on the women of America.” Planned Parenthood’s total misrepresentation of Bork’s judicial philosophy played a major role in the defeat of his nomination. The episode with Robert Bork clearly demonstrates that though Planned Parenthood may feign a moderate or mainstream stance in many instances, in a political battle it will reveal its ideological and rhetorical extremism.

It is hard for companies today to say Planned Parenthood is not active in the pro-abortion cause. President Faye Wattleton herself wrote in Planned Parenthood’s 1989 corporate report that “Planned Parenthood intensified its national leadership in undertaking legal action to protect reproductive rights.” In a March 1990 fundraising letter Wattleton reiterated and further endorsed her “campaign to keep abortion safe and legal” and warned that a “tiny, fanatical minority of anti-choice activists… won’t stop with the destruction of abortion rights,” implying that pro-lifers intend to threaten many other civil liberties.

Wattleton does not limit this highly partisan tone specifically to keeping abortion legal. In addition, she has called United States’ Third World policy “dangerous and cruel,” described Ronald Reagan as “someone in the White House [who] is out to get you,” and claimed that “far-right extremists” plan to force private corporations to fire any “woman who has had an abortion.” Much of Planned Parenthood’s literature and Wattleton’s rhetoric are aimed at creating political polarization; labels such as “moral majority extremists,” “right-winger,” “ultra-conservative,” and “extreme right” are constantly employed to frame the views of opponents, while Planned Parenthood is portrayed as a defender of individual liberty.

AT&T’S decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood was covered in earnest by the national media and was heralded by pro-life forces as a major victory. Conversely, Planned Parenthood reacted violently to the news and accused AT&T of “corporate cowardice” by “catering to a closed-minded minority.” Faye Wattleton wrote that “if a corporate giant like AT&T can be brought to its knees by a fanatical religious group”—she meant the Christian Action Council, which led the effort against AT&T—”what’s to stand in the way of further attacks on companies across this nation?” Planned Parenthood is clearly worried that companies are getting nervous about their grants.

Since none of Planned Parenthood’s corporate sponsors have an official abortion position, why do they feel so driven to continue to support Planned Parenthood in the face of public pressure and the organization’s vigorous and polarizing advocacy of abortion? Even after speaking to corporate grantmakers at length, their rationale is difficult to grasp. Almost all the corporations which continue to fund Planned Parenthood say that they do so in the interest of providing “social services” for the communities in which they operate. They see Planned Parenthood as an essential deliverer of such services largely because that is how the federal government sees Planned Parenthood.

For some corporations this rationale is enough. Companies like American Express, which gave $7,500 in 1989, seem uninterested in what Planned Parenthood actually does or in shifting grants to less controversial deliverers of “social services.” Lisa Rosenburg of American Express corporate communication summed it up for her company: “Our grant program is driven to help people in the community, and we are not concerned with others’ views on what we fund.” Her corporation’s defiant stance is rare among Planned Parenthood’s sponsors.

Most corporations understand the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and attempt to appease the concerns of pro-life groups by restricting their grants to specific programs and not allowing their money to go directly for abortion. Yet when companies like National Cash Register (NCR)—which gave approximately $100,000 to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Ohio during the 1980s—award grants for non-abortion services they merely free up funds for abortions or buy equipment and buildings where abortions are eventually performed. Prudential has a similar program and gives $15,000 to a clinic in New Jersey for “health care,” a definition broad enough to include abortion services.

The vast majority of corporate gifts given to Planned Parenthood are restricted to sex education programs. General Mills gave $18,000 to such programs in 1989, while American Express contributed $7,500, Chase Manhattan $15,000, Citicorp $24,500, and the New York Times $10,000, to name only a few companies. Yet this effort to avoid complicity in Planned Parenthood’s pro-abortion ac¬tivities by funding only educational programs has not been particularly successful, partly because of the controversial nature of these educational programs.

Planned Parenthood’s institutional attitude is that any sexual activity is healthy and good for any individual, at any age, so long as there is free consent to engage in the act. The bible of Planned Parenthood’s sex education program is Faye Wattleton’s book How to Talk with Your Child about Sexuality. This book devotes a whole section to the central importance of masturbation in sexual development and says that this act is essential for fulfilling intercourse. Wattleton also instructs young men how to delay ejaculation; young women are taught how to improve orgasms. Wattleton writes that “Girls and boys need especially to be reassured that sexual play with a friend of one’s own gender is fairly common” and should be encouraged.

In addition, Planned Parenthood’s educational programs include instruction on how to use a condom and field trips to local drug stores to practice purchasing contraceptives. In class, abortion is discussed as an option of equal value to giving birth. In Planned Parenthood’s well- known handbook, Teen Sex? It’s OK to Say No Way, the textual message is exactly opposite from that of the title. Pre-marital celibacy is roundly disparaged, and safe sex is heralded as the key to happy teenage development. Jo Ann Gasper believes that there is a self-interested reason for Planned Parenthood’s promotion of indiscriminate sexual activity: “They’re in the business to sell sex and lure people into dependency on their lucrative contraception and abortion services.” Planned Parenthood itself has stated that sex cannot be destructive or abused. When Reatha King, president of the General Mills Foundation (which finances such programs) was asked if she knew the specific information taught in these classes, she responded, “We don’t probe Planned Parenthood on their exact activities.” Corporations might be alarmed if they knew what they were really financing.

Some companies which try to avoid complicity in Planned Parenthood’s abortion industry find themselves duped and frustrated. Rockwell International once gave money directly to Planned Parenthood, but now contributes only to United Way, hoping to take the stigma off the company and, as vice president of corporate communications Richard Mau comments, “letting them decide.” This provides only a partial answer for Rockwell because United Way itself gives heavily to Planned Parenthood.

Corporations should be wary of supporting organizations which are not universally supported by the shareholders, not to mention ones which could damage profits and hurt a company’s public image. Most corporations that fund Planned Parenthood seem to have lost sight of their responsibilities to their shareholders. If corporations are concerned about the financial needs of groups like Planned Parenthood, they should increase their annual dividends and encourage individual shareholders to support such groups; they should not use misguided interests and the rusty bureaucracies of corporate foundations to drive their corporate actions.

When Beverly Barna of Prudential was asked if her company’s grant of $15,000 means they support Planned Parenthood, she responded, “I don’t agree with that at all.” Yet their gift certainly does not imply a lack of support. Since a corporation is the property of the shareholders, Barna cannot say her company supports Planned Parenthood because her shareholders have never been given a chance to vote on these grants, as is the case with the majority of Planned Parenthood’s sponsors.

Similarly, Dick Beach of NCR could explain neither his company’s position on abortion, nor Planned Parenthood’s; the best he could do was, “I assume Planned Parenthood is pro-choice,” surely the safest assumption ever made.

The whole issue of corporate support of Planned Parenthood must be viewed in accordance with the basic ideals behind corporate philanthropy. Companies give money to various charities to better their corporate image through the good works these charities perform. To achieve this interest, corporations must understand both the history of the organizations they are funding and what their money is sponsoring. When a company finds itself funding an organization like Planned Parenthood—which it feels compelled to disown publicly; which drives a company into misconstruing the history, interests, and programs of the grant recipient; which enrages sizeable portions of the public—then that corporation is not making a well-informed grant decision.


  • Andrew Zappia

    At the time this article was published, Andrew Zappia was a senior at Tufts University, where he edited a campus newspaper, The Primary Source.

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