As we observed Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday yesterday, anti-abortion activists gathered for their own version of a march on Washington. It’s no secret that many on the Religious Right identify their struggle with the civil rights movement; they even frequently compare their battle against women’s reproductive choice to the effort to abolish slavery.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claims celebrating Martin Luther King Day around the time the Right rallies against Roe v. Wade is “ironic”:
Today we celebrate a man who contributed greatly to both this nation and to the world. Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement against segregation and injustice in the United States has inspired many to follow in his footsteps to fulfill the deeply rooted “dream” he spoke of, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'” There is irony in that Dr. King’s observed birthday today comes the day before the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which forcibly legalized abortion in the United States. The legalization of abortion was the culmination of a dream of Planned Parenthood founder and icon Margaret Sanger. In 1939 Ms. Sanger started the “Negro Project.” The aim of the program was to restrict, many believe exterminate, the African-American population, under the pretense of “better health” and “family planning.” By all accounts her efforts have been highly successful.
… We must all work together to make sure that more future leaders like Dr. King are not exterminated before they are born. It is up to us as a society to decide if the dreams of freedom and equality, or the nightmares of Margaret Sanger, will prevail.
Ranting about the supposed secret plans of early birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger is a frequent tactic on the Right, spearheaded by BlackGenocide.org; although she has been dead for many decades, Sanger makes an easier target than a woman whose freedom to choose was “forcibly legalized.” (Planned Parenthood has a fact sheet on the subject of Margaret Sanger.)
While it’s simple enough to give lip service to King while pushing your own agenda, it’s trickier for Perkins to imply that the legacy of King is to ban abortion, given King’s own words. From King’s 1966 speech accepting Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award:
There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. . . . Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her …
Perkins may have had better luck claiming King was just a patsy for “black genocide,” as Pat Robertson did in 2006:
But making King one of the villains in the “black genocide” conspiracy would make it hard for the Religious Right to piggyback on his legacy. In the end, they may have to admit that Martin Luther King Day is just not about them.