When the Bush family loved Margaret Sanger

Back in the Nixon administration, George Bush (the elder) congratulated family planning advocates on all their successes:

As United States Ambassador to the United Nations under the Nixon Administration, President George H.W. Bush (the first President Bush) wrote a letter to Alan Guttmacher (founder of the Guttmacher Institute) congratulating him on creation of a "family planning" stamp commemorating (gasp!!) Margaret Sanger.

This was in the good ol' days: Republicans were for it before they were against it. The Bush family sat on the board of Planned Parenthood and in numerous and sundry other ways supported global efforts to promote access to family planning services.

While women's rights have always been political, this was before it became fashionable and politically expedient to quite obviously sacrifice both evidence and women's bodies openly on the altar of electoral gains.

(via Beth Pratt)


  1. If only George HW and Barbara had availed themselves of Planned Parenthood’s services in their own lives, what a wonderful world it might still be.

  2. Similarly, I saw a copy of an old Bush family photo Christmas card that clearly labelled the younger George as “George Jr.,” not “George W.” Granted, that change of Bush family policy may have had a less widespread impact.

  3. It started after Goldwater lost in ’64 the right-wing took the GOP over and the pendulum has not yet swung back unfortunately. After ’64 you had the Birchers, anti-taxers, evangelicals and others all begin their meteoric rise to command one of the national political parties. Their name? The New Right. The tea party are simply these same elements rebranded. It’s all still the New Right, a union of neo-liberalism, neo-confederasicm, libertarianism, authoritarianism, and religious fundamentalism.

  4. Gosh, do you remember Republicans?  I mean, they were usually Hawks when I would have been a Dove, & Doves when I would have been a Hawk, & they had terrible economic policies, but they sure were better than the party that sacrificed any adherence to an ideology of liberty in order to court a theocratic minority…& that had that base somehow take the whole party hostage.  Pointing out that women were– & are– one of the major casualties in the exchange is right on the money.

  5. Remember also that this is 1972. Popular late-60s books like 1967’s “Famine 1975!” and Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” [1968] had brought the idea of mass starvation in the near future to the general public. It’s also the year of the Club for Rome’s “The Limits of Growth”, which probably marks the peak of the 20th century neo-Malthusian discussion.

    In this context, it shouldn’t be surprising that politicians of all sorts were in favour of population control.

    1. I’m actually reading the 30 year update to Limits to Growth that was published in 2004 right now. Interesting and a great read. Population is still an issue we must contend with whether we like it or not.

  6. Flip flops are hardly surprising.  It’s all about parochial, tactical advantage.   On 9/12, the day after 9/11, the Right and Left Wings swapped foreign policies:  the Left became disciples of Henry Kissinger’s “Real Politik” and now favour political stability over any other consideration and the Right became professors of regime overthrow.

  7. Bush Sr. started out as an anti-racist politician, and half the family has admitted that they’re personally pro-choice. We long ago passed the point where our Presidents even pretend to believe what they preach. It’s just an acting gig.

  8. The Republicon view of family planning then: A useful tool for keeping family size low among the ‘welfare queens.’ Now: Killing potential white children.

  9. I think we need to separate the two Bushes, (geez, that doesn’t sound right.) In my view Bush senior looks like a pretty good president.  

    He raised taxes in an attempt to deal with the deficit.  His and Clintons tax increase + economic growth gave us a budget surplus.

    He fought a war with genuine international support, with clear objectives, and an exit strategy.

    He cut military spending.

    He nominated David Souter for the Supreme Court.  Solid Moderate.

    He only paid lip service to the religious right.

    He was generally moderate, which means that he’d never be elected anything today.


    Joe Dokes

  10. I’m really confused here, why would we expect there to be a Bush family philosophy?  You can hardly call it inconsistent if George Bush Jnr disagrees with something his father did 40 odd years ago.  It’s not like he ever ran as being a continuation of his father’s politics (sigh, iraq, sigh)

  11. Barbara Bush was pro-sterilization for the lower classes. Eugenics! http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=364×2178906

  12. According to a timeline on Planned Parenthood’s website:”National polls reveal that more than half of all Americans support the legalization of abortion, and 1970 marks two major advances toward that goal:

    * Hawaii becomes the first state to repeal laws criminalizing abortion.

    *Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, New York, becomes the first Planned Parenthood affiliate to offer abortion services when New York State enacts the most progressive abortion law in the nation, permitting abortion through the 24th week of pregnancy if performed by a licensed physician.”


    So in 1972, when George H.W. Bush wrote that letter to the national organization, Planned Parenthood wasn’t doing elective abortions on a national basis, nor anywhere else but Syracuse, N.Y. And indeed. Roe v. Wade wasn’t decided until 1973. 

    There were, and remain, a great many people who are in favor of Planned Parenthood’s other services, but who do not admire the organization’s transformation since the mid-1970s into the nation’s largest abortion provider.

    If you knew more about Bush-41’s history, though, you would know that his changing views on abortion were much debated when he was running against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 GOP presidential primaries. Your charge of hypocrisy, in other words, is more than three decades away from having been either news or newsworthy.

  13. According to the book “Crazy for God” by Francis Schaffer, when the Christian fundamentalists were shopping around for political allies for their anti-abortion efforts, they approached Democrats and other left leaning groups first.  But the response was unenthusiastic, so they moved on to the Republican party which gradually took on the position starting in the early ’80s.

    So it’s not surprising Bush 41 would’ve supported family planning before the party lines shifted.

  14. Planned Parenthood was previously the American Birth Control Clinic, and
    Margaret Sanger was an ardent eugenicist. She wanted to rid America of the
    “feeble minded” and “unfit” (which we’re generally accepted
    colloquialisms for blacks, as well as other undesirables) and the
    government was largely in support of her.

    Today, Planned Parenthood’s agenda hasn’t changed that much, nor has the governments support of them and their agenda.

    1. Are you actually claiming that Planned Parenthood’s agenda is eugenics?! As opposed to, oh I don’t know, providing reproductive choice to *all* women, rather than just those who can afford to get a safe abortion privately?

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