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National Portrait Gallery Won't Remove Bust Of Planned Parenthood Founder

Margaret Sanger appears before a Senate committee for federal birth-control legislation in Washington, D.C., on March 1, 1934, arguing that federal courts be given the right to discuss contraceptive methods with their patients.

The National Portrait Gallery says it has no plans to heed calls by conservatives and anti-abortion activists to remove a bust of Margaret Sanger from an exhibit on civil rights. Sanger, who died in 1966, was an early supporter and activist for the birth control movement and the founder of Planned Parenthood.

NPR's Pam Fessler tells our Newscast unit that "the demands are part of a larger campaign against Planned Parenthood, after its employees were recorded talking about providing fetal tissue to medical researchers."

A group of black pastors and a conservative group called ForAmerica want the bust taken off display because of Sanger's support for eugenics, a discredited social movement that advocated selective breeding and sterilization to eliminate what proponents saw as inferior traits.

Bethany Bentley, the National Portrait Gallery's head of communications and public affairs, told NPR that the exhibit doesn't ignore "the less-than-admirable aspects of [Sanger's] career." She adds that the Washington, D.C., gallery is dedicated to history, which she says isn't always pretty.

"No one has to pass a moral test to be included in a museum," Bentley says. "Everyone has something in their background or beliefs, especially looking back at history. You can look at every president up to Zachary Taylor — they owned slaves."

ForAmerica's website quoted from a letter sent to the portrait gallery from the group of black pastors:

"Perhaps your institution is a victim of propaganda advanced by those who support abortion. Nevertheless, a prestigious institution like the National Portrait Gallery should have higher standards and subject its honorees to higher scrutiny."

A letter written by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, that's making the rounds among lawmakers in Congress calls the museum's decision to display Sanger's bust "an affront both to basic human decency and the very meaning of justice."

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, Alencia Johnson, addressed the concerns about Sanger in a statement Thursday:

"There is no doubt that Margaret Sanger made some controversial, harmful statements that Planned Parenthood does not uphold. What we do know is that her fight for birth control access for all women — and her partnership with leaders like W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell — has helped millions of women and people to this day. With far too many black women facing unequal access to proper reproductive health care and sex education, leaders of the faith community of all backgrounds have advocated with Planned Parenthood to provide more access to health care. Unlike those staging the protest today, Planned Parenthood trusts that black women can and will make the best decisions for their lives and families."

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