Roundup: The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Edition

I start off this morning’s round-up post with an acknowledgement, of course, of  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and all he has meant to women, men and children for so many years. I was born the year he died and not a year goes by when I don’t feel that my life is so completely interconnected with his – that those who were born in 1968, like myself, are somehow called to internalize and bring forth his message and his dream as messengers. We all are, of course, messengers and there is hope today as we prepare to welcome President Elect Obama as the leader of the United States that MLK, Jr.’s message of hope and unity can be brought forth not just as a civil rights movement but through the halls of government and into public policy as well.

Racial equality and social justice are part of what fuel reproductive justice as well. MLK, Jr. was a strong and vocal proponent for reproductive justice, including family planning, access to preventive health care and contraception – especially for those in the African American community at the time. He understood how critical these health tools – access to services that allow for women and men to plan for their families and care for their reproductive health – were (and are) in the fight for freedom and justice. 

All of the links below are not solely to stories that feature Rev. King, Jr. but I start with one that has particularly moved me. There is no doubt in my mind that Reverend King would be piqued and moved to comment on the emerging "common ground movement" that developed during the election in 2008 to support Barack Obama’s candidacy and unify despite differences on key social issues. But in this Religion Dispatches article, RD Pulpit: On The Betrayal of King’s Legacy and Culture Wars, Reverend Osagyefu Uhuru Sekou argues eloquently that the only way democracy has ever expanded is through the sound defeat of conservative evangelical positions:

On this day occasioned by the birth of a great American prophet, I am saddened by the cowardice of religious leaders and their betrayal of the best of the democratic tradition. Third Way’s putative call for reconciliation, “Come Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda for the End of the Culture Wars,” is nothing less than the continued blessing of the religious right’s cultural politics. The substitution of gay marriage, reproductive justice, amnesty, and an end to the ambiguous “war on terror” with workplace rights for gays, abortion reduction, immigrant reform and an end to torture, is yet another articulation of the religious right’s victory in public discourse and policy.

Religion Dispatches has a series of articles and blog posts up today that examine King’s legacy in the context of the current social conditions. 

In other reproductive rights news and in keeping with the social justice theme of today (and every day on RH Reality Check), an examination of the (finally!) progressive policies on the President’s plate in the Washington Post highlights family planning and reproductive health thoroughly:

But advocacy groups of varying stripes have already begun pressing the administration to end an era in which faith-based groups blocked funding for abortions in the developing world and helped place conservative values — including abstinence-only sex education — at the heart of U.S. health efforts.

There are bills to pass, executive orders to overturn and documents to ratify galore! By March, the article notes, Congress is expected to present President Obama with a bill to "restore tens of millions of dollars for family planning programs to the U.N. Population Fund." These are the funds that have been allocated for the last eight years by Congress only to be withheld by President Bush – which has had a significantly harmful impact of millions of women’s and families’ lives who have gone without family planning and preventive health services now for years because of Bush’s committment to the hard core religious right and reliance on ideology over facts. 

Want a jolt of reality with your morning coffee? Read the AP article on "Future of abstinence-only funding is in limbo" this morning (or later morning, depending on where you are!). David Crary explores the future of federal abstinence-only funding in our new science and evidence-based federal government, accounting for the fact that there are some states (*cough* Georgia) which will cling to the unfortunate reliance upon abstinence-only programs despite their proven failure. Crary writes:

With the exit of the Bush administration, critics of abstinence-only sex education will be making an aggressive push to cut off federal funding for what they consider an ineffective, sometimes harmful program.

How quickly and completely they reach their goal is uncertain, however, as conservative supporters of abstinence education lobby Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to preserve at least some of the funding, which now totals $176 million a year.

And even if federal funding is halted, some states — such as Georgia — are determined to keep abstinence programs going on their own, ensuring that this front in the culture wars will remain active…

Obama is considered an advocate of comprehensive sex education, which — unlike abstinence-only curriculum — includes advice to young people about using contraceptives if they do engage in sexual activity.

And as a slap in the face to Dr. King’s dream of equity and social justice, a story from my part of the world. Washington state Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire has decided the best way to face the economic hardships facing our state are by cutting social service programs for our most vulnerable. To that end, news is that key family planning programs are being eliminated that serve low-income women and the majority of nurses who staff those programs are being laid off. From an article in the

Faced with a projected $5.7 billion state revenue shortfall, DSHS’ Health Care and Recovery Services Administration was told to cut $200 million from its budget in the first six months of 2009. The more than $1 million family planning nurse program was one of the services that hit the chopping block.

In fact, the article states that "55 family planning nurses who staff the 57 Community Service Offices statewide" will "no longer will be there to provide Medicaid-eligible people with birth control pills or emergency contraception." State officials say services will still be available at Planned Parenthood and primary care doctors’ offices. That could not be farther from the truth, however. Planned Parenthood and primary care doctor’s offices cannot afford to take Medicaid patients because of low reimbursement from the government. Planned Parenthood does have sliding scale fees but while they serve lower income clients, there is no way they have the capacity to serve the hundreds and hundreds of Medicaid-eligible women who rely on community clinics each year for family planning. And primary care doctors’ offices? Why would a woman who can afford a primary care doctor’s office be at a community clinic in the first place – isn’t that the point of a community clinic? 

And to wrap-up the round-up this morning, I leave you with Adam Howard’s moving post on Alternet this morning, Reclaiming King: Beyond ‘I Have A Dream’. Howard’s father was also a Baptist minister and he reminds us that the Rev. King idolized by Sens. Obama and Clinton during the campaign was a little different than the King of later years:

The King they all hope to be identified with is the beatific, gloriously positive King of 1963, but I am fairly certain that none of them would be as comfortable linking themselves to the irascible, fiercely anti-war and increasingly radical King of 1968.

Dr. King’s legacy lives uniquely in each of our minds and we all choose to be messengers of his vision in our own ways. But it is important not to forget that most crucial of all was Dr. King’s commitment to justice and equality for the most vulnerable among us, first and foremost. As Howard writes, "King was a fighter, and he would not relent in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles." And so it is with any commitment to justice and equality for all – the fight is long and far from over but with love and respect and a deep responsibility to each other we find the strength to continue on.

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  • cristina-page

    Amie, thank you for this wonderful post. Here’s a passage from a speech of Martin Luther King on the occasion of receiving an award from Planned Parenthood. The speech in available in full here.


    There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous
    slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist — a nonviolent resister. She
    was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was
    revealed to the millions. At the turn of the century she went into the
    slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to
    jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have
    justified her actions. She launched a movement which is obeying a
    higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret
    Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich
    humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them
    there would have been no beginning. 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. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family
    planning. They have a special and urgent concern.

  • marysia

    Amie & Cristina,

    Thank you for remembering MLK’s advocacy of voluntary family planning. This should give pause to those who equate abortion with family planning and oppose both, all the while claiming to be his heirs.

    However, it’s also important for those who believe in abortion rights to be cautious claiming MLK as their own.  He is not here to ask what he himself would think about the subject.

    MLK received this award from Planned Parenthood when the organization was experiencing internal conflicts over abortion and had not yet officially  adopted an abortion rights stance.

     Family planning advocates, prolife or prochoice, can claim MLK as our own.  But when it comes to abortion, we can speculate all we want, but we can’t know what "side" he would or wouldn’t endorse, absent lasting evidence.


  • cristina-page


    Thanks so much for this point.  Revisionism and assigning political positions to historical figures by taking their words out of context (see–Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Sanger as examples) are tools of the anti-choice movement. I would never want to stoop to that level. Your comments are appropriate and well-taken. It is illuminating, however, to know that Dr. King enthusiatically supported the work and vision of Margaret Sanger at the time. His speech offers a powerful counter opinion to the anti-choice movement’s slanderous charge that her aims were racist.

  • marysia

    Although some antiabortionists bandy about quotes in highly questionable ways that I have personally challenged….

    May I beg to differ, the antiabortion–but not "antichoice"–stance of early feminists like Susan B. Anthony has been much better documented than many prochoicers seem to think. I say this because I have done a bit of the documenting & can & will vouch for it.

    Margaret Sanger in fact said some highly negative things about abortion–something that her uncritical prochoice idolizers and uncritical prolife demonizers seem to miss.

    As for Margaret Sanger and bigotry–well, it’s complicated.  She definitely had prejudices against disabled people (as many of us in disability rights point out)  and didn’t support *our* reproductive rights, in fact called for our mandatory sterilization and regarded our very existences as horrific.  She was definitely affected by eugenics, which was shot through and through with racism and classism as well as ablism.

    She was upwardly mobile and felt shame over her working class Irish background.

    She did not give Jewish birth control advocates their proper due, even though Dr. Aletta Jacobs was the one who taught her about barrier contraceptives, and Reform Judaism was the first religious body in the US to publicly support contraception.

    She held attitudes towards black people which were shaped by discriminatory attitudes, whether consciously or unconsciously.  

    people who idolize her today–especially whites– often seem to have difficulty acknowledging Sanger’s areas of bigotry.  because, frankly, a lot of whites today, including those who identify as progressive, have barely begun (if at all) to dismantle their prejudices.

    On the other hand, Sanger wasn’t Hitler.  For one, Hitler didn’t "just" talk about forcibly sterilizing disabled people, he did it but most of all killed us.

    And Sanger wasn’t engaged in covert operations "to exterminate the Negro race."  The Margaret Sanger Papers Newsletter has some good articles addressing these myths about Sanger:

    Once again, when someone from history is invoked—they’re just as complicated as anyone today, and care needs to be exercised.  There’s been a lot of carelessness on both "sides" of the abortion debate.