Surprising Religious and Republican Roots of Planned Parenthood: An Arizona Case Study

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Claudia Nunez-Eddy, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Planned Parenthood, one of the United States’ largest providers of reproductive health services, has campaigned for decades to secure women’s reproductive rights in the political sphere. However, few understand the political history that preceded Republican disapproval of the organization in the twenty-first century. Through Planned Parenthood’s growth in the mid-twentieth century, both political parties pushed for family planning and access to contraception as solutions to population growth and poverty. More modern sentiments have polarized the two parties. This research used Arizona as a case study to examine the broader context of the shift in political ideas surrounding the reproductive rights movement from the start of the twentieth century until the 1980s. Planned Parenthood Arizona acts as a case study for that shift due to its heavy support from Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. Through both a literature review and archival research at the Arizona Historical Foundation, this project shows the trajectory of, and political support for Planned Parenthood Arizona from its inception by Margaret Sanger in 1937 to its growth under the support of republicans like Goldwater and later democrats in the 1980s to its current existence as a contentious object on the political landscape. Throughout the early 1900s, Republicans such as Goldwater advocated for small government with limited intrusion into citizen’s private life. That advocacy extended to women’s reproduction, where contraception was seen as a private decision between a woman and her doctor. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, in an attempt to regain national popularity, the Republican Party linked economic conservatives with social conservatives through the use of religious right. Through the exacerbation of religious rights in politics following the legalization of abortion in the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (1973) and the appointment of Ronald Regan, one of the first outspoken pro-life presidents, Planned Parenthood and the reproductive rights movement has faced criticism from the Republican party still evident in the twenty-first century. The Arizona case study provides a comparative history of prominent Republican figures through the formation of Planned Parenthood that shows the interplay between politics and the reproductive rights movement throughout the twentieth century. The contextualization of major historical events within the reproductive rights movement gives insight into the current political beliefs of the reproductive rights movement.