Current and former employees of color at Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America have routinely encountered racism and been relegated to “lower-paying roles,” according to a bombshell report published Friday.
BuzzFeed News, citing interviews with 42 employees of Planned Parenthood affilites, NARAL’s national office and other reproductive rights groups — which have made intersectional advocacy a prominent part of their messaging — reported that workers alleged segregation, a lack of advancement, feeling tokenized, intense harassment by superiors, and generally “toxic” work environments.
“I do think it’s worse in reproductive rights, because it is insidious,” a former female employee of a public relations firm that works with organizations like NARAL told BuzzFeed. “The movement prides itself on working on issues affecting the most marginalized in society — women, trans and nonbinary folks, and people of color.”
A former Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington employee said: “I’ve worked at plenty of nonprofits, and I have never been treated so horribly in my life as I was at Planned Parenthood, to the point where I grew very depressed, had a lot of anxiety, and cried in the bathroom almost every day.”
The revelations come at a time when nonprofits and corporations alike face a reckoning over what many have described as ongoing systemic racism. Planned Parenthood recently removed the name of its eugenicist founder, Margaret Sanger, from one of its clinics and fired one of its executives following claims of racism.
As Buzzfeed notes, the abortion rate in the Black community is staggeringly disproporationate to the share of the population — something Black anti-abortion advocates have framed as a continuation of Sanger’s legacy. Pro-Black Pro-Life founder Cherilyn Holloway previously told Fox News that abortion clinics should be viewed as “predators” in the same vein as liquor stores in Black communities.
“When I read this I think of the ‘white [sic] savior’ complex,” Holloway told Fox News in response to the BuzzFeed report. “They are convinced that’s they are saving the low income Black community from themselves by providing these services. If that is the culture of your company in which your business plans stem, why would it not be the culture that is perpetuating within the organization as well?”
Planned Parenthood previously told Fox News claims of “Black genocide” were “offensive and infantliziling.”
“The real threat to Black communities’ safety, health, and lives stems from lack of access to quality, affordable health care, police violence and the criminalization of reproductive health care by anti-abortion opposition,” said Nia Martin-Robinson, the group’s director of Black leadership and engagement.
Leaders like NARAL President Ilyse Hogue have repeatedly tried to frame the anti-abortion movement as rooted in White supremacy. In Hogue’s new book, “The Lie That Binds,” she and co-author Ellie Langford describe the anti-abortion movement as “always about maintaining rigid social order and a privileged class comprised primarily of white [sic] Christian men.”
According to the BuzzFeed report, Hogue herself was the target of several complaints after offering a heated defense of her efforts to fight racial inequality.
Employees of color had reportedly expressed disappointment over recent diversity training and one woman specifically told Hogue the organization had a problem with inclusivity. According to BuzzFeed’s sources, a group of Black employees looked visibly uncomfortable as Hogue looked and motioned towards them during her “heated rebuttal.”
Former NARAL employees also indicated that Hogue’s organization focused on suburban White women to the detriment of other groups. “Every single time we wanted to, in a way, embrace reproductive justice, to talk about the people most impacted, it was essentially a ‘no, because our audience is white [sic] middle-class women and they’re not gonna understand,’” said China Dickerson, NARAL’s former deputy national political director.
The issue flared up again when discussing gender-neutral language to describe “people” who get pregnant. During a presentation from an outside contractor, one of the slides reportedly said, “[W]e have found that using ‘people’ instead of ‘women’ can create considerable confusion among our audience.” The presentation also expressed caution about the potential for that type of phrasing to suggest men should have more power over abortion.
According to the report, NARAL staff said “it was an ‘open secret’ that the organization is ‘by and for cis white [sic] women,’ and that the board is more committed to the appearance of diversity than the reality of it.”
Both NARAL and Planned Parenthood apologized in statements to BuzzFeed News and committed to improving diversity at their organizations.
“We have definitely failed in places and certainly fallen short of our goals at times,” Hogue said in her statement. “I take responsibility for each instance where a person on our staff or board, a member, or an ally felt the impact of that failure. This is … an opportunity for institutions like ours to own our history and commit to do better.”
Planned Parenthood, for its part, told the outlet: “It is among leadership’s top priorities to ensure our commitments are intentional, actionable, and public so that we, alongside our supporters, patients, and staff, can hold ourselves accountable and more truly fulfill our mission of reproductive freedom for all.”