Lt. Gov. Dan Forest stirred a controversy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when he tried to “educate” black ministers in Raleigh about problems threatening black babies. 

If Forest cares about saving black babies, there are things he can do that would help a lot more than dredging up old misinformation. More on that later.

At the MLK Day gathering, Forest proclaimed: “There’s no doubt that, when Planned Parenthood was created, it was created to destroy the entire black race.” He wondered aloud why “the black community” — and for that matter, “the white community” too, “can’t come together” and fight against Planned Parenthood.

There’s a lot wrong with Forest’s irresponsible statements. For starters, he was pushing a divisive political agenda at an event honoring a man who died promoting racial justice and equality. King also supported the work of Planned Parenthood and was honored with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Margaret Sanger award.

And even though Forest declared what he was saying was “just the truth,” it’s an account that’s repeatedly been shown to be misleading, not to mention taken out of historical context.

It’s true that Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood more than a century ago, had some involvement in the eugenics movement, a now disproved theory that selective breeding could improve the human race. So did a lot of other prominent people in the early 20th century, including Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and the black scholar W.E.B. DuBois. Then there are the many North Carolinians who supported this state’s now infamous eugenics program that forcibly sterilized thousands of women, many of them black, into the 1970s.

It’s also true that Sanger was a savvy politician who likely attended eugenics conferences because that cause overlapped with her mission, birth control. Forest is a politician, too, and he hopes to be governor. Forest attacks Planned Parenthood because he knows abortion is a hot-button political issue.

What he overlooks is that the organization today provides valuable birth control, counseling and prenatal care along with some abortion services.

Forest could do a lot more good for black babies by supporting the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina. In Forsyth County, black infants die at a higher rate than white and Hispanic infants. The 2018 breakdown for blacks was 12 deaths per 1,000, whites at 7.3 per 1,000 and Hispanics at 6.9 per 1,000.

A recent study finds that states that have expanded Medicaid so more low-income adults can get health insurance have seen the quickest declines in deaths of black infants. North Carolina is one of only 14 states that hasn’t taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid, thanks to the recalcitrance of Republicans in the state legislature.

Medicaid makes a difference because it helps low-income mothers — many who work but don’t have insurance — afford prenatal care, a major factor in preventing infant deaths. Medicaid also helps mothers get crucial care and advice after giving birth.

Forest is a staunch opponent of the Medicaid expansion that would do a lot more to save black babies than he’ll accomplish by railing at Planned Parenthood.

That, Mr. Forest, is “just the truth.”

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