FACT CHECK:   Was Jeb Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, one of Planned Parenthood’s founding officers?

Claim:   Jeb Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was one of the founding officers of Planned Parenthood.

  MIXTURE

Examples:   [Collected via Twitter, August 2015]

Origins:   A July 2015 controversy involving the organization Planned Parenthood rapidly became a political hot potato issue for politicians, among them former Florida governor and GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, who’d recently touted a record of cutting funding for reproductive health services in his state.

On 4 August 2015, Jeb Bush expressed doubt about the necessity of funding women’s reproductive health services, a comment he later attempted to walk back. Among the reactions to Bush’s statement were a number of claims made on social media sites that Prescott Bush (father of former president George H.W. Bush and grandfather of both former president George W. Bush and former governor Jeb Bush) was a founder or founding member of Planned Parenthood, the organization currently in the line of political fire.

The “smoking gun” for that rumor was a 1947 letter sent by Planned Parenthood honorary chairman Margaret Sanger which listed Prescott as the treasurer of that organization in the letterhead. (A larger copy of the letter in question can be viewed here [PDF].)

Little is known of the specifics of Prescott Bush’s level of involvement with Planned Parenthood back then, although modern accounts have maintained that the elder Bush sustained significant political damage due to what was described as an inaccurate smear on the eve of an election:

In 1950, Bush was running even with William Benton, the Democratic nominee. But on the Sunday before the election, the muckraking columnist Drew Pearson asserted on his radio show that Prescott was treasurer of the Birth Control League. In the days before Griswold v. Connecticut, birth control remained illegal in the majority-Catholic state. While the family has long decried this as a smear, it was in fact a minor distortion — carefully orchestrated for maximum harm. Prescott was listed as treasurer on a letterhead for Planned Parenthood, a successor organization to the Birth Control League, which had closed up shop in 1942. Though he denied the charge, Prescott lost by 1,102 votes.

Prescott Bush’s 1950 loss was similarly invoked for contrast (with the positions of George H.W. Bush) in a 1991 article published in the Baltimore Sun, titled “What’s behind Bush’s flip-flop on family planning?”:

The year was 1950, and the future president’s father, Prescott Bush, was in a neck-and-neck U.S. Senate race in Connecticut. As the campaign entered its final days, disaster struck: Press reports disclosed that the senior Bush was a supporter of Planned Parenthood, causing an uproar among conservative voters. Prescott Bush lost the election by barely one-tenth of a percent of the vote. By all accounts, the birth-control issue cost him the election.

Only one person has widely been credited as the founder of Planned Parenthood: Margaret Sanger. Prescott Bush was listed as treasurer on a 1947 letter sent by an early incarnation of Planned Parenthood, an affiliation that likely cost him election to the U.S. Senate in 1950. But we haven’t yet found any records suggesting a link between Prescott Bush and Planned Parenthood subsequent to that 1947 letter, so the evidence documenting his historical connection to the organization appears for now to consist of a single 1947 letter on which he was listed as treasurer.

In any case, a number of political shifts have occurred in the nearly 70 years that have passed between that letter and his grandson Jeb Bush’s August 2015 comments, so the elder Bush’s purported involvement with Planned Parenthood could not reasonably be construed as a precedent for any position his grandson might take 68 years later. Moreover, more than 25 years passed between Prescott Bush’s name appeared on the letterhead in 1947 and the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision holding that the right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Planned Parenthood’s earliest incarnations focused primarily on the rudimentary birth control technologies (mainly diaphragms and condoms) made available to “needy married women“); abortion was not one of the services offered by that organization in 1947.

Last updated:    6 August 2015

Originally published:   6 August 2015