Unto the Least of these My Brethren: U.S. Population Control Policy
As a convert, I am always unpressed by the wisdom of the Church on issues concerning human life and the transmission of life. This wisdom is evident in its rejection of efforts by the wealthy nations of the world, chief among them the United States, to impose birth control programs on poorer countries. Such efforts have been condemned frequently by Pope John Paul II and bishops in this country and in others.
For the last 30 years, we have been subjected to a drumbeat of propaganda about the so-called overpopulation problem. Books like The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich suggested that excessive childbearing would inevitably lead to food shortages and famine, poverty and environmental disaster. In 1974 the National Security Council circulated a secret report which declared population growth to be a grave threat to U.S. national security. The report claimed that if the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America were allowed to multiply, their quest for social justice would inevitably lead them to communism thereby limiting U.S. access to strategic minerals and other raw materials. Population control was thus declared a weapon in the Cold War.
Today the Cold War is over and the population bomb has proven to be a dud. The specter of famine is a ghostly phantom receding on the horizon. The number of people in the world currently stands at 5.9 billion, far below the 8 to 12 billion that the Food and Agriculture .Organization recently estimated the earth can easily support using existing agricultural technology. Food shortages occur in war zones like Sudan or in socialist economies like North Korea but massive famines resulting from crop failures are a thing of the past.
Moreover, world population growth is slowing dramatically. Demographers are now agreed that the population of the world will never double again. Based on our review of U.N. Population Division figures, we at the Population Research Institute (PRI) expect that population will peak at seven billion or so in 2030, then begin a long decline.
The reason for the coming depopulation is shrinking family size. The Census Bureau reports that the world's total fertility rate (TFR), the number of children born per woman during her reproductive lifetime, has declined to 2.9, its lowest level ever. The developed nations have been hit the hardest. Fifteen of them, including Russia, Germany and Italy, already fill more coffins than cradles each year. But this "birth dearth" has spread well beyond the developed world. There are now 27 "developing" countries where women are averaging fewer than 2.2 children. While the population of portions of Africa, Asia and Latin America will continue to grow for several more decades, the rest of the world will soon be in a demographic free fall. Humanity's long-term problem, it now seems, is not going to be too many children but too few: too few children to fill the schools and universities, too few young people entering the work force, too few producers and consumers to drive the economy forward.
Population control advocates have been quick to claim credit for falling birthrates, and to ask for more billions to finish the job. This should be treated with skepticism. Something over two-thirds of the world's fertility decline can be accounted for by simple modernity, as women many later, have greater educational opportunities and work outside the home. The only population-control programs that have enjoyed conspicuous success have relied on the more or less compulsory sterilization of large numbers of women. While China is the most notorious example, PRI has documented abuses in 37 different countries, most recently in Peru, where for the past two years a sterilization campaign has run roughshod over the people of that country.
Condemned by the Peruvian bishops' conference and the subject of much negative attention, the sterilization campaign has faltered of late. A Peruvian official admitted that the campaign will fall far short of its "annual goal" of 78,000 tubal ligations and 22,000 vasectomies. He blamed the program's collapse on "a subtle guerilla war" waged by the Catholic Church.
An element of intrusiveness is common to all government-sponsored family-planning programs because they deliberately seek to dissuade couples from welcoming children into the world. When the population controllers move into a poor country, primary health care invariably suffers. Once a country's medical establishment has agreed to make "family planning" a priority, national health budgets tend to be spent disproportionately in this area. At the same time, fertility redaction programs are setup with funding by such groups as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.N. Population Fund, or the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Generously funded by local standards, such programs become magnets for scarce local resources.
Local health care clinics are transformed into "family planning" stations, where the only readily available medical care involves contraception, sterilization and abortion.
"Our health sector has collapsed," reported Dr. Steven Karanja, the secretary of the Kenyan Medical Association. "Thousands of the Kenyan people will die of malaria, the treatment of which costs a few cents, in health facilities whose shelves are stocked ... with millions of dollars worth of pills, IUDs, Norplant, Depo-Provera,... supplied with American money."
Our government has been the principal fund-raiser for population control programs. Since the 1970s, "stabilizing world population growth" has been one of the five goals that all U.S. foreign aid programs must advance. Some $385 million in population funds were appropriated by Congress in 1997 alone, in addition to $25 million budgeted for the U.N. Population Fund.
"The present administration has pursued this war on population with special fervor. One of President Clinton's first official acts was to rescind the Mexico City policy, which forbade any U.S. funds from going to organizations that perform, promote, or advocate the legalization of abortion. The chief beneficiary was the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which does all three, often in defiance of a country's laws. In the months leading up to the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, U.S. officials argued for global targets for population growth, and pressed for the worldwide legalization of abortion to help meet these targets. Such sentiments remain pervasive in the upper echelons of this administration.
It is troubling, to say the least, that our taxes support, promote and undergird massive programs to control the population growth of other nations. We have no business telling families in the Third World how many children they should or should not have. Rather, we should uphold the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood, in which the frequency of births and size of the family is to be determined by the free, informed, and mutual decision of the couple.
Our faith tells us to be generous in welcoming children into the world. Children are not commodities to be accepted or rejected at will. They are our link to the future and teachers of their parents in the virtues of patience, prudence and humility. With the Catholic bishops of the United States, each of us has an obligation to ask and answer this question:
"Our nation stands in judgment now, as it did more than a century ago: are we to be a nation that honors its commitments to the right to life, or not? And if not, then just what does our nation stand for?"
Mosher, an internationally recognized expert on population control and demography, is president of the Population Research Institute. He has written seven books and over 100 articles on these and related topics. © Arlington Catholic Herald, 200 N. Glebe Rd., Suite 607, Arlington, VA 22203-3797, (703) 841-2565, www.catholicherald.com.
© Arlington Catholic Herald, 200 N. Glebe Rd., Suite 607, Arlington, VA 22203-3797, (703) 841-2565, www.catholicherald.com.
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