National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Pro-lifers Strive to Shatter World Population Myths

Facts run counter to common belief of an 'overcrowded planet'

BY Joseph Esposito

November 08-14, 1998 Issue | Posted 11/8/98 at 2:00 PM

 

WASHINGTON—This year pro-life groups launched an assault on the annual promotion of World Population Awareness Week, sponsored Oct. 25-31 by family planning advocates. Editorials, advertisements, and a news conference at the National Press Club highlighted the response of 32 organizations and individuals.

Groups such as The Population Institute have been bemoaning the evils of world overpopulation for years. They encourage the use of contraceptives and promote additional “solutions” abhorrent to many Catholics, Christians, and others of faith.

World Population Awareness Week, which calls attention to the concerns and efforts of population controllers, is commemorated by “nearly 500 organizations in 80 countries and proclaimed by 32 governors of U.S. states and more than 200 mayors of U.S. cities,” according to an Oct. 29 advertisement signed by Werner Fornos, president of The Population Institute.

Despite this promotion and the widespread acceptance of the alleged fact of world overpopulation, pro-life groups have questioned the basic premise. This year they embarked on an organized effort to tell a different, less shrill message.

The themes they emphasized were three: global population is not exploding, the world has abundant food to support its people, and the earth is not overpopulated. Implicit in the international population control programs, they argued, is a sense of racism directed against Africans, Latinos, and Asians.

The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, The Population Research Institute, and Concerned Women for America held a news conference Oct. 29 to present this counter view. They and more than two dozen other organizations also placed a full-page advertisement in the Oct. 28 issue of The Washington Times.

In opening the news conference, Austin Ruse, director of the Catholic Family & Human Rights, said “the theory that we are overpopulated is not only wrong, but this theory is causing harm around the globe. Population control is wrong on the facts and wrong on the moral question, too.”

He added, “Demographers from Russia, Italy, and France reported that their countries are no longer replacing themselves and that this phenomenon is causing tremendous societal damage [see accompanying chart]. Fifty-one nations of the world have begun rapidly aging, and the generations have begun to fight over shrinking financial resources.

“Not only are aggressive population control programs wrong, but they inevitably lead to the kinds of human rights abuses, like forced sterilizations, now happening in China and Peru.

“We affirm the myriad problems in the developing world, including hunger, disease, and poverty, but the answers to these problems lie not with fewer people, but more food, medicine, and economic development. And these things are within our grasp.”

Steven Mosher, a leading population expert and president of the Population Research Institute, made similar statements. He noted that newly released statistics made available that day actually showed that now 61 countries — rather than the 51 they emphasized in their advertisement — are below population replacement levels.

Worldwide, he said, there are 2.7 children per woman; replacement — that is, ensuring that world population actually doesn't decline — is pegged at 2.1 children per woman. Replacement figures are rapidly dropping, and there is a reasonable expectation that many more countries could fall in the “below replacement” category in the near future.

Mosher also noted that vigorous population control programs are coming at a time when Africa, the current target of such efforts, is being devastated by AIDS deaths. In Botswana, for example, the average life expectancy of 61 years is expected to decline to 41 in the next decade because of HIV devastation.

The United Nations has reported that there are 66 million people around the world who are 80 years old or older; that's 1 out of 100 people. By the middle of the next century, under current trends, that percentage will more than triple to a level of 370 million. It will have enormous implications.

Italy, which has the world's lowest total family replacement level at only 1.24 children per woman, is already confronted with a serious demographic problem. There are 60% more Italians over the age of 60 than there are children under the age of 16. Such an imbalance will place severe strains on that country's future social delivery systems.

The third news conference participant was Laurel MacLeod, director of legislation and public policy for the Concerned Women for America. She criticized the use of the term “family planning” overseas. Saying the population controllers' agenda is “anti-child,” she argued, “This colonial model imposes its own misguided worldview on developing nations by denigrating marriage and families, and encouraging promiscuous sexual behavior.”

She added, “As I look over this room today, I thank God that I am a woman, and that as a woman I can experience the incredible joy of having children. I also thank God that I am a woman living in the United States of America, and not in Mauritania, Bangladesh, or Honduras.

“Why? Because women around the world must now deal with a new terror that stalks the streets of rich and poor alike. That terror is called international family planning. International family planning programs maim and kill women, and it's time for this madness to end.”

A number of other prominent organizations and individuals endorsed this anti-population control message in the newspaper advertisement. These included noted Catholic clergymen Father Richard John Neuhaus, Msgr. Michael Wrenn, and Rev. Richard Welch, CSSR, president of Human Life International.

Among others were Dr. Robert Royal of the Ethics and Public Center, Patrick Fagan of The Heritage Foundation, Charles Donovan of the Family Research Council, Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, and Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Msgr. Wrenn, pastor of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in New York City and a respected writer, told the Register, “This shouldn't be an issue. The real challenge is to get people who have tremendous wealth to provide sufficient food, clothing, and shelter to people throughout the world.”

Another signer of the advertisement was Doug Scott, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Life Decisions International. He referred to “Population Indoctrination Week,” during which population controllers seek to capitalize on the ignorance of the public.

“It really is Chicken Little. It's insane. Unfortunately, the average person will not stop to ask, ‘Is this really true?’” He argued for an education program to help us better understand that “people are an asset and not a liability.” He also urged the elimination of U.S. foreign aid, which he believes reflects an elitist mindset.

Scott's prescription is to ensure that Congress hears the voice of pro-life advocates and to make sure parents know what their children are being taught in schools. If we do so, he said, “we'll have a huge impact down the road.”

The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, based in New York City, delivers a pro-life, pro-family message to delegates at the United Nations. “We try to change U.N. policy. It's our goal to get the United Nations out of population control, encourage them to get back to their original intent, particularly with UNICEF,” Ruse, its director, told the Register.

The Institute works with a coalition of up to 70 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Britain's Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. These groups represent a variety of religious traditions, but are united in their concern about population control.

Ruse said, “The enemy is out there. So we're working together in concert. It's an ecumenical effort in the best sense of the word.”

A number of pro-life organizations will be working to counter the impulses of the “Cairo Plus Five” United Nations conference next June. This conference, which will be the latest in a series of international population and family planning summits, will focus on the “reproductive health” of young people ages 10 to 24.

Finally, there is optimism in the pro-life community because the enormous omnibus budget bill which was passed by Congress last month included the Tiahrt amendment. Introduced by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), the legislation ensures that family planning assistance provided through U.S. funds will be strictly voluntary and that no coercion or incentives will be used to promote the population control agenda.

Joseph Esposito writes from Washington, D.C.