By BRIAN CLOWES
(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 20 of The Facts of Life, “The Demographic Impacts of Abortion,” e-mail him at email@example.com.)
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We have seen that the so-called “developed” nations of the world have poured more than $102 billion into population control since 1991, most of it directed toward Africa. This gigantic amount of money is almost unimaginable; if converted into dollar bills, it would make a cube 150 feet on a side and would weigh 122,000 tons — enough to load a freight train 19 miles long!
Yet the only “benefit” reaped by the expenditure of all of this money is to make large poor families into small poor families. The tens of millions of women who have been “recruited” into using contraception are still just as poor as they were before they started; they still have no electricity, no schooling for their children, no health clinic they can go to when they are ill, and not even safe water to drink.
Does this massive push to induce women in poor nations to have fewer (or no) children contribute in any way to human dignity or welfare? The only people who really benefit are the huge pharmaceutical corporations, which reap tens of billions of dollars annually from forcing their products on poor women.
Evangelium Vitae describes the core of the problem:
“They [Western nations] too are haunted by the current demographic growth, and fear that the most prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries. Consequently, rather than wishing to face and solve these serious problems with respect for the dignity of individuals and families and for every person’s inviolable right to life, they prefer to promote and impose by whatever means a massive program of birth control. Even the economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly made conditional on the acceptance of an anti birth policy. . . .
“But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ methods which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization, and abortion in order to regulate births” (nn. 16, 91).
There are many examples of this kind of injustice. For example, only 60 percent of Haitians have safe drinking water, and only one in five has access to a sanitary toilet — but contraceptive coverage is universal. And there are many African medical clinics stocked with pallets of IUDs, Depo-Provera, condoms, and birth control pills — and nothing else.
Money Down The Toilet
What could have been done with $102 billion if it had instead been allocated toward authentic economic development?
Consider a remote village of about 1,000 people located several miles from the nearest road, connected to the outside world only by footpaths. The people in this village have no electricity. Women and children have to walk a mile to collect water from a stream polluted by upstream cattle, and sicknesses of every kind are endemic. Child mortality is extremely high and life expectancy is only about 45. The crops the people scratch out of the soil are largely eaten by rodents and insects. Children receive no education, and so the cycle of poverty continues.
Into the midst of this misery steps Marie Stopes International, Planned Parenthood, or one of a score of other population control groups. They inject women with Depo-Provera, insert scores of IUDs, dump thousands of condoms, and sterilize as many women as they can under filthy conditions. Then they leave, and life goes on as it did before — except that now there are fewer children to help around the homes and the fields.
By contrast, authentic economic development greatly alleviates the poverty of the people, improving their health, decreasing maternal and infant mortality, and increasing their lifespan.
For only about $1.1 million, our hypothetical village of a thousand could receive clean drinking and washing water, electrification for lighting and cooking, an all-weather road connecting the village to the national highway network, a schoolhouse to educate the children of the village, a health clinic that address basic health needs (including childbirth), and steel grain storage bins that protect the people’s harvest from rodents and insects.
This means that the $102 billion the “developed” nations have squandered on population control could have completely eradicated unhealthy living conditions for 93 million of the world’s poorest people. Instead, it has simply been poured down the toilet.
The encyclical Evangelium Vitae delineates the guidelines that governments should follow when striving to care for their people. The right to life and the rights of families are paramount, and the distribution of wealth should be as equitable as possible:
“It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization, and abortion in order to regulate births. The ways of solving the population problem are quite different. Governments and the various international agencies must above all strive to create economic, social, public health, and cultural conditions which will enable married couples to make their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility. . . . This is the only way to respect the dignity of persons and families, as well as the authentic cultural patrimony of peoples” (n. 91).
The Great Irony
There are factors which decrease a nation’s fertility naturally as it gradually evolves from an undeveloped to a developed state.
Most poor countries do not guarantee old age income with a Social Security program. This means that elderly people must be supported by their children. The daughter usually goes to live with her husband’s family, so the only chance for an elderly person to have income is to have a living son in his or her old age. To make sure one son survives, parents have two or three children. As child mortality has declined, it has become less necessary to have more than one son.
Second is a greater emphasis on the education of women. Women with a college education have their first child at an older age, and because of competing priorities, have fewer children in the long run. If a schoolhouse is built in a remote village, at least some girl children have a chance to attend college if they do well in school. Fortunately, in most developing nations, “gender studies” and “feminist/gay studies” curricula are nonexistent. Instead of squandering their time on such useless trivia, more and more women from developing nations are studying engineering, economics, and medicine.
The great irony in all of this is that people in developing nations have fewer children as they become better off economically, partly because they are more likely to resort to sterilization and contraception. But if birth control is imposed by quotas and other coercive measures while they are still poor, the people not only lose the only help they have for their family’s work, they also lose the only social security system they have because they will not have children to care for them when they become old and infirm.
Population control programs also pose a distinct threat to the future of developing nations. As fertility rates decline, the average age of the nation rises. All developed nations in the world today became rich before they got old; in the long run, nations that get old before they get rich are much more likely to remain in poverty indefinitely.
As we have seen, widespread contraception, because it fails so often, invariably leads to the legalization of abortion. Contraception and sterilization also contribute to a galaxy of severe health problems in women, a much higher divorce rate, higher child abuse and neglect rates, a decrease in the marriage rate, spreading of sexually transmitted diseases, and many other problems.
The critical element in true economic development is the widespread adoption of natural fertility regulation by the people. This requires more effort than simply passing out pills and condoms, and includes an openness to life. It is spiritually and physically healthier and absolutely free of charge, exactly what the people of a poor nation need.
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Next article: “What Is the Worldwide Abortion Situation?”