Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Family Planning Gone Awry

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Family Planning Gone Awry

Article excerpt

Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly makes no effort to mask his support of reproductive rights in this disturbing and compelling global history of population control programs. The dedication in his most recent book, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, reads "To my parents, for having so many children."

Connelly, the youngest of eight children to Roman Catholic parents, nonetheless manages to write a fairly balanced history of the broad population-control movements in the 20th century. As populations and life spans rose dramatically over that time period, countries and organizations initiated immigration restrictions, breeding programs, compulsory sterilization, and other directives aimed at adjusting human reproduction.

Often launched under the guise of reducing poverty and even saving the earth, family planning became a means for wealthy foundations, foreign aid agencies, the United Nations, and others to plan other people's families, he concludes, and without the perpetrators having to answer to anyone. On the day the author was born in 1967, the cabinet of India under Indira Gandhi first considered compulsory sterilization for parents with more than three children.

What sparked the broad efforts to control population? In the 20th century, internationalization made the world seem smaller even as life spans increased. In the past century, humans have lived more than twice as long as in the previous 2,000 centuries and grown more than four times in numbers. By the 1980s, the earth was gaining about 80 million inhabitants per year.

Connelly criticizes Ms. Gandhi, influential author Paul Ehrlich ("The Population Bomb"), and other thought leaders who agreed that only population control could save the world from poverty and other maladies. The 20th century marked the first time the future of a species - not only its numbers but also its nature - became the object of its own design, he writes. People eradicated diseases, regulated migration, and manipulated fertility rates. Human populations became the subject of scientific experiments and political struggles. The stakes - and the consequences - were huge.

Americans were the first to pursue policies to shape the world population and played a leading role in institutionalizing the science of demography and the political strategy of family planning. But critics on both the left and the right have attacked population control as something perpetrated by white, wealthy, elite people (especially in the United States), upon the rest of the world, particularly poor nations, where populations had been spiraling out of control. …

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