Family planning programs occupy an unusual place in the public policy arena. They are widespread, judging by their near ubiquity around the globe, and also generally considered an effective public health policy. Yet, family planning programs are persistently controversial. In part because they center on birth control, a sensitive subject that stirs strong views, they have drawn criticism from a wide range of perspectives: religious, political, ideological, and scientific. This report examines the criticisms and controversies that have surrounded family planning. It attempts to place these in historical context and examine how programs have evolved in response to these criticisms and to shifting currents in the policy arena. It also examines the research record to assess the validity of these criticisms. The intent in surveying this historical record is to enable readers to view current debates about family planning in a broader historical context and to provide a stronger grounding in the research evidence associated with some of the claims made by both proponents and critics of family planning.
This research was conducted for Population Matters, a RAND project to synthesize and communicate the policy-relevant results of demographic research. Through publications and outreach activities, the project aims to raise awareness and highlight the importance of population policy issues and to provide a scientific basis for public debate over population policy questions. Population Matters is part of RAND's Labor and Population Program.
The Population Matters project is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard