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World Population Awareness

News Digest

June 09, 2018

The Forgotten Roots of India's Mass Sterilization Program

November 15, 2014, Washington Post   By: Terrence Mccoy

Note: this article is from 2014, but worth repeating

India's first census counted 356 million people in 1951 - one-seventh of the world's population. Nearly 9 million kids had married before age 14. The population was projected to grow by 500,000 per year. How could India feed all those people? Better to sterilize anyone with three or more kids.

Sterilization seemed simple, safe, cheap, and effective. M.C. Chagla, a former ambassador to the U.S., said, "Until we develop an oral contraceptive that works and that we can afford, we must encourage sterilization.... It must be voluntary." However, in 1976 politicians went from a policy of giving transistor radios to men who submitted to vasectomies to compulsory sterilization. The police "literally dragged people in from the fields to the vasectomy table," one medical officer told the New York Times. In all, more than 6 million people were sterilized that year, causing violent protests and stalled measures to reduce birth rates for decades. The population now is nearly 1.3 billion.

India has been more successful at reducing death rates than fertility rates. Since the sterilization policy began, growth has vastly exceeded projections. An old man stated that when he was a boy a cholera epidemic would kill up to 50 people in his village every ten years. "Now they come and vaccinate our children. I have lived here almost 70 years. The biggest change in my time has been health. We've learned how to keep from dying."

Today, programs have returned to incentives. In most Indian states women who opt for sterilization earn about $23 - almost one month's income in rural India. But in the district of Bilaspur, a sterilization procedure sickened 60 women and killed 13. Authorities first charged the doctor for failing to sterilize the sterilization instruments. But the doctor blamed "the village quacks who gave them antibiotics." Later, an Indian health official said a preliminary finding suggested that a poisonous zinc phosphate compound got mixed with the drugs, so the authorities arrested the director of a drug-making firm that supplied the clinic. However, according to USA Today, the doctor, who was trying to meet the demands of sterilization quotas mandated by local authorities, had spent only minutes on each patient, doing 83 surgeries in six hours. He is under pressure to complete 15,000 sterilizations and was recently praised for performing 50,000 laparoscopic tubectomies.

Local residents now distrust the program.Gauri Bai, 54, said he suspected his daughter-in-law "is already dead," after the 27-year-old woman fell sick. "We thought the government is running the program for the benefit of the poor, but they have cheated us. We want the guilty to be punished. They have destroyed my family. Who will take care of these little children?" doclink

This is Really An Effort to Undermine People's Access to Birth Control

CounterSpin interview with Kinsey Hasstedt on reproductive health restrictions
May 29, 2018, FAIR.org   By: Janine Jackson

In May, President Trump proposed new restrictions on federally funded family planning by barring doctors from advising a woman pondering an abortion about where she could receive one. In response to the Trump administration's proposed changes, Kinsey Hasstedt, a senior policy manager in the Guttmacher Institute's Washington DC Office was interviewed.

Hasstedt was asked what she believes the changes would actually mean "on the ground." She said she fears that the proposals are a "revival of the domestic gag rule first proposed by President Reagan." It "would ban referral for abortion" and "require that pregnant patients be referred for prenatal services and other care related to delivery, regardless of their wishes." Patients would no longer receive "nondirective counseling.”

Hasstedt theorized that the Trump administration intends to "totally reshape the network of entities and the scope of services that have long been supported by this Title X publicly funded family planning program. They are seeking to disadvantage providers who focus on reproductive health... and in fact are opening the door to Title X funds to ideologically motivated entities that are actually unwilling or unable to provide a broad range of contraceptive-method options. These rules also promote other ideologically motivated approaches to family planning, such as abstinence until marriage, and take away the guarantee of contraceptive access for many... At the end of the day we are talking about denying women access to information and services that are necessary in their own right to self-determination.”

Interview Janine Jackson of Counterspin accused the media of "narrowly diving into this latest thing” and worries that focusing too closely on the the details might cause people to miss what's really happening. Hasstedt advised that we should all "step back” and recognize the Trump administration's "coercive agenda against individuals' reproductive health and rights.” This agenda includes "seeking to roll back affordable health coverage, undermining people's access to affordable contraceptive coverage under the ACA, trying to undercut comprehensive sex education programs, and now this most recent attack on publicly funded family planning.”

Jackson discussed the existence of an anti-abortion space on evening cable news, but nearly no pro-abortion space. She pointed out that "as the restrictions on reproductive rights go up, the sheer amount of coverage goes down, and in that silence, misinformation can grow like mildew...” Hasstedt shared the concern in that many who get "lost in the narrative are the people who rely on publicly funded planning for care.” She added, "The whole point of Title X, in the beginning, was to close the resource gap between women and couples who have more resources, and those who have less and face systemic barriers to accessing affordable and high quality care. Because everyone has the right to determine for themselves whether and when to have children... and ultimately we are jeopardizing the health and well being of millions of people, who are largely low-income, largely people of color and people who are otherwise underserved...”

In light of 20 state attorneys supporting a nationwide preliminary injunction to stop Trump, Jackson asked Hasstedt to speculate what might be next. Haastedt said we'll have to wait and "see how this network starts to shape up over the course of the next few months, to see "Which type of entities apply for Title X funding will matter” And when we see these "proposed regulations actually published in the Federal Register, if they look like this draft does, there will be mass outcry from professional medical associations, public health experts, providers, advocates, and people themselves.” doclink

Humanae Vitae

The Story Behind the Ban on Contraception
April 29, 2018, The Story Behind the Ban on Contraception

In 1968, Pope Paul VI went against the findings of his own Papal Birth Control Commission and rejected an opportunity to create a modern and compassionate doctrine on birth control which would appeal to its faithful.

Instead, he launched the church backwards toward staunch orthodoxy with his encyclical titled Humanae Vitae. "The Church...in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life." For the past 50 years these words have come to influence the church's stance on public health challenges that relate to sex, and have affected the way Catholics around the world view birth control.

How did the church come to reject modern contraception, and why does it continue to make it a central part of its theology? Five years before Humanae Vitae, the papal commission was examining its view on marriage and looking to update its teachings. At this time it was feared that the more liberal members of the commission would push to revisit the church's ban an "artificial" birth control that was established in the 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii. The birth control pill had been introduced and, because it used naturally occurring hormones, many conservative members were concerned that its use would be approved for Catholic couples. Instead of considering the issue, the Papal Birth Control Commission was established as a concession.

After much study, it was the commission's opinion that the prohibition of contraception was faulty and outdated. It found that in many cases it strained marriages instead of making them stronger. Contrary to the assertion of the hierarchy that natural family planning brought couples closer together, it was found that it drove them apart. Couples became obsessed with sex because of the unnatural restrictions placed upon spontaneous demonstrations of affection. Women spoke of the many roles they played as wives and of the importance of the non-procreative sexual bond to marriage.

Even though the commission overwhelmingly agreed to advise the church to change its stance on the matter, many within the church rejected the change because it would be an admission that the church had been wrong.

The church demoted the commission members and appointed 15 bishops to make a final report on the matter. The bishops were also convinced by the case for modern contraception. They argued that the interpretation of the biblical story of Onan and his spilled seed was fallible, birth control is necessary for responsible parenting, and marriage should be based on "mutual love within the totality of marriage." There was a report issued by the dissenting bishops, but its only basis for opposition was that if the church changed its view, it would have to admit that it was wrong. And if it was wrong, it would lead to questioning on all "moral matters."

Although the commission and bishops overwhelmingly advised the hierarchy to change its stance, Pope Paul ignored the recommendations. He declared that the findings were not unanimous, and that the the recommendation disagreed with previous teaching and could not be changed.

Reaction to Humanae Vitae was not favorable. Many Catholics had expected Pope Paul to rescind the ban and had already made up their minds about birth control. There was also dissent from inside the church and by the world's theologians, most of it asserting that Catholics were free to make their own decisions on the issue. The reaction was as described by Father Curran. "All the hope and enthusiasm, all the sense that things had changed and that birth control teaching could change were crushed by the document. In a sense, there was one positive outcome from the encyclical in that Catholics realized that they could disagree with the pope on non-fallible issues and still remain a good Catholic. However, the negative outcome was that it created a lot of tension regarding credibility of the church.”

In the face of much dissent and disobedience, the church refused to alter its stance, and many Catholics have made their own decisions on contraceptives, especially in developed countries. Of the sexually active Catholic women in the US, 99% have used a method of birth control other than natural family planning.

In developing countries Humanae Vitae still has an impact on health policies and foreign assistance for such. This has led to an unmet need for family planning, increased abortion, death and disability for women denied the ability to limit pregnancies, and has hurt efforts to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Catholic hierarchy continues to oppose modern contraception in Africa, which has the world's lowest rate of contraceptive use. Bishops regularly mislead those in developing countries by telling them that contraception is harmful to women's health, it leads to higher levels of abortion, and that international family planning programs are western plots to destroy their society.

Some developing countries have had some success in overcoming the Catholic church. Despite its large Catholic population, Kenya has successfully promoted contraceptive use. By 2015 52% of married women were using contraceptives and it is on target to get to 60% by 2018.

In the Philippines, according to a 2014 poll, 68% of Catholics support contraceptive use, but have unmet need due to the rate of poverty. In 2017, however, the president of the Philippines issued an executive order calling for the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. The Catholic church responded by blocking the distribution of condoms in schools.

Over the last 50 years, the impact of Humanae Vitae has been immeasurable. Despite its existence, Catholics continue to use contraceptives, dismissing a central tenet of the church, and the divide between its doctrine and reality continues to widen. The ideology has also hampered women's health and family planning causes around the world. The need for a more modern sexual ethic is long overdue, and, in order for the church to move forward, a reexamination of Humanae Vitae is imperative. doclink

U.S. Births Dip to 30-year Low; Fertility Rate Sinks Further Below Replacement Level

May 17, 2018, National Public Radio   By: Bill Chappell

According to a recent report by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 the U.S. saw the fewest newborns since 1987, and the birthrate dropped for almost every group of women. In 2017 the total number of births was down 2% from 2016, and the fertility rate fell to a record low. These new numbers put the U.S. further away from a viable replacement rate, which has not been met since 1971.

Since a sharp decline in the early 1970's, the number of births in the U.S. has gradually risen. That growth however has been inconsistent with spikes and dips caused by the economy, generational size, and other factors. And, despite the rise in births, the birthrate over this time frame has shown a general decline.

The results of the report correspond with predictions the Census Bureau and others have been making for years. After decades of relatively high fertility rates, the U.S. must now depend on immigration for population growth.

In the report, teens (15-19 years) saw the biggest drop at 7% from the year before. And, the only group not to see a decline was women between the ages of 40 and 44. They saw an increase of 2% from 2016. The U.S. also experienced rises in preterm birthrate, low birth weight rate, and cesarean delivery rate in 2017. doclink

Karen Gaia says: Several things to note here: Use and accessibility of effective contraception, especially for teens, are one the rise. Women are postponing having children, and often wait until too late to have them, but some are finally ready and that explains the high birth rate between 40 and 44. Perhaps the increase in preterm birthrate, low birth weight rate, and cesarean delivery rate may be due to the larger number of older (40--44) women having babies when their bodies are not in the optimum shape for having them.

Humans Less Than 1% of Life on Earth, but Have Destroyed Half of Its Plants, More Than 80% of All Mammals

May 22, 2018, Common Dreams   By: Jessica Corbett

According to a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), human beings only make up 0.01% of the Earth's biomass, however their impact has been huge. The study showed that the planet's biomass is mostly plants (82%), followed by bacteria (13%), and everything else (including 7.6 million humans) accounts for the remaining 5%.

The rise of human civilization has resulted in the destruction of 83% of wild mammals, 80% of marine animals, 50% of plants, and 15% of fish. The study notes that "over the relatively short span of human history, major innovations, such as the domestication of livestock, adoption of an agricultural lifestyle, and the Industrial Revolution, have increased the impact of human population dramatically and have had radical ecological effects."

Furthermore, the study found that the human diet and unsustainable lifestyles have resulted in human beings and livestock accounting for 96% of the mammalian species. Only 4% of mammals are now considered to be wild.

Ron Milo, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, led the study and called the results "staggering." He commented that "our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants, and other organisms." He also added, "I would hope people would take this (work) as part of their worldview of how they consume. I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth." doclink

Why Family Planning is Good for People and the Planet

May 22, 2018, Rewilding Institute   By: Suzanne York

Balancing the existence of humanity and nature is a challenge. With worldwide population growth expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050, that balance harder will be more difficult to achieve. Attaining a healthy population number is key and may only be possible by finding the political and societal will.

Supporting family planning globally and locally is imperative. In developing regions, approximately 214 million women want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are without a modern contraceptive. Additionally, in these same regions, 43% of pregnancies are unplanned. If family planning services were expanded to improve and address all women's needs for modern contraceptive the cost would be relatively low - an increase from a $6.3 billion currently to $12.1 billion annually.

As an example, Uganda is a developing country that is in dire need of expanded family planning services. It is one of the fastest growing countries with its current population of 37 million growing to a projected 100 million by 2050. One in four girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is pregnant or has already given birth, and 75% of the population is under the age of 30. Education, outreach, and access to services are necessary and are currently being advocated for and offered by Reproductive Health Uganda.

In the US 45% of pregnancies are unplanned. However, in Colorado, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative provides low or no cost long-acting reversible contraceptives to low-income women, especially teens. By doing this, teen pregnancies were nearly cut in half in their state.

Family planning is often an overlooked path forward to deal with climate change. It has been shown that regions of high population growth, coupled with a high unmet need for family planning, frequently overlap with regions that are most vulnerable to climate change.

When women's needs for family planning are met, their families are healthier, there is a reduced household demand on resources, and women have more time to devote to climate adaptation-related activities. Increasingly, though, climate researchers and activists are making the connection. It has been estimated that, just by educating girls and supporting family planning alone, emissions could be reduced by 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050.

Biodiversity can also be impacted by family planning. Recently the World Wildlife Fund found that the world's forests could lose more than half of their plant species by the end of the century. Indonesia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and, although its government has invested in education and awareness of contraceptives, its population is still increasing and is projected to be the world's seventh largest country by 2050. Today there are more that 1.5 billion people living in biodiversity endangered areas.

New thinking about conservation, climate change, and communities is needed. One new model known as Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) is an integrated solution linking family planning, public health and conservation that recognizes the interconnectiveness of people and their local environment. Humanity must stop living beyond the carrying capacity of Earth.

To help in this cause, readers are encouraged to become informed about policies that empower women, call on elected representatives to stop cuts on family planning assistance internationally and locally, urge congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act and the Women and Climate Change Act of 2018, protest cuts to environmental protections, involve men in family planning programs, and vote. doclink

Karen Gaia says: more emphasis needs to be put on girls education. In many developing countries, it is equally important as family planning, especially in cultures where girls are married as children. Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is about 84 million girls of child-bearing age who are likely to become pregnant, and who many could have been helped by improved education opportunities, such as building schools within walking distance.

#ClimateFacts: Thirsty World

May 2, 2018, You Tube

If climate change continues unabated, half the global population is expected to suffer from severe water shortage by 2050. Is this the world we want to live in? doclink

The Last Taboo: Human Overpopulation

May 22, 2018, WOA website   By: Robert P. Johnson

Last month it was announced that not a single calf was born to the remaining 450 or so Northern Atlantic right whales putting them in jeopardy of almost certain extinction. Similarly, just the month before, the sole remaining male northern white rhino died, all but insuring the end of his species as well. Both will join the ranks of the "nevermore" along with scads of other species lost to extinction just within our generation. And this trend is quickening. In fact we are currently losing species at a pace somewhere around 1,000 times the natural "background" extinction rate, which is projected to bring about the fate of upwards of 50% of all life forms by 2100. And this is all happening because of climate change, oceanic acidification, our 1% annual usurpation of wild habitat, and plain old over-fishing/over-hunting. In other words: all because of us.

Make no mistake: this "Mass Extinction Event" is the greatest challenge we will ever confront, and yet the primary driver behind it, as well as most of our societal problems - homelessness, desperate migrations, malnutrition, famine, war and genocide, to name a few - is a phenomenon so divisive, so volatile, so taboo it is rarely if ever uttered: human overpopulation.

How do we know there are too many people? Consider the World Wildlife Fund's 2014 Report showing wildlife numbers have plummeted 56% just since 1970, all while our human population has more than doubled during that same period. Might there be a correlation? Of course there is.

Overpopulation deniers will argue that today's 2.5-ish birthrate is half what it was even as recently as 1950. True. Problem is we have three times as many people giving birth today, meaning we are adding to our numbers (by some 220,000 per day) faster than ever and are on pace to hit 9.6 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. All this wouldn't be a problem if our current 7.6 billion didn't already consume about 50% more resources than the Earth can sustainably provide.

Exacerbating matters our per capita consumption is still on the rise, especially as the Developing World grows evermore industrialized and meat becomes an ever-larger portion of the global diet. As a result of this "double whammy" of rising population and consumption rates we can expect global food needs to increase 50% and energy needs to double by 2100, and all while arable land shrinks by 30%.

Given these bleak prospects, why is overpopulation such a forbidden topic? Why isn't it ever covered by the "mainstream media," those snarky cable networks, or even NPR and PBS? Why do campaign cycles come and go with neither party ever mentioning it? And, most shockingly, why do environmental and humanitarian organizations purposely eschew the subject entirely, even though their otherwise noble efforts are utterly futile in the presence of unfettered growth?

One reason of course is its spurious association with eugenics; perhaps relevant in bygone eras but now just an anachronistic holdover that nevertheless renders it the veritable "third rail" of public discourse. Another reason has to do with the premature prognostications by Malthus, Ehrlich, and others who, without the benefit of knowing the "Green Revolution” would temporarily enable the planet to feed an additional 3 billion, miscalculated that our epoch would be engulfed in global famine by now. Although that hasn't happen - yet - it didn't stop their baby being tossed out with the bathwater.

But there is still another reason the subject is strictly taboo; one h-u-u-u-g-e reason: "It's the economy, stupid.” To wit: It's somehow become a veritable act of sacrilege to discuss the prudence of reducing our numbers primarily because our antiquated economic system is perceived to be dependent upon unabated growth, even as common sense tells us that an indefinitely expanding economy on a finite planet is not only implausible but also suicidal in the broadest sense of the word.

Last year, in an effort to publicize the threats we face, an unprecedented number of scientists (15,364) from an unprecedented number of nations (184) lent both their signatures and reputations to a paper entitled, "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” (BioScience, 1 December 2017). This was done as a desperate, clarion warning that we are quickly driving our lovely planet to Hell in a hand basket unless we act decisively to reduce our consumption, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and, most importantly, reverse our rampant growth.

So what is Earth's maximum sustainable carrying capacity? Albeit a much debated number subject to countless variables, it nonetheless pencils out to somewhere around 2 billion at today's consumption rates. But with us on pace to hurdle past 8 billion by 2025, how can we possibly hope to reverse this trend? Thankfully the math is actually quite simple: just as we quadrupled our population over the last century we can eventually whittle it back down to a sustainable number by lowering the global birthrate to somewhere below the 2.1 child "replacement” rate. And we can accomplish this by making safe and affordable contraception available to all, raising women's education levels, and by voluntarily delaying procreation and limiting ourselves to just 2 children. If our stated goals of protecting the environment and making a better world for our progeny are sincere we have to summon the courage to publicly call out the single greatest threat to both - human overpopulation.

Just 2 kids, just 2 billion; we can live with that.

Robert P. Johnson is author of Thirteen Moons: A Year in the Wilderness and The Culling, and a collaborator on "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” Raised in Oakland, he now lives in Santa Barbara with his "just 2” children. doclink

Karen Gaia says: Good article about impacts of overpopulation. However, the U.S. and developed countries already have fertility rates below 2.1, and the U.S. fertility rate is still falling due to improved contraception. So improving contraception, and access to it, is better than telling people to have just 2 kids. In fact 120 countries have fertility rates below replacement, many of them below 1.6. The fertility rates are highest in the poorest of countries, mostly in rural areas where there are no health clinics and there is a language barrier, and girls are married while they are still children. That is where girls education and health care make a big difference, not telling people how many kids to have.

Biodiversity Crisis

March 26, 2018, You Tube   By: Don Driscoll

Three-quarters of species on earth were wiped out in the fifth mass extinction, including the dinosaurs. 66 M Yrs later, scientists are now warning that we are entering the sixth mass extinction, and it's caused by people. doclink

Are We Finally Ready for the Male Pill?

April 26, 2018, Time magazine   By: Alexandra Sifferlin

Currently women have almost a dozen birth control options and bear the greatest responsibility when it comes to contraception while men have only have two options, the condom and vasectomy.

New clinical trials may signal a change in birth control as we know it. Pills, gels, and injections are some of the methods being researched as viable male contraceptive options. The market for male contraception is projected to be $1 billion dollars by 2024, and, targeting men may be an effective new way to reduce the world's unplanned pregnancy problem - currently 45% of the pregnancies in the US alone are not planned.

In the 60's the birth control pill started a sexual revolution that empowered women and changed society. College enrollment rose by 20% for those who had access to the pill, and one-third of the wage gains women have made since are due to its creation. Some speculate that because women endure the physical and social risks when a birth control method fails, they may find it difficult to relinquish control of pregnancy prevention. Others believe that women will welcome the additional protection.

According to surveys, 50% of males would use their own form of contraception, with a daily pill being the most desirable method. Most of the research centers around hormonal options (gels, pills, and injections) which suppress sperm production. However, associated side effects may be a major deterrent. Will a healthy person be willing to take a medication, and suffer potential side effects, to prevent an outcome from happening to another person?

Reversible, non-hormonal options that block sperm have recently gained traction. In the US the Parsemus Foundation created Vasalgel, a polymer gel that is injected into the vas deferens and blocks sperm from escaping. Monkey trials have shown it to be effective, and clinical trials in humans may begin as soon as 2019. Contraline, a start-up in Virginia, is also currently working on a similar sperm blocking method.

Recently, a new pill for men is being tested: dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, which lowers certain hormones like testosterone that are required for sperm production. The small study found that the once-daily pill appeared safe, and among men who took the highest dose, it was able to suppress hormones needed for sperm development to extremely low levels with no serious side effects. The men didn't experience serious side effects, however, because DMAU mimics testosterone throughout the body. Eight of the men taking the drug reported decreased libido and five men taking the drug reported acne. The researchers plan to test the effects of the pill on another 100 men before moving on to a longer trial with couples.

Another option in the works is a gel contraceptive. Researchers say gels get absorbed into the skin and stay in the bloodstream longer than pill versions so far. The gel trial will require men to rub the gel onto their upper arms and shoulders once a day. The gel contains a synthetic progestin called nestorone-which blocks the testes from making enough testosterone to produce sperm-and a synthetic testosterone, which will counteract subsequent hormonal imbalances.

​Researches believe it is possible to bring a male birth control method to the market in as few as ten years. More support is needed though, as costly studies and unknown regulatory hurdles loom. doclink