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From the Archive: Missing: The 'Right' Babies | The Nation

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From the Archive: Missing: The 'Right' Babies

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Jennifer Butler, author of Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized and a witness to the havoc that Ruse brought to the UN during the 1990s, has tracked the rise of the international Christian right with apprehension. "I felt that nobody else knew what they were up to. You can't underestimate what they can do."

In this VideoNation report, Kathryn Joyce explains why the Christian right fears a "demographic winter." Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

About the Author

Kathryn Joyce
Kathryn Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption and Quiverfull:...

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What they are up to now is on full display for interested observers: a battle on many fronts against what they call "the autonomy revolution" of the 1960s--a worldview shift far broader than a mere sexual revolution. The minutiae of the "natural family" revival they intend is being addressed by hundreds of conservative activists. Paige Patterson, an architect of the conservative takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention, has lamented the high percentage of female university students as an impediment to stay-at-home motherhood. In August he fought the trend by instituting a homemaking curriculum for female students attending his Texas seminary. Carol Soelberg, president of the Mormon group United Families International and mother of thirteen, advocates women realizing their true mission in the home. Paul Mero encourages early marriage by declaring bachelors over 30 "a menace to society." And Carlson and Mosher continually seek ways to turn tax law into a vehicle for rewarding fertility and interpreting population stability laws as pronatalist measures.

How far they can go with it depends in part on how convincing their population threats--and solutions--seem to countries grappling with cultural growing pains, as well as how deftly the proponents of demographic winter navigate their own abundant internal contradictions.

Despite the lip service the profamily movement gives to uniting all the "children of Abraham" against common enemies, the sense of a more tangible foe--Muslim immigration--bleeds through their cooperative rhetoric. Farooq Hassan, a Harvard law professor and one of the few Muslim representatives in this profamily movement, chastised his colleagues for their transparent appeals to nationalism: "The rest of the world doesn't have the same problems as Europe. The Western world wants more people in Europe, but you don't care if there are more families in the Third World. You want less families there."

As if to demonstrate Hassan's point, Mosher's PRI claims to fight population control on behalf of women in developing nations--lumping instances of real abuse, such as the history of coerced sterilizations performed on developing world women, together with all efforts to expand family planning options--but reveals the limits of his professed concern for women's rights when he tells me that Israel relinquished Gaza because, as "Yasir Arafat said, the best weapon of the Palestinians is 'the womb of the Arab woman'": an example of fertility that Mosher finds "very sobering if you're concerned about the future of Israel."

In the context of the competing narratives conservatives hope to bend to their purposes, Mosher's slightly off-message slip is understandable. Another instance of this took place when a presenter at the Congress in Warsaw, an American OB/GYN lecturing against contraception, told the largely Polish audience that birth control was a continuation of an old evil, child sacrifice--a fraught evocation in post-Holocaust Poland, where anti-Semitic slurs against the nearly destroyed Jewish population, including the old blood libel charging Jews with ritual child murder, are far from forgotten. The inference isn't much of a stretch in a country where the government blames shadowy "webs of influence" for Poland's lagging economy; where sociologists describe a widespread conceptualized anti-Semitism that casts gays, feminists and secularists as symbolic "Jews" in a country with few actual Jews left; and where Jews are blamed for Communism and abortion, both of which are widely reviled. (Such associations aren't limited to Poland's profamily movement: Fr. Paul Marx, the founder of both Mosher's PRI and Human Life International, the parent group of Austin Ruse's C-Fam, likewise charged that Jews control the abortion "industry.")

These relics of demagogy--blurring the lines between the various enemies of Polish nationalism, whether Jewish, secular or Muslim--have helped foster a climate in which Poland widely accepts demographic winter, and all it entails, as truth. Members of the right-wing ideological youth brigade, the All Polish Youth, refine their politics by reading Pat Buchanan's The Death of the West, in which he describes a generalized "Western" diaspora, including Australia, Canada, the United States and Russia--as a "vanishing race." Meanwhile, to reverse the winter, Poland is enshrining Catholic doctrine into law: relegating contraception and sex ed to private clinics, and crafting laws to ban discussions on homosexuality in public schools and to prosecute abortion as murder.

Jon O'Brien, president of the liberal reproductive-rights group Catholics for a Free Choice, tells me that Poland is "a classic example of what you can expect if the World Congress of Families' fantasy came true."

This is where O'Brien, generally skeptical of the profamily movement's international appeal, sees a dangerous opportunity for its extremist patriarchal ideas to bloom: in Eastern European countries new to democracy and more accustomed to totalitarian traditions and an ultranationalism born of fear, poverty and porous borders. "When you have someone powerful like Putin talking to people in these circumstances about the necessity of Russian women giving birth, then you have to worry about it--how that could be turned into policy."

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