Front Royal, Va.
Kathryn Joyce, in “Missing: The ‘Right’ Babies” [March 3], is upset that during a recent speech in Poland, I encouraged the Poles to be more open to life by saying, “I want to see more Poles!” and infers that I and others are in a “panic for more white babies.” Of course, I would like to see more babies in dying Poland–or anywhere else. I am partial to babies, regardless of how much pigment they have in their skin. Speaking to 5,000 people in Manila, I declared, “I want to see more Filipinos!” And last year at a conference in Colombia, I called for more Colombians. Condemn me for being pro-people, if you will, but don’t condemn me for being racist.
And if race is the subject, let me mention my ancestry, which includes Native American blood, and my wife’s, who is Hispanic. My children range in appearance from little Geronimos to little Bridgets, but apparently Joyce couldn’t see beyond the color of my blue eyes. Who’s the racist here?
At Population Research Institute (PRI) our opposition to coercive population control programs in China, Peru and elsewhere, which has benefited tens of millions of women in the developing world, left Joyce unimpressed as well. I guess she thinks China, not to mention the High Andes, is inhabited by Aryans. Population control programs–which we oppose and many on the left support–overwhelmingly target religious and ethnic minorities. They lead to human rights abuses and undermine primary healthcare, thus raising infant and child mortality rates.
But Joyce’s most amazing misrepresentation concerns my call for pronatal policies to help save Social Security and counter the coming demographic winter. This somehow became a call by me for a world in which women are reduced to the role of helpless breeders. Joyce suggests that I intend Christians, of which I am one, to out-reproduce secular humanists, Muslims and others. We at PRI are said to be engaged in “a new cold war, a ‘clash of civilizations’ to be fought through women’s bodies, with the maternity ward as battleground.”
Feminists suppose that pronatal groups like PRI are conspiring to keep women barefoot and pregnant, but–you have my word–I am quite content to let the readers of The Nation make their own fertility decisions. I would only ask that the left show the same regard for others, in America and around the world.
Surveys show that young American women, for example, express a preference for 2.5 children or so, significantly more than the two they are likely to bear. PRI’s goal is to make it possible for women to achieve their desired number of children. It is emphatically not to treat them as wayward children to be propagandized, aborted, sterilized and contracepted out of their inherently pronatal convictions. That, however, seems to be an apt description of the population control project supported by an unconscionable number of self-declared feminists.
STEVEN W. MOSHER, president
Population Research Institute
My mother, who all my adult life has bemoaned my failure to join a church, was mightily surprised to learn from Kathryn Joyce’s article that I am now “at the helm” of a global pronatalist religious movement. So was I. Sadly, though, I’ll have to tell her it ain’t so.
My only association with the Demographic Winter documentary is that long ago in Poland, I sat for an interview with its makers. I don’t regret that and stand by the views I expressed. But I do object to being characterized as “a policy writer for the center-left Democratic Leadership Council [who] consistently aligns himself with the far right on population issues.” I don’t work for the Democratic Leadership Council and never have.
And Google me as much as you like. You will not find one instance in which I align myself with the right on birth control, abortion, stem cell research, cloning, gay marriage, immigration or any other population issue. I have written, instead, of the global fertility decline and of the large differential in birthrates between secularists and the religious. These are facts, not issues. My warnings of a “return of patriarchy” that could result from current demographic trends are merely descriptive, which is why they have appeared in secular publications ranging from Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs to Der Spiegel and the leftist New Statesman. Though the trend lines may cheer religious conservatives, they should alarm progressives. Don’t shoot the messenger, please.
New America Foundation
New York City
Declining birthrates are real–sixty-four countries have rates below the level needed for population replacement–and there are a host of reasons progressives should be concerned. Declining birthrates have led to a shrinking working-age population to support children and retired people, with consequences for the tax base, social programs, economic growth and healthcare. Immigration offers only short-term alleviation, as immigrants adopt the birthrate patterns of the new country quite quickly.
Moreover, this decline reflects economic and social insecurity, with a large dollop of gender inequity. Now that the majority of women are employed but are generally still responsible for the lion’s share of domestic caretaking, they are voting with their feet, so to speak, and delaying and limiting childbearing, thus confirming feminist insights of the past thirty years about the reciprocal relationships between the gender gap in wages, family responsibilities and the lack of services for working parents. This has led such mainstream players as the EU and OECD to support measures like parental leave, childcare and flextime, and to promote paternal involvement in childrearing.
It is certainly important for us to be aware of the ways conservative forces manipulate these developments, but it is equally critical that we use this issue to argue for policies to support working parents so that those who want children can have them.
WENDY CHAVKIN, MD, MPH
Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
The issue of declining birthrates in Europe was raised initially by the United Nations Population Program, followed by the European Union. A heavy focus of the concern was the aging of European populations and the change in ratio between young and old: too few young people coming along to support a growing elderly population. The main cause is economic. The countries with the lowest birthrates–Spain, Italy and Poland–offer little help to working mothers. The countries with the highest birthrates, like France and Sweden, have strong programs.
Where the religious right goes wrong is by blaming secularism, abortion, contraception and assorted social ills. They simply overlook the economic causes. Poland is celebrated for its religiosity. But that ignores the fact that its religion makes little difference in its low birthrate and that its social policies make it difficult for women to afford children.
Kathryn Joyce is right to point out the excess and nonsense of the views of the right. But she goes wrong in writing as if, since the religious right has embraced the issue, there is no problem other than that of a great conspiracy to harm women. There are a good many secular economists who have argued, with hard data, that a society needs a young population for economic vitality, that the elderly will be in great trouble without young people to support them, and that birthrates can best be raised by developing generous and thoughtful policies to support working women, not by preaching at them. Since women typically live longer than men, women will be the most threatened by a decline of the young, reducing their financial as well as social support. Self-interest alone should lead feminists to take the problem seriously.
The Hastings Center
The reduction of human numbers that many of us never imagined could be achieved without coercion is happening all by itself. The problem is, no one is celebrating. Instead, those of us who recognize what good news this is are doing nothing to defend it, leaving the field open to ideologues braying about social collapse and “demographic winter.”
More European leaders need to make it clear that Europe is overpopulated and that current trends of demographic contraction promise to reverse that condition. European leaders need to embrace an agenda in which (1) smaller populations are an explicit agenda and (2) trends that promote demographic contraction are encouraged. In other words, more secular individualism, insofar as this induces men and women not to have children. When smaller, less overpopulated nations are the goal, it follows that borders will be closed, high walls raised and recent guest workers encouraged humanely but firmly to go home. This is the opposite of racism: a nation whose goal is to shrink has no need of immigrants, and an overt anti-immigration policy disarms right-wingers who advocate large families to keep immigrants from overwhelming traditional population balances.
Most of all, Europe needs economists to step forward and propose models for operating stable polities whose absolute numbers contract. Most economists have presumed an insupportable necessity for perpetual growth. Europe’s states (and shortly after them, the United States) desperately need models for maintaining a stable and humane polity while human numbers shrink.
TOM FLYNN, editor
Free Inquiry (secularhumanism.org)
New York City
I no more wrote about Steven Mosher’s eye color and ethnicity than I accused him of personal racism. My argument is that Mosher and his profamily colleagues are making reckless, opportunistic appeals to European immigration anxieties as a springboard for their conservative sexual agenda. Whether they share the biases they appeal to is a matter for their own conscience. What concerns the rest of us is how carelessly they’re making such arguments in a multicultural continent still learning how to live with itself in peace, and how their proposed “natural family” solutions will affect individual rights.
Though the profamily movement is overwhelmingly white and Christian, I agree that its foremost concern is not race but the spread of conservative sexual ideology. But as savvy marketers, they tailor their message to their audience. In Europe that means enhancing their pitch for traditional family values with potent references to ancient hatreds and modern fears: drawing stark analogies between old holy wars and modern immigration, thinly masking threats of “race suicide” with talk of dying “cultures” and “traditional populations,” calling for “more Poles” in a country with a xenophobic government and citing Arab fertility as a weapon of demographic warfare. In such a context, it’s beyond disingenuous to claim ignorance of how these bald references will read: that Europe’s Muslims are problematic and, as Mosher charged, that they’re adding to continental “suicide” by their difference and numbers.
The opportunism of the profamily movement doesn’t stop at Europe, of course. Increasingly, antichoice advocates posture as defenders of minority rights–sending leaflets by the tens of thousands to nonwhite neighborhoods, smearing reproductive healthcare providers as “Klan Parenthood” out to “lynch” black babies. This is a scale model of PRI’s disinformation campaigns, conflating a real history of abusive population control efforts with all access to contraception, so that past instances of coercion are equated with millions of women of color choosing family planning options today. A prime example of how PRI’s “opposition to coercive population control programs” actually functions is Peru, a country where more than half of all pregnancies are unwanted and illegal abortions soar, and where PRI helped undermine local access to emergency contraception by citing the global gag rule. Following his successful lobbying against US funding of UNFPA, Mosher hopes to see all US funding for contraception cut off as immoral and population stability laws interpreted to fund pronatalist measures in countries with low birthrates, such as Poland. The common thread between these cynical plays for minority support and profamily appeals to European fears and prejudices is the paternalism of the “prolife” leaders behind both: activists who believe they know best what a woman should do with her fertility.
Finally, if the profamily movement wants to write off criticism as so much hysteria, perhaps it should reassess the Orwellian language in its calls for a new natural family order, redefining women’s rights as the right to “pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.” Pronatalism has an ugly past, and women, who bear the brunt of such fertility engineering, are rightly wary of it.
I didn’t say Phillip Longman works for the Democratic Leadership Council but that he’s written policy for it, reprising his arguments about the “baby bust” and the rise of patriarchy for a pronatalist proposal in the DLC organ Blueprint Magazine. Though Longman’s work on demographics is ostensibly aimed at a more progressive audience–warning liberals that Republican birthrates dwarf their own–his arguments on Europe’s fate mirror those of his conservative counterparts.
As he told me, describing a “vacuum created by the population decline” in the Netherlands that “Muslim extremists came in to fill,” population concerns are attributable to sexual freedom. “If we thought that population growth was natural, we could say, What’s wrong with homosexuality? What used to be wrong with them was that they were escaping their duties. What’s wrong with professional women? Nothing, so long as we can maintain their families.” That’s a big “if” to hang individual freedoms on.
Longman argues that he’s just the bearer of bad news, but whether through his endorsement of the profamily movement’s Natural Family Manifesto, his telling crowds of applauding conservative Christians in Poland they will inherit the earth, his appearance (last May, not so long ago) in a documentary urging a particular cure for demographic winter or his advice to businesses preparing to profit from the coming patriarchy, it’s hard to see Longman as just “the messenger.”
I agree with Daniel Callahan, Wendy Chavkin and Tom Flynn that there’s a great need for less ideologically and racially charged discussions of changing birthrate patterns in Europe and worldwide. As most of the researchers I spoke with who were not pushing a conservative sexual agenda argued, we have an opportunity for policy and funding decisions informed by something other than an attempt to turn back the clock.