You are on page 1of 27

ECOSCIENCE:

POPULATION,
RESOURCES,
ENVIRONMENT

PAUL R. EHRLICH
STANFORD UNIVERSITY

ANNE H. EHRLICH
STANFORD UNIVERSITY

JOHN P. HOLDREN
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY

W. H. FREEMAN AND COMPANY


San Francisco
Ill

SECTION

V
The Human Predicament:
Finding a Way Out
MMMMMHi mauumansuuaaaeaim

We have presented a survey of the "hard" sciences associated with the human
predicament in the first eleven chapters of this book; the final section considers
various aspects of societal response to that predicament. Chapter 12 is relatively
brief and transitional. In it are examined the difficult question of how optimum
population size might be defined and the ways in which population growth,
increasing affluence1 and faulty technologies interact to generate environmental
^impjict. The conclusion that all of these causes are inextricably intertwined—that
responsibility for the predicament cannot be ascribed to any one of them in
isolation—provides fundamental background for the chapters that follow. Given
this "web of responsibility," how can the world society change its collective
behavior in order to permit civilization to persist into the indefinite future? What
changes now can assure that in the future people will live reasonably secure and
happy lives, supported by properly functioning ecological and social systems?
One step is obvious. The necessity of restraining the growth of the human
population has long been evident to thoughtful people. Chapter 13 deals witn ways'
in which this has been attempted in the past, how it might be dealt with in the
future, and the current controversy about population control and development.
Questions of technology (how effective and safe are contraceptives?), motivation
(how can people be persuaded to use contraceptives, sterilization, or abortion?), and
morality (should they?) are strongly interconnected. And these issues are not
divorced from others equally knotty—poverty, racial discrimination and political
power, to mention a few. While achieving population control rapidly would be very
difficult if only for the numerical reasons given in Chapter 5, the difficulty is
compounded by various social problems discussed in Chapter 13.
THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT / 713

Chapter 14 focuses on American society and its institutions. The United States
serves as a model for all developed countries—the one that in most respects has
developed farthest, for better or for worse. If developed countries are to exercise
leadership in a revolution of human attitudes and behavior, the most appropriate
source for such leadership is the United States. And if such a revolution is to occur,
it must involve virtually all parts of the sociopolitical system because of the
pervasive nature of the crisis now building. Institutions that help individuals to
relate to their environments—religion, science, medicine, education, and the
law-all are sorely in need of modification to reflect the new realities of existence in
the last part of the twentieth century. And the economic and political systems
through which individuals have their major impact on the environment require
equally drastic revision.
Similarly, as discussed in Chapter 15, the international system as presently
constituted offers little hope of resolving the human predicament. A world divided
by a vast and widening gap in wealth and income seems even less capable of solving
serious problems than is a nation divided into rich and poor—especially while the
poverty-stricken vastly outnumber the wealthy. Some possibilities for reorganizing
the world, first to reduce and then to eliminate the gap between rich and poor, is the
theme of that chapter. Our conclusion is that the only hope for closing the gap
involves changing the ways of life of both the affluent and the hungry. The affluent
must recognize that their futures are heavily dependent on the fate of the poor; the
poor must accept new goals if their condition is to improve rather than deteriorate.
Ever present in any consideration of the international situation is the threat of
nuclear Armageddon. A thermonuclear war is one event that would make almost all
the issues and arguments raised in this book academic. Sadly, the probability of
such a denouement may well be increasing—and this adds special urgency to the
need for changing the ways in which nations interact.
In Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 especially, we frequently leave the solid ground of
facts and venture into the quicksand of opinion and speculation. To do otherwise
would be to omit topics that we feel may hold the key to the survival of society. No
one can demonstrate "scientifically" that a given modification of the legal system of
the United States or of the development goals of Kenya or Brazil will lead to an
improvement in the prognosis for humanity, but we do not consider this a valid
reason for not discussing such changes. We hope that at the very least our ideas in
these and similar areas will stimulate discussion, which in turn may lead to action.
For, as should be obvious, we are not sanguine about the prospects for civilization if
it continues down its present path.
Maximum welfare, not maximum population,^
is our human objective. 2
—Arnold Toynbee, Man and hunger, 1963 CHAPTER 12
Humanity at the Crossroads

The maximum size the human population can attain is a lower capacity would be determined by the rate of
determined by the physical capacity of Earth to support replenishment of renewable resources and the accom-
people. This capacity, as discussed earlier, is determined plishments of technology in employing very common
by such diverse factors as land area; availability of materials. Whatever the maximum sustainable human
resources such as energy, minerals, and water; levels of population may be, however, few thoughtful people
technology; potential for food production; and ability of would argue that the maximum population could be the
biological systems to absorb civilization's wastes without same as the optimum. The maximum implies the barest
breakdowns that would deprive mankind of essential level of subsistence for all. Unless sheer quantity of
environmental services. Of course, no one knows exactly human beings is seen as the ultimate good, this situation
what the maximum carrying capacity of Earth is; it certainly cannot be considered optimal.
would certainly vary from time to time in any case. The minimum size of the human population, on the
Presumably, the capacity would be sustainable at a very other hand, is that of the smallest group that can
high level for a short period by means of rapid con- reproduce itself. Like the maximum, the minimum size is
sumption of nonrenewable resources. In the longer term, also not the optimum. It would be too small to permit the

715
71 6 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

many benefits of specialization and division of labor, of world at any time without reference to the situation in all
economies of scale in the use of technology, of cultural other parts of the world and in the future.
diversity, and so on. The optimum population size, then, No complete answers are possible, but it is time that
lies somewhere between the minimum and maximum such questions be seriously addressed. The following
possible sizes. observations are intended mainly to stimulate further
discussion.

THE OPTIMUM POPULATION Priorities

Biochemist H. R. Hulett has made some interesting The physical necessities—food, water, clothing, shel-
calculations bearing on the subject of an optimum ter, a healthful environment—are indispensable ingredi-
population. He assumed that the average United States ents of well-being. A population too large and too poor to
citizen would not consider the resources available to him be supplied adequately with them has exceeded the
or her excessive, and he then divided estimates of the optimum, regardless of whatever other aspects of well-
world production of those resources by the American being might, in theory, be enhanced by further growth.
per-capita consumption. On this basis, Hulett concluded: Similarly, a population so large that it can be supplied
" . . . it appears that (about) a billion people is the with physical necessities only by the rapid consumption
maximum population supportable by the present agri- of nonrenewable resources or by activities that irrevers-
cultural and industrial system of the world at U.S. levels ibly degrade the environment has also exceeded the
of affluence."1 By Hulett's criteria, then, even ignoring optimum, for it is reducing Earth's carrying capacity for
depletion of nonrenewable resources and environmental future generations. If an increase in population decreases
deterioration, the population of the Earth is already 3 the well-being of a substantial number of people in terms
billion people above the present optimum. of necessities while increasing that of others in terms of
Since decisions that determine population size are luxuries, the population has exceeded the optimum for
made, consciously and unconsciously, by the people alive the existing sociopolitical system. The same is true when
at a given time, it seems reasonable to define the optimum population increase leads to a larger absolute number of
size in terms of their interests. Accordingly, one might people being denied the necessities—even if the fraction
define the optimum as the population size below which of the population so denied remains constant (or even
well-being per person is increased by further growth and shrinks).
above which well-being per person is decreased by It is frequently claimed that the human population is
further growth. not now above the optimum because if the available food
Like most definitions of elusive concepts, this one (and other necessities) were in some way equitably
raises more questions than it answers. How is well-being distributed there would be enough for everyone.2 But it
to be measured? How does one deal with the uneven is only sensible to evaluate optimum population size in
distribution of well-being and particularly with the fact terms of the organisms in the population under consid-
that population growth may increase the well-being of eration, not in terms of hypothetical organisms. Thus, if
some people while decreasing that of others? What if a an area of Africa has more lions than the local prey can
region is overpopulated in terms of one aspect of support and the lions are starving, then there is an
well-being but underpopulated in terms of another? overpopulation of lions even though all the lions could
What about the well-being of future generations? One have enough to eat if they evolved the capacity to eat
cannot define an optimum population for any part of the grass.
Grossly unequal distribution of food and other goods
'Optimum world population. Note that there is a large volume of is characteristic of contemporary Homo sapiens just as
conventional economic literature in existence that focuses on a narrowly
2
defined economic optimum. This literature is of little interest to the For example, Barry Commoner, How poverty breeds overpopulation
discussion here (see, e.g., Spengler, Optimum population theory). (and not the other way around), Ramparts, August/September 1975.
HUMANITY AT THE CROSSROADS / 731

Their results showed that some form of disaster


lies ahead unless all the factors are controlled: Resources
population growth, pollution, resource con-
sumption, and the rate of capital investment
(industrialization).
This was hardly a new conclusion in 1972.
Indeed, the argumentation and evidence for this
general world-view had been accumulating
steadily since the time of Mai thus (see Box 13-2),
and a rash of books drawing substantially similar \ A
\
PopulationN,
X
J<
conclusions had appeared in the decades follow-
ing World War II.C What accounts, then, for the Food per capita
extraordinary response—both disparaging and
laudatory—that these views elicited when they
appeared in Limits to Growth in 1972?
Several factors contributed: first, the status of
M.I.T. as virtually a worldwide synonym for
careful scientific analysis; second, the sponsor- 1900 2000
ship of the project by the vaguely mysterious
Club of Rome, an international collection of FIGURE 12-2
influential academicians, industrialists, and pub-
lic figures; third, the extraordinarily direct and The "standard" world model run assumes no major
lucid style with which the authors presented change in the physical, economic, or social
their conclusions; and fourth, the major role relationships that have historically governed the
played in the underlying analysis by a "computer development of the world system. All variables
model" of the world. plotted here follow historical values from 1900 to
Of these factors, the last was almost certainly 1970. Food, industrial output, and population grow
the most important. The book appeared at a time exponentially until the rapidly diminishing resource
when the capabilities of large computers had base forces a slowdown in industrial growth.
already become part of public conventional Because of natural delays in the system, both
wisdom (or folklore), but when the idea that population and pollution continue to increase for
computer results are no better than the informa- some time after the peak of industrialization.
tion fed into them was not so widespread. Thus Population growth is finally halted by a rise in the
the notion that a computer had certified the death rate due to decreased food and medical
bankruptcy of growth gave the conclusion public services. (After Meadows et al., 1972.)
credibility, and at the same time provided a
target for indignant economists and others who
saw the outcome as an illustration of the syn-
drome known in the computing trade as "gar- idea behind computer modeling is to simulate in
bage in, garbage out."d a general way the behavior of complicated phys-
How do computer models in general, and the ical systems. The technique is used when the
Limits model in particular, actually work? The situation of interest is too complicated to analyze
with equations solvable with pencil and paper, or
with laboratory or field experiments on a rea-
c
For example, William Vogt, Road to survival; Fairfield sonable scale; and when it is too time-consuming
Q^OQrrxz, Our plundered planet; Harrison Brown, The challenge or too risky simply to observe the real system and
of man's future; Georg Borgstrom, The hungry planet, Mac- see what happens. Systems or processes that meet
millan, New York, 1965; Paul Ehrlich, The population bomb,
Ballantine, New York, 1968; Preston Cloud, ed., Resources and
these conditions and that accordingly have been
man, W. H. Freeman, San Francisco, 1969; P. R. Ehrlich and studied with computer models include the global
A. H. Ehrlich, Population resources, environment, W. H. meteorological system, various ecosystems, the
Freeman, San Francisco, 1970.
rf
safety systems of nuclear reactors, the growth of
See, for example, K. Kaysen, The computer that printed out
W*O*L*F, Foreign Affairs, 1972, which tries but fails to stick
cities, and the evolution of galaxies.
the "garbage" label on Limits to Growth, missing the point in In all such cases, models are constructed by
major respects. identifying what seem to be the most important
(Continued)
"1
HUMANITY AT THE CROSSROADS / 733

technology would reduce resource input and nomic systems; (4) institutional and social re-
pollutant output per unit of material standard of sponses; and (5) individual needs and responses.
living to zero. Notwithstanding Turning Point's occasional
The first assumption is contrary to all recent gratuitous disparagement of the oversimplifica-
experience; doublings of agricultural productiv- tion in Limits to Growth (difficult to understand
ity have required triplings and quadruplings of in view of its obvious debt to the earlier work),
technological inputs. The second assumption is the conclusions were strikingly similaj': continu-
impossible in principle since it violates the ation of recent trends in population growth,
second law of thermodynamics, one of the most industrialization, and environmental disruption
thoroughly verified laws of nature. All one could will lead to disaster; ddibexatc-and-,massive
safely conclude from this work is that Forrester's social and economic change will be necessary- to
model is "sensitive" to the introduction of mira- avoid this outcome. The added sophistication of
cles into the assumptions. Presumably, the more Turning Point's regional disaggregation, show-
sophisticated model in Limits to Growth would ing the problems that can arise from such
also be "sensitive" in this way, but that is hardly interactions as competition among regions for
a defect. scarce resources, should be welcomed. At the
The most detailed critique of the Limits model same time, it seems fair to say that the net effect
was performed by a group at the University of of this added degree of detail is to make the
Sussex, England, and was published together prognosis more pessimistic than that in Limits,
with a reply by the authors of Limits of Growth in not less so. Basically, regional disaster or nega-
a book called Models of Doom.1' The Sussex ** tive interactions leading to wars seem more
critics accused the Limits group of leaving out imminent than a uniform global disaster, which
economics and social change, of underestimating was the only kind the aggregated model in Limits
the power of technology, and of daring to make could reveal. (This, of course, is another conclu-
policy recommendations on the basis of a flawed sion that many analysts have reached over the
model. The response of the Limits group was that years without benefit of computer modeling).
their model probably overestimated the effec- Obviously, the model in Turning Point is still
tiveness of the price mechanism rather than far from perfect. Certainly neither it nor other
underestimated it, that evidence of the limita- computer models can be used to predict the
tions of technology has been accumulating rap- future in detail. Nevertheless, computer model-
idly, that in the absence of any perfect models ing seems a useful way to acquire or communi-
one must make policy recommendations with the cate insights about the implications of present
best ones available, and that social change (which trends, and it has the great advantage of requir-
is hard to model) is precisely what they were ing that assumptions about relevant relationships
trying to stimulate by their recommendations. be made explicit. Surely this is an improvement
On the issue of whether the model overstated or over the situation most likely to prevail when
understated the imminence of disaster, we might people think about the future of a complicated
add that the simplistic treatment of environmen- world—the "models" in their heads are full of
tal risks probably understated the danger more assumptions that are not only unstated but
than other flaws overstated it. perhaps even unrecognized. In short, those crit-
Probably the most imposing attempt to con- ics who believe the world cannot be modeled
struct a more realistic model than that in Limits should stop thinking about the future entirely,
was described in 1974 in Mankind at the Turning for implicitly all who do are modeling in their
Point: The Second Report to the Club of Rome, by heads.
M. Mesarovic and E. Pestel. This model divided The purpose of caring at all where humanity is
the world into ten political/geographical re- going, of course, whether one finds out with or
gions, modeling each of these on five "strata": (1) without the aid of a computer, is not prediction
physical environment; (2) technology; (3) eco- for its own sake. It is, rather, that if we do not like
the projected consequences of present trends and
*H. Cole, C. Freeman, M. Jahoda. K. Pravitt, eds., Models of values, we can take conscious action to change
doom. Universe Books, New York, 1973. course.
Of all things people are the most precious.
—Mao Tse Tung CHAPTER 13
Population Policies

Any set of programs that is to be successful in alleviating permit the death rate to increase, which, of course, will
the set of problems described in the foregoing chapters inevitably occur by the agonizing "natural" processes
must include measures to control the growth of the already described if mankind does not rationally reduce
human population. The potential goals of such measures its birth rate in time.
in order of possible achievement are: Even given a consensus that curbing population
growth is necessary and that limiting births is the best
1. Reduce the rate of growth of the population,
approach, however, there is much less agreement as to
although not necessarily to zero.
how far and how fast population limitation should
2. Stabilize the size of the population; that is, achieve a
proceed. Acceptance of the first goal listed above requires
zero rate of growth.
only that one recognize the obvious adverse conse-
3. Achieve a negative rate of growth in order to reduce
quences of rapid population growth—for example, dilu-
the size of the population.
tion of economic progress in less developed countries,
Presumably, most people would agree that the only and aggravation of environmental and social problems in
humane means of achieving any of these goals on a global both developed and less developed countries. Econo-
basis is by reducing the birth rate. The alternative is to mists and demographers, many of whom will not accept

737
738 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

the third goal at all and ascribe no urgency to the second, Whether this view of long-term necessity is accepted
generally do espouse the first one (at least for the LDCs). or not, of course, the goal of any sensible population
Accepting the second^goal simply means recognizing policy for the immediate future is the same—to gain
that Earth's capacity to support human beings is limited control over growth. This chapter describes the recent
and that, even short of the limits, many problems are evolution of population policies, explores some potential
related to population size itself rather than only to its rate (but still largely unexploited) means of achieving such
of growth. Accepting the idea that stabilizing the size of control over population growth, and discusses the inter-
the population is urgently necessary requires recognizing acting effects of other policies (especially development
that the limits are already being approached and that, policies) on population growth.
although technological and cultural change may eventu-
ally push the limits back somewhat, the prudent course is
to halt population growth until existing problems can be FAMILY PLANNING
solved. Virtually all physical and natural scientists accept
the ultimate inevitability of halting population growth, An essential feature of any humane program to regies
and most of them accept the urgency of this goal. Much the size of the human population must be provision :f
of the first part of this book has been an exposition of why effective means for individuals to control the number ,-_ r
the "inevitable and urgent" position is reasonable. timing of births. This approach is commonly te—s;
The most controversial goal is the third, one listed "family planning," and family planning programs h=v;
above—reducing the size of the human population. been introduced in many LDCs in the past two decades
Accepting this goal implies a belief that there is an with the goal of providing the means of birth control::
optimum population size and that this optimum has the people. These are the main population policies - :~
already been exceeded (or will have been exceeded by the in existence.
time population growth can be stopped). It also implies The family planning movement, however, historically
that each society has a right—indeed a responsibility—to has been oriented to the needs of individuals sni
regulate its population size in reference to the agreed- families, not of societies. Although birth control 15
upon optimum. In a world where the right (and the essential for achieving population control, family ff-*:-
responsibility) of married couples to determine their own ning and population control are not synonymous. Befcre
family size has become a widely accepted notion only in proceeding to an examination of the important different
the past generation or two, the idea that nations have such between the two, some historical perspective on the
a right or obligation is a truly radical one. Unfortunately, practice of birth control and the family planning move-
humanity cannot afford to wait another quarter century ment is in order.
for the idea to gain complete acceptance.
Given the threat to the environment posed by today's
population in combination with today's technology, and Birth Control
given the menace this situation represents to an already
faltering ability to provide enough food for the people Many birth control practices are at least as old as
now alive, it is clear that the human population is already recorded history. The Old Testament contains obvious
above the optimum size. (How far above the optimum is references to the practice of withdrawal, or coitus inter-
more difficult to determine; see Chapter 12). It is, of ruptus (removal of the penis from the woman's vagina
course, conceivable that technological and social change before ejaculation). The ancient Egyptians used crude
will push up the optimum in the time it takes to bring barriers to the cervix made from leaves or cloth, and even
population growth to zero. More probably, however, the blocked the cervical canal with cotton fibers. The ancient
population size will have to be reduced eventually to Greeks practiced population control through their social
below today's level if a decent life is to be assured for system as well as through contraception; they dis-
everyone. couraged marriage and encouraged homosexual rela-
BOX 13-1 Institutionalized Infanticide in the Eighteenth Century*

Where the Number of lusty Batchelors is large, strangles me Babe; when the Searchers come to
many are the merry-begotten Babes: On these inspect the Body, and enquire what Distemper
Occasions, if the Father is an honest Fellow and caused the Death, it is answered, Convulsions,
a true Church of England-Man, the new-born this occasions the Article of Convulsions in the
Infant is baptized by an indigent Priest, and the Bills of Mortality so much to exceed all others.
Father provides for the Child: But the Dissent- The price of destroying and interring a Child is
ers, Papists, Jews, and other Sects send their but Two Guineas; and these are the Causes that
Bastards to the Foundling Hospital; if they are near a Third die under the Age of Two Years,
not admitted, there are Men and Women, that for and not unlikely under two Months.
a certain Sum of Money will take them, and the I have been informed by a Man now living,
Fathers never hear what becomes of their Chil- that the Officers of one Parish in Westminster,
dren afterwards . . . in and about London a received Money for more than Five Hundred
prodigious Number of Infants are cruelly mur- Bastards, and reared but One out of the whole
dered unchristened, by those Internals, called Number. How surprizing and shocking must this
Nurses; these detestable Monsters throw a dismal Relation appear, to all that are not
Spoonful of Gin, Spirits of Wine, or Hungary- hardened in Sin? Will it not strike every one, but
Water down a Child's Throat, which instantly the Causers and Perpetrators with Dread and
Horror? Let it be considered what a heinous and
*This material is quoted from George Burrington's pamphlet
"An answer to Dr. William Brakenridge's letter concerning the detestable Crime Child-murder is, in the Sight
number of inhabitants, with the London bills of mortality," of the Almighty, and how much it ought to be
London, J. Scon (1757). abhorred and prevented by all good people.

tionships, especially for men. The condom, or penis Europe in an institutionalized, although socially disap-
sheath, dates back at least to the Middle Ages. Douching, proved system sometimes called "baby farming" (Box
the practice of flushing out the vagina with water or a 13-1).2
solution immediately after intercourse, has had a simi- Infanticide rarely takes the form of outright murder.
larly long history. Abortion is a very ancient practice and Usually it consists of deliberate neglect or exposure to
is believed to have been the single most common form of the elements. Among the Eskimos and other primitive
birth control in the world throughout history, even peoples who live in harsh environments where food is
during the past century when it was illegal in most often scarce, infanticide was, until recently, a common
countries. The simplest, most effective, and perhaps the practice, as greater importance was placed on the survival
oldest method of birth control is abstention; but this of the group than on the survival of an additional child.
method seems to have been favored mainly by older men, There is a strong suspicion that female infanticide
particularly unmarried members of the clergy. persists in parts of rural India. It exists even in our own
Infanticide, which is viewed with horror today by society, especially among the overburdened poor, al-
prosperous people in industrialized societies, has proba- though intent might be hard to prove. Certainly "masked
bly always been practiced by societies lacking effective infanticide" is extremely common among the poor and
contraceptive methods.1 It was a rather common practice hungry in less developed countries, where women often
among the ancient Greeks, and the Chinese and Japanese neglect ill children, refuse to take them to medical
are known to have used it for centuries, especially in facilities, and may even show resentment toward anyone
times of famine. In agrarian or warlike societies, female who attempts treatment. According to Dr. Sumner
infanticide has often been practiced to provide a greater Kalman of the Stanford University Medical Center, the
proportion of men or to consolidate upper classes. Only a average poor mother in Colombia—where 80 percent or
century or two ago, infanticide was widely practiced in more of a large family's income may be needed to provide
'Mildred Dicfccman, Demographic consequences of infanticide in
man. ^William L. Langer, Checks on population growth: 1750-1850.
Family Planning: A Short History

During the Industrial Revolution in England, an early


advocate of limiting the size of families through contra-
ception was labor leader Francis Place. Realizing that a
limited labor pool would be likelier to win high wages
and better working conditions from employers than
would a plentiful supply of workers, in 1822, Place
published a treatise, Illustrations and Proofs of the
Principle of Population, which reached large numbers of
people.4 This was followed by a series of handbills that
urged birth control in the interest of better economic and
physical health and also described various contraceptive
methods. Additional books on birth control appeared
both in England and the United States during the 1830s
and continued to circulate until the 1870s, when legal
attempts were made to suppress them in both countries.
FIGURE 13-1
The attempt failed in England, but in the United States
the "Comstock Law" was passed by Congress in 1873. It
This machine makes oral contraceptive pills at the rate of 10,000 tablets
forbade the dissemination by mail of birth control
per minute. The operator wears a protective mask to avoid inhaling
steroids, which could cause hormonal changes. (Photo courtesy of information, classing it as "obscene literature." Many
Syntex Laboratories, Inc.) states also passed laws against birth control literature,
known as "little Comstock laws," and in 1890 importa-
tion of such literature was outlawed.5
food alone—goes through a progression of attempts to
America's heroine in the family planning movement
limit the number of her children. She starts with
was Margaret Sanger, a nurse. Her main objective was to
ineffective native forms of contraception and moves on to free women from the bondage of unlimited childbearing
quack abortion, infanticide, frigidity, and all too often to through birth control, and her efforts thus were a part of
suicide.3
the women's emancipation movement. In 1916 Mrs.
The development of modern methods of contraception
Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn,
and the spread of family planning have eliminated the
for which she was arrested and jailed. As a result of her
need for such desperate measures as infanticide and
case, however, court decisions subsequently permitted
self-induced abortion in most developed nations and
physicians to prescribe birth control in New York for
among the wealthier classes of most less developed
health reasons.
countries. But modern methods of birth control are still
These were the first of many such decisions and
by no means available to every potential parent in the
changes in state laws that ultimately permitted the sale
world. The most effective contraceptives—oral contra-
and advertisement of contraceptive materials and the
ceptives (Figure 13-1), lUDs, and safe, simple steriliza-
dissemination of information about birth control. But the
tion— have been available even to the affluent only since
change was slow. The last such court decision was made
the early 1960s. A description of the modern methods of
in 1965, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the
birth control most used today and others still under
Connecticut statute forbidding the use of contraceptives
development can be found in Appendix 4 in the back of
was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. In 1966 the
this book.
'Reprinted in 1930 by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.
5
'Modern methods of contraception. Bulletin of the Santa Clara County \V. Best and L. Dupre, Birth control. Much of the historical material
(Calif.) Medical Association, March 1967. in this section is based on this source.
POPULATION POLICIES / 741

Massachusetts legislature repealed the last of the state Anglican (Episcopal) Communion in England and the
Comstock Laws. Margaret Sanger and others who joined United States in 1958, by the Central Conference of
her rapidly growing birth control movement (first known American Rabbis (Reform) in 1960, and by the National
as the Birth Control League, later as the Planned Council of Churches in 1961.
Parenthood Federation) after World War I led the fight Birth rates in America and Europe had already begun
for these legal changes and for support from medical, to decline long before the first birth-control clinics were
educational, health, and religious organizations. established (Chapter 5). Nevertheless, the family-
Counterparts to Margaret Sanger existed in many planning movement, particularly in the United States,
other countries, especially in northern and western probably deserves some credit for today's relatively low
Europe, and planned parenthood movements became birth rates. It certainly played a great role in increasing
independently established in several nations. Their the availability of contraceptives and birth control infor-
founders, like Mrs. Sanger, were motivated primarily by mation. This was accomplished not so much through
concern for the health and welfare of mothers and Planned Parenthood clinics, which never have reached
children, and their campaigns emphasized these more than a small fraction of the total population, but
considerations. through the removal of restrictive laws, the development
Concurrently, intellectual organizations concerned of medical and religious support, and the creation of a
primarily with population growth, known as Malthusian social climate in which birth control information could
Leagues, were also promoting birth control. These, of circulate freely. Since passage of the U.S. Family Plan-
course, were intellectual descendants of Robert Malthus, ning Act in 1970, Planned Parenthood clinics have been a
who first put forth warnings about the dangers of major provider of free and low-cost contraceptive ser-
overpopulation (see Box 13-2). They were active in vices to low-income people through government grants.
several European countries; but after World War I, when Throughout its history, the emphasis and primary
European birth rates had reached quite low levels, concern of the family planning movement has been the
Malthusian concerns seemed to lose relevance and the welfare of the family; it has stressed the economic,
movement died out. educational, and health advantages of well-spaced, lim-
The birth control movement in the United States was ited numbers of children." Its policy has been to provide
at first opposed by the medical profession. As the health information and materials for birth control in volunteer-
and welfare benefits of family planning became apparent, staffed clinics, serving any interested client, but primar-
the medical profession moved to a position of neutrality. ily the poor who could not afford treatment by a private
In 1937 the American Medical Association (AMA) physician. Once the movement was established in the
finally called for instruction on contraception in medical United States, little effort was made to recruit clients,
schools and medical supervision in family planning beyond the routine promotion that accompanied the
clinics. But it was not until 1964 that the AMA recog- opening of a new clinic. For the United States this policy
nized matters of reproduction, "including the need for was apparently adequate; this nation is now overwhelm-
population control," as subjects for responsible medical ingly committed to the idea of family planning and the
concern.6 practice of birth control.
Religious opposition to the birth-control movement
was initially even stronger than medical opposition. The Contraceptive practice in the United States. By
Roman Catholic church still opposes "artificial" methods 1965, survey results showed that some 85 percent of
of birth control, but Planned Parenthood clinics cooper- married women in the United States had used some
ate in teaching the rhythm method to Catholics who method of birth control. Most by then favored the more
request it. Acceptance of birth control came gradually effective methods such as the pill. Among older couples,
from the various Protestant and Jewish groups after
'These advantages are very real, as the World Health Organization has
initial opposition. Official sanction was given by the recently confirmed. See Dr. Abdel R. Omran, Health benefits for mother
and child.
'Best and Dupre, Birth control.
Laws of the Age of Reason as "population, when have emerged. The first set combined to put
unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. elements into a population-subsistence relation-
Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ship that Malthus could not have foreseen. On
ratio . . . " The first Essay challenged the vi- one hand, the introjiuction of massive death
sions of an age and the reactions were immediate control procedures— immunization, purification
and predictably hostile, though many listened. ater, the control of disease-carrying
The controversy led to the publication in 1803 of nrpanisim., improved. sanitation, etc. — hqve re-
an enlarged, less speculative, more documented, moved many of the cheCRs that Malthus assumed^
but equally dampening second essay. This one as natural." On the other hand, developments'
was signed and bore the title, An Essay on the in agriculture— high-yield plant strains, the
Principle of Population or a View of its Past and powering of equipment with fossil fuels, the use
Present Effects on Human Happiness with an of new techniques of fertilization and pest con-
Inquiry into our Prospects Respecting the Future trol—have massively increased food production.
Removal or Mitigation of the Evils it Occasions* The second set of factors has become widely
Malthus added to and modified the Essay in significant only in the last quarter century and
subsequent editions, but it stood substantially evident to most laymen only in the last decade.
unchanged. These are the deleterious effects on the biosphere
In 1804 he accepted a post at the East India resulting from agriculture and industry. With
Company's college at Haileybury which pre- our planet's population bloated by death control
pared young men for the rule of India, where he and sustained only poorly through an agriculture
remained until his death. His marriage, in the based on nonrenewable resources and techniques
same year, ultimately produced three children. which buy short-run, high yields at the expense
The ironies in Malthus' life are obvious. He of long-run, permanent damage to the "Earth's
was one of eight children. He occupied a position power to produce subsistence," we face a pros-
of comfort in an intellectual atmosphere of pect inconceivable in the Age of Reason.
optimism, but was compelled by the rigor of his Malthus looked into a dismal future of "vice and
intellect to argue that nature condemned the bulk misery" begot of an uncontrolled, and, to his
of humanity to live in the margin between barely mind, uncontrollable population growth. We
enough and too little. Finally, his message as a look into one where the dismal is compounded
teacher fell on the ears of future colonial bu- with peril, not because humanity cannot control
reaucrats who would guide or preside over the its population, but because it will not.**
destinies of India.
Since the conversations between Robert
Malthus and his father almost two centuries ago, **This box is a modification of an essay supplied to us by
two sets of factors which were beyond their ken historian D. L. Bilderback. For further reading about Malthus,
see particularly John Maynard Keynes, Essays in biography; J.
Bonar, Malthus and his viork, 2d ed., 1924; G. F. McCleary,
*Reprinted with numerous other articles on the same topic in The Mahhusian population Theory; and, of course, iMalthus'
Philip Appleman, ed., An essay on the principle of population. First and Second Essavs.

1965 were not wanted by both parents and 22 percent However, another distinguished demographer, Judith
were not wanted by at least one parent. The incidence of Blake, pointed out that the high incidence of unwanted
unwanted births was found, not unexpectedly, to be births calculated by Westoff for the U.S. during 1960-
highest among the poor, to whom birth control and safe 1965 was caused in large part by births occurring
abortion were least available. Demographer Charles disproportionately to women who already had several
Westoff estimated that eliminating such a high propor- children.10 During those six years, there were unusually
tion of unwanted births might reduce the U.S. rate of small proportions of first and second children born and
natural increase by as much as 35 to 45 percent.9 unusually large proportions of births of higher orders
9
L. A. Westoff and C. F. Westoff, From now to zero: fertility, (which are more likely to be unwanted). Hence, due to
contraception and abortion in America. 1
Reproductive motivation and population policy.

743
744 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

the age composition of the population, the total propor- adults polled thought four or more children constituted
tion of unwanted births in the U.S. was higher for those the ideal family size, in contrast to 40 percent in 1967.
years than it has been at other times. One of the three most commonly given reasons for
During the kte 1960s, such changes as the increasing favoring small families in 1971 was concern about
use of the pill and lUDs and relaxation of restrictions crowding and overpopulation; the others were the cost of
against voluntary sterilization substantially reduced the living and uncertainty about the future.
incidence of unwanted births of all orders. Results of the In October 1971, a survey sponsored by the U.S.
1970 National Fertility Study confirmed this change, Commission on Population Growth and the American
indicating that only about 14 percent of births between Future disclosed a still greater level of concern about the
1965 and 1970 were unwanted." Most of the reduction population explosion among Americans. Specifically, it
in fertility in that period was due to reductions in was discovered that:
unwanted and unplanned births. Since 1970, the exten-
1. Over 90 percent of Americans viewed U.S. popu-
sion of family planning services to the poor and the
reversal of abortion laws (see below) have evidently lation growth as a problem; 65 percent saw it as a serious
further extended the trend, as attested by record low problem.
fertility rates. 2. Over 50 percent favored government efforts to slow
There is no question that providing better contracep- population growth and promote population redistri-
tives and simplified sterilization procedures, legalizing bution.
abortion, and ensuring that all are easily available to all 3. Well over 50 percent favored family limitation even
members of the population reduces the incidence of if a family could afford more children.
unwanted pregnancy—a socially desirable end in itself. 4. About 56 percent favored adoption after births of
But even if a perfect contraceptive were available, the two biological children if more were desired.
5. Only 19 percent felt that four or more children
contraceptive-using population probably never will be
perfect. People forget, are careless, and take chances. were the ideal number for a family; 45 percent favored
They are also often willing to live with their mistakes two or less. The mean was 2.33.
when the mistakes are babies. The complete elimination 6. Only 8 percent thought the U.S. population should
of unwanted births therefore is probably not possible. be larger than its current size.
Nor does that alone account for the dramatic drop in the Concurrent with the rise in public concern about
U.S. birth rate in the early 1970s. Rather, it appears that a population growth, Zero_Population Growth^Inc., was
significant change in family-size goals took place around founded in late 1968 to promote an end to U.S. popula-
that time, especially among young people who were just tion growth through lowered birth rates as soon as
starting their families.12 possible and, secondarily, to encourage the same goal for
world population. The organization hoped to achieve
Changing attitudes in the United States. Public this by educating the public to the dangers of uncon-
surveys taken between 1965 and 1972 revealed a growing trolled population growth and its relation to resource
awareness of the population problem on the part of the depletion, environmental deterioration, and various so-
American public. In 1965, about half of the people cial problems; and by lobbying and taking other political
interviewed in a Gallup Poll thought that U.S. popula- action to encourage the development of antinatalist
tion growth might be a serious problem; in 1971, 87 policies in the government. Since its founding, ZPG has
percent thought that it was a problem now or would be taken an active role in promoting access to birth control
by the year 2000. In January 1971 only 23 percent of for all citizens, legalized abortion, women's rights, and
"Charles F. Westoff, The modernization of U.S. contraceptive prac- environmental protection. More recently it has begun to
tice; Trends in contraceptive practice: 1965-1973; The decline of explore changes in U.S. immigration policies. ZPG has
unplanned births in the United States.
12
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fertility history and prospects of clearly been a factor in changing attitudes toward family
American women: June 1975. size and population control.
POPULATION POLICIES / 745

The growth of the wnmpn's Hhpr^p'nn movement in divorce; income taxes and family allowances; and immi-
the U.S. since 1965 has almost certainly been another gration regulations.
important influence on attitudes (and thus on birthrates)
through its emphasis on opportunities for women to The United States
fulfill themselves in roles other than motherhood. Many The United States has no specific population policy,
young women today are refreshingly honest about their although various laws, including those regulating immi-
personal lack of interest in having children and their gration and the administration of income taxes, have
concern for obtaining opportunities and pay equal to
always had demographic consequences. Most tax and
those of men. Such attitudes were virtually unthinkable other laws were until recently implicitly pronatalist in
in the United States before 1965.
effect. In the late 1960s this situation began to change as
The women's movement was a potent force behind the
state laws restricting the distribution of contraceptive
liberalization of U.S. abortion laws, and has also actively
materials and information were repealed and as abortion
campaigned for the establishment of low cost day-care
laws were relaxed in several states. In 1970 Congress
centers for children and tax deductions for the costs of
passed the Family Planning Services and Population
child care and household work. Such facilities and
Research Act, established the Commission on Population
policies lighten the costs of childbearing, but they also
Growth and the American Future, and passed the
encourage mothers to find work outside the home. The Housing and Urban Development Act, which authorized
experience of many societies suggests that outside em- urban redevelopment and the building of new towns. In
ployment of mothers discourages large families more 1972, an amendment to the Constitution affirming equal
than the existence of child-care facilities encourages
rights for women passed Congress, but as of 1977 it was
them.
not yet ratified by the required number of states.
Both the growing concern about the population prob-
The Family Planning Services and Population Re-
lem and the ideas of women's liberation doubtless
search Act of 1970 had the goal of extending family
contributed to changing attitudes toward family size in
planning counselling and services to all who needed
the 1970s. The economic uncertainty of the period may
them, particularly the poor. It also provided funds for
also have been a factor. While it may never be possible to
research on human reproduction. Some 3.8 million
determine the causes exactly, the achievement of subre-
women were being provided with family planning ser-
placement fertility in the United States is one of the most
vices by 1975, 90 percent of whom had low or marginal
encouraging developments since 1970.
incomes. Another 1.9 million were being served by
private physicians. But it has been estimated that another
3.6 million eligible women (including about 2.5 million
POPULATION POLICIES
sexually active teenagers) were still not receiving needed
IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
help in the mid-1970s. Particularly neglected were
women in rural areas and small towns. Government-
Although birth control in some form is almost univer- subsidized sendees have been provided through local
sally practiced in developed countries, very few have health departments, hospitals, and private agencies (pri-
formulated any explicit national policies on population marily Planned Parenthood), most of which are located
growth other than regulation of migration. Some Euro- in urban areas. A leveling-off of increases in clients in
pean countries still have officially pronatalist policies left 1974 and 1975 over previous years has been attributed
over from before World War II, when low birth rates led mainly to lack of increased funding by the government
to concern about population decline. rather than to lack of need.13
Of course, many laws and regulations enacted for 13
Marsha Corey. U.S. organized family planning programs in F 1974;
economic, health, or welfare reasons have demographic Joy G. Dryfoos, The United Stales national family planning program;
1968-74; The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Organized family planning
effects: for instance, those governing the availability of services in the United States: FY 1975: T. H. Firpo and D. A. Lewis,
contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion; marriage and Family planning needs and services in nonmetropolitan areas.
746 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

Since 1967, the U.S. Agency for International Devel- federal family planning services. Thus, although the
opment (AID) has been permitted to include family United States has not hesitated to advocate the establish-
planning assistance in its programs. Funding for overseas ment of official antinatalist population policies in less
family planning assistance has been steadily increasing developed countries, it has not established one for itself.
since then, and by fiscal 1976 had reached a level of The current low fertility of American women seems to
$201.5 million.14 have taken the urgency from the zero population growth
The U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the movement-even though that fertility trend could easily
American Future presented its findings and recommen- reverse itself at any time. Given its present age composi-
dations in 1972 in the areas of demographic develop- tion, the U.S. still could reach the higher population
ment, resource utilization, and the probable effects of projections of the Census Bureau (Chapter 5) if another
population growth on governmental activities.15 After baby boom occurred. In the mid-1970s, however, no
two years of study, the Commission concluded that there consensus for immediate ZPG existed, and interest in
were no substantial benefits to be gained from continued population problems has been focused on aspects other
population growth, and indeed that there were many than the birth rate—primarily on distribution and
serious disadvantages. Besides recommending the liber- immigration.
alization of abortion laws and numerous other popula-
tion-related policies, the report strongly recommended Social objections to ZPG. The proposal to stop
that contraceptives be made available to all who needed population growth naturally aroused considerable oppo-
them, including minors; that hospital restrictions on sition on religious, social, and economic grounds. The
voluntary sterilization be relaxed; that sex education be role of religion in determining attitudes toward popula-
universally available; and that health services related to tion growth, as well as toward the environment and
fertility be covered by health insurance. It also recom- resource limitation, is discussed in more detail in Chap-
mended policies to deal with immigration, population ter 14.
distribution, and land use. Perhaps most important, the The primary social argument that has been raised
Commission stated: against halting U.S. population growth is that it would
Recognizing that our population cannot grow indefi- substantially change the nation's age composition.17 As
nitely, and appreciating the advantages of moving now the population stabilized, the median age would increase
toward the stabilization of population, the Commis- from about 28 to about 37. Less than 20 percent of the
sion recommends that the nation welcome and plan for population would then be under 15, and about the same
a stabilized population.16 percentage would be over 65 years old. At present, about
25 percent of the population is under 15, and 11 percent
Unfortunately, apart from expressing strong disagree-
is over 65. It is assumed that such an old population
ment with the recommendations on abortion, President
would present serious social problems. Figure 5-15
Nixon took no action on the Commission's report, nor
(Chapter 5) shows the age compositions of the U.S. in
did President Ford show any inclination to do so. The
1900 and 1970 and how it would look in a future
abortion question was made moot by the Supreme
stationary population.
Court's decision in 1973 (see section on abortion below).
It is true that old people tend to be more conservative
Congress has contented itself mainly with expanding
than young people, and they seem to have difficulty
adjusting to a fast-changing, complex world. In an older
14
AID in an Interdependent World, War on hunger special supplement, population there would be relatively less opportunity for
June 1975; see Phyllis T. Piotrow, World population crisis: The United
States response for an historical account of U.S. involvement in overseas advancement in authority (there would be nearly as many
population programs. 60 year-olds as 30 year-olds—so the number of potential
"Population and the American future.
^Population and the American future. By a "stabilized population," the "Ansley J. Coale, Man and his environment, Science, vol. 170, pp.
Commission meant a stationary one. 132-136 (9 Oct. 1970).
POPULATION POLICIES / 747

chiefs would be about the same as the number of older population, there are also some definite advantages.
Indians). There would also be many more retired people, While the proportion of dependent retired people grew,
a group already considered a burden on society. that of young children would shrink. The ever-rising
But even those who raise this argument must realize its taxes demanded in recent decades to support expanding
fundamental fallacy. In the relatively near future, growth school systems and higher educational facilities would
of the human population will stop. It would be far better cease to be such a burden; indeed, that has begun to
for it to stop gradually through birth limitation than by happen already. The same is true of resources now
the premature deaths of billions of people. (In the latter devoted to crime control and other problems primarily of
case, there would be other, much more serious problems young people. Some of that money could be diverted
to worry about). Therefore, if this generation does not instead to programs to help the aged. Moreover, the
initiate population control, we simply will be postponing growth in the proportion of senior citizens (the numbers
the age composition problems, leaving them to be dealt will not change; they are already born) will be far more
with by our grandchildren or great grandchildren. Our gradual than the decline in numbers of babies and small
descendants will be forced to wrestle with these problems children that has already occurred, allowing ample time
in a world even more overcrowded, resource-poor, and for society to adjust to the change.
environmentally degraded than today's. In the meantime, if birth rates remain low, the overall
Moreover, the assumption that an older population dependency ratio of the population will decline. In 1970
must be much less desirable than a younger one is there were 138 dependents for every 100 workers in the
questionable in this society. Today, chronic underem- United States; by 1980 the ratio will drop to about 118
ployment and high unemployment are exacerbated by a and may be 112 or less by 1990.18 Even after the numbers
labor pool constantly replenished by growing numbers of of the aged begin to rise in the population, the depen-
young people, which forces early retirement of the old, dency ratio will remain relatively low. As Kingsley Davis
making them dependents on society. Many of our current pointed out, the highest proportion (about 75 percent) of
social problems, including the recently skyrocketing people in productive ages (15-65) is found in a popula-
crime rates and serious drug problems, are associated tion that is making the transition from growth to ZPG.
with the younger members of the population. If popula- The proportion is nearly as high in a stationary popula-
tion growth stopped, the pressure of young people tion (about 63 percent).19 And if years of productivity
entering the labor pool would decline, while crime and were extended to 70 and beyond, the proportion would
unemployment problems could be expected to abate, as be even higher, of course. By contrast, in very rapidly
would the need for forced retirement of older workers. growing LDC populations, the proportion of people in
Old people today are obsolete to a distressing degree. their productive years (15 to 65) can be 50 percent or less.
But this is the fault of our social structure and especially
Economic objections to ZPG. The economic ob-
of our educational system. The problem with old people
jections to ZPG are based upon the realization that a
is not that there are or will be so many of them, but that
nongrowing population implies at least a much more
they have been so neglected. If underemployment were
slowly growing economy, if not a nongrowing one. This
reduced, outside interests encouraged during the middle
thought strikes fear in the breasts of most businessmen
years, and education continued throughout adult life (as
and economists, even though a perpetually growing
suggested in Chapter 14), older people would be able to
economy is no more sustainable than a perpetually
continue making valuable contributions to society well
growing population. The implications of a steady-state
into their advanced years. Maintaining the habits of
economy are discussed in Chapter 14; here we limit
active interest in society and learning new, useful skills
might effectively prevent obsolescence and the tendency I8
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population of the United States: Trends
and prospects 1950-1990.
to become conservative and inflexible with advancing age. "Zero population growth: the goal and the means.
Thus, although there may be some disadvantages to an no. 4, 1973, pp. 15-30.
748 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

ourselves to some of the aspects more obviously related to projected stationary population indicated that ths
population growth.20 changes would be surprisingly minor.23 The most nota-
In 1971, economist J. J. Spengler noted the economic ble difference was that there would be proportional;
advantages and disadvantages of ZPG.21 One of the more households (called spending units by economists in
advantages is increased productivity per person, partly an older stationary population; families would be smaller
because of greater capital available for investment, and but more numerous. Many of the changes in acr.;;!
partly because of a reduced dependency ratio. Other spending patterns would balance each other; in a sta-
advantages include stabilized demand for goods and tionary population there would be a greater demand for
services; increased family stability as a result of there housing, for instance, but a lower demand for clothing
being fewer unwanted children; reduction of costs of and transportation. In no case were the changes more
environmental side effects; and opportunities to mini- than a few percent.
mize the effects of population maldistribution. On the
minus side, Spengler mentioned the problems associated Differential reproduction and genetic quality. A
with the changed age structure and pointed out that there common concern about population control is that it will
would be a relative lack of mobility for workers and less in some way lead to a reduction in the genetic quality of
flexibility in the economy because there would be fewer Homo sapiens.^ This concern is often expressed in such
entrants into the labor force. He was also concerned that questions as "if the smart and responsible people limit
there might be a tendency toward inflation, due in part to their families while the stupid and irresponsible do not,
increases in the service sector and in part to pressure to couldn't that lead to a decline of intelligence and
raise wages more than rising productivity justified. responsibility in humanity as a whole?" The technically
Recent events, as population growth has slowed (though correct answer is "no one knows"; the practical answer is
there is not yet a decline in growth of the labor pool), "there is no point in worrying."
suggest that Spengler may be right about the inflation No one knows, because it is not at all clear what, if any.
pressures, although many other influences clearly are portion of the %'ariation in traits like "intelligence" or
involved too. And certainly there are ways to compensate "responsibility" (however defined, and definition is dif-
for those pressures. ficult and controversial) is influenced by genetics. The
The question of labor shortage for an expanding most intensively studied example of such "mental" traits
economy in a stationary population has also been raised. is performance on various so-called intelligence tests.
But, as economist Alan Sweezy has pointed out, workers and it has not been possible to demonstrate unambigu-
(and their families) are the main consumers as well as the ously that genes make any significant contribution to an
producers.22 And, as mentioned above, the productive individual's scores.25
portion of a population is largest in stationary and There is no point in worrying about it because, even if
transitional populations. these traits had a substantial genetic component and
There was speculation by economists during the 1930s people with "bad" genes greatly outproduced people
and 1940s that consumption patterns would be drasti- with "good" ones, it would take a great many generations
cally, and presumably adversely, changed if population (hundreds of years at a minimum) for the differential
growth stopped. But a recent study comparing con- reproduction to produce a socially significant effect.
sumption patterns in the U.S. population of 1960/1961 Moreover, if such an effect were discovered, it could then
(when it was growing relatively fast) with those of a
2
"'D. Eilenstine and J. P. Cunningham, Projected consumption patterns
M
For a further discussion, see U.S. Commission on Population for a stationary population.
Growth, Population and ike American future, vol. 2. -•'For discussion of this question, see papers in C. J. Bajema (ed),
2
'Economic growth in a stationary population, PRB selection no. 38, Natural selection in human populations.
35
Population Reference Bureau, Inc., Washington, D.C., July 1971; see also See especially Leon J. Kamin, The science and politics of 10 for a
Spengler, Population and American future. critique of the twin data on which most of the evidence for the heritability
22
Labor shortage and population policy. of IQ rests.
POPULATION POLICIES / 749

be reversed either by reversing the selective pressures women their age: an average of 2.2 (see Box 13-3).27
(for example, encouraging reproduction of those with The ideal situation, in our opinion, would be for all
high IQ test scores) or, more likely, by modifying the peoples to place a high value on diversity. The advan-
social environment in order to improve the performance tages of cultural diversity are discussed in Chapter 15;
of those with poor scores ("bad" genes). the reasons for avoiding a genetic monoculture in Homo
Note that we have put quotation marks around "good" sapiens are essentially the same as those for avoiding one
and "bad." It is common for nonbiologists to think that in a crop plant—to maintain resistance to disease and a
heredity is a fixed endowment that rigidly establishes or genetic reservoir for potential adaptation to changed
limits skills, abilities, attitudes, or even social class. In environments in the future. The advantages also include
fact, heredity is at most one of two sets of interacting the possibility of aesthetic enjoyment of physical diver-
factors, the other being the cultural and physical envi- sity.28 Some day we hope that whites will become
ronment. When heredity does play a significant role (and distressed if blacks have too few children, and that, in
it often may not), it is the product of this interaction that general, humanity will strive to maximize its diversity
is of interest, and that product may be modified very while also maximizing the harmony in which diverse
effectively by changing the environment.26 There is groups coexist.
therefore no need for deep concern about the possible
genetic effects of population control. Distribution and mobility. Obscuring the popula-
Another related issue that seems to encourage a tion controversy in the United States in the late 1960s
pronatalist attitude in many people is the question of the was the tendency of some demographers and government
differential reproduction of social or ethnic groups. Many officials to blame population-related problems on popu-
people seem to be possessed by fear that their group may lation maldistribution. The claim was that pollution and
be outbred by other groups. White Americans and South urban social problems are the result of an uneven
Africans are worried there will be too many blacks, and distribution of people, that troubled cities may be
vice versa. The Jews in Israel are disturbed by the high overpopulated, while in other areas of the country the
birth rates of Israeli Arabs, Protestants are worried about population has declined.29 The cure promulgated in the
Catholics, and Ibos about Hausas. Obviously, if every- 1960s was the creation of "new cities" to absorb the 80
one tries to outbreed everyone else, the result will be million or so people then expected to be added to the U.S.
catastrophe for all. This is another case of the "tragedy of population between 1970 and 2000.
the commons," wherein the "commons" is the planet It is of course true that there is a distribution problem
Earth.268 Fortunately, it appears that, at least in the DCs, in the United States. Some parts of the country are
virtually all groups are exercising reproductive restraint. economically depressed and have been losing popula-
For example, in the United States fertility in the black tion-often the most talented, productive, and capable
population has consistently been higher than white elements—while other areas have been growing so rap-
fertility (black mortality has also been higher). Since idly that they are nearly overwhelmed. Patterns of
birth control materials and information began to be made migration and settlement are such that residential areas
available to low-income people in the late 1960s, black have become racially and economically segregated to an
fertility has been declining even more rapidly than white
fertility. By 1974, black women under 25 expected to
-'Frederick S. Jaffe, Low-income families: fertility changes in the
have essentially the same number of children as white 1960s; Population Reference Bureau, Family Size and the Black
26
American.
A detailed explanation for the layman of the complex issues of the ->&There is more genetic variation within groups of human beings than
inheritance of intelligence can be found in P. Ehrlich and S. Feldman, between diem, but some of the inter-group variation may be biologically
Race bomb. See also F. Osborn and C. J. Bajema, The eugenic hypothesis, important (and is more widely recognized by lay persons).
29
for an optimistic evaluation of the genetic consequences of population For instance, demographer Conrad Taeuber, who supervised the
control. 1970 U.S. Census, in a speech delivered at Mount Holyoke College in
""Garret! Hardin, The tragedy of the commons. January 1971 (quoted in the Nets York Times, Jan. 14, 1971).
BOX 13-3 Poverty, Race, and Birth Control in the United States*

The entrance of the United States government class. Because poor people simply could not
into the field of birth control through the exten- afford the more effective contraceptives, and
sion of family planning services to the poor because no family planning information or ser-
aroused a controversy quite out of proportion to vices were provided through welfare health
its potential effect on the national birth rate, services until the late 1960s, most low-income
particularly in the black community, some people were until then deprived of effective
members of which perceived it as a policy of methods of birth control.
"genocide" against racial minorities. Between 1965 and 1970, fertility among the
In the United States, birth rates have long poor and near-poor declined by 21 percent,
been higher among the poor and among non- doubtless due in part to the new services that by
whites (blacks, orientals, and native Americans) 1970 were reaching an estimated 1.5 million
than among the nonpoor and among whites. women. The greatest fertility decline occurred
High birth rates are generally associated with among nonwhite women below the poverty level.
low economic and educational levels in most As family planning services have expanded,
countries, including the United States. At the nonwhite fertility has continued to drop rapidly.
same time, the poor and nonwhites also have had Despite the tendency of black militants to
consistently higher death rates, especially among regard the provision of birth control information
infants and children. Above the poverty level, and services to the poor as a policy of "genocide"
the birth rate difference between races dimin- against blacks, and although the potential for
ishes, and college-educated nonwhites have fewer abuse exists, it should be emphasized that the
children than their white peers. In recent years government's present program is basically in-
(especially since the national family planning tended to benefit the poor, and poor children in
program was established) the birth rates of the particular. In this connection it is unfortunate
poor and nonwhites have been declining even that the government chose to label its policy as a
more rapidly than those of the population as a "population control" measure, which it is not;
whole.** rather it was a logical and long overdue extension
Although there is conflicting evidence regard- both of the family planning movement and of the
ing desired family size among the poor, several welfare program.
surveys conducted in the 1960s indicated that Fears of discrimination have been aroused in
poor couples wished to have only slightly more areas where middle-class social workers of peo-
children than middle-class couples, and non- ple operating birth control clinics in poor neigh-
white couples in most socioeconomic classes borhoods have put pressure on women to accept
wanted fewer children than comparable whites birth control services. There have also been cases
did. This was especially true among the younger of black women being sterilized without in-
couples in their prime childbearing years. formed consent, and laws have been proposed for
At the same time, the incidence of unwanted compulsory sterilization of welfare mothers.
children among the poor and near-poor in the Hence black fears of genocide are not altogether
early 1960s was estimated to be as high as 40 unfounded. The recent decline in black fertility,
percent. For nonpoor couples the incidence was however, may have defused much of the white
about 14 percent.1' The reasons for this disparity prejudice against "black welfare mothers." The
between desires and actual reproductive perfor- best way to avoid either the appearance or the
mance appear to have lain less in the lack of actuality of discrimination in administration of
knowledge of contraceptives than in the un- birth control services is to have the services
availability of effective ones. The poor who used administered by residents of the same neigh-
birth control tended to use cheaper and less borhoods they serve as far as possible.
reliable methods than did members of the middle Although many middle-class Americans favor
population control for others, especially the
"Source: Population Reference Bureau, Family size and the poor, they must realize that it is really their own
black American; Robert G. Weisbord, Genocide? birth control excessive reproduction that accounts for most of
and the black American, Greenwood, Westport, Conn., 1975. the U.S. population growth rate. Furthermore,
For a discussion of the social and biological meanings of race. the middle class and the wealthy are responsible
see Ehrlich and Feldman, Race bomb.
**P. Cutright and F. S. Jaffe, Family planning program effects for the high rate of consumption and pollution,
on the fertility of low-income U.S. women. which are the most obvious symptoms of over-
*L. A. WestofF and C. F. Westoff, Front now to zero. population in the United States.

750
extreme degree. This trend could be expected to have
many undesirable social consequences (one has been the
school-busing controversy). Central cities are being
economically strangled and abandoned, while industry
and members of the taxpaying middle class flee to the
suburbs. But some social scientists have advanced the
notion that, rather than being the cause of our social
problems, maldistribution and migration might be
symptoms of a deeper, more general malady.30
Population maldistribution is different from, although
related to, the problem of absolute growth, and it
demands a different set of solutions. Nevertheless, the
distribution situation would certainly be exacerbated by
a continuation of rapid population growth.
Unfortunately, the proposal to create new cities has
several drawbacks. The scale of the project alone is FIGURE 13-2
dismaying. New cities would have to be built at the An aerial view of Spokane, Washington. If the population of the United
improbable rate of one the size of Spokane (Figure 13-2), States had continued to grow as fast as it did in the late 1960s, a city of
Washington, per month until the end of the century just this size would have to be built each month between 1970 and the end
in order to absorb the population growth that in the late of the century to accommodate the additions to the population. (Photo
1960s was projected for that period. In order to provide courtesy of Spokane Chamber of Commerce.)
space alone for that many more people, the United States
would have to sacrifice substantial amounts of land now
in agricultural production. Three hundred Spokanes older cities. The populations of new cities, unless con-
would occupy about 10 million acres, which is equivalent trolled by explicit resettling policies, might be even more
to the land producing the entire U.S. cotton crop. homogenous than that of today's suburbs and would tend
Wasteland or grazing land could be used instead, but to be even more mobile. Thus new cities would be quite
most people would not find such areas desirable places to unstable and would tend to intensify, rather than relieve,
live, and shortage of water might also be a limiting factor. the problems of social segregation.
Furthermore, new cities would not necessarily reduce Morrison suggested that a better solution to distribu-
pollution; rather, they would provide additional foci of tion problems would be to revitalize existing cities and
environmental deterioration. Thus the net effect on total form policies that encouraged migration in desired
environmental impact nationwide, aside from redistri- directions. People who move to new areas are usually
buting it, would be beneficial only if careful planning attracted to better job opportunities or higher wages.
were used to minimize commuting and other destructive Most go where they already have friends or relatives, a
activities in the new communities. factor that militates against the successful establishment
Peter Morrison of the Rand Corporation has pointed of new cities. Most migration in the United States occurs
out several social and economic disadvantages of new between urban areas; relatively few people now move
cities.31 The first difficulty is the enormous cost of from rural to urban areas. Such policies as local tax
building each new city, including the creation of a solid situations that encourage or discourage the development
economic base to attract: immigrants, in competition with of industries, and differences among states in welfare
benefits have considerable potential influence on
'"Peter Morrison, Urban growth, new cities, and the population migration.
problem.
''Ibid; U.S. Commission on Population Growth, Population and the Since passage of the Population Act in 1970, the
American future, vol. 5.
government has encouraged the development of new

751
752 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

cities by providing funds and guaranteeing loans to loses potential support from many of its most active and
developers. Some new communities have been developed talented citizens. High mobility may be hardest on
within old cities—Roosevelt Island in New York and children. When children cannot establish community
Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis, for example—but most roots, it is not surprising that they grow up alienated
are built some distance from older centers. The new from older generations and from society at large.
community program was plagued with funding problems As a result of undirected migration since World War
in the early 1970s, partly because of President Nixon's II, many urban areas in the United States have ex-
penchant for impoundment of funds, and partly because perienced severe problems. Some cities have grown
of HUD's fondness for red tape and failure to come enormously while others have lost population. Peter
through with promised technical and planning assistance Morrison has described the demographic effects of rapid
or aid in starting transportation and school systems. growth on one city, San Jose, California, which tripled its
Despite these obstacles, several new towns have come population between 1950 and 1970, and population
into being. The best of them incorporate housing for all decline on another, St. Louis, Missouri.34 San Jose's
income levels and try to attract minority groups. At least mostly young, extremely mobile population provides the
one new town, Woodlands, Texas, was planned by advantages of a highly flexible job market and a low rate
ecological architect Ian McHarg with an eye to preserv- of dependency (retirees and jobless poor). But the city's
ing the local forest and recycling the water supply.32 population has grown almost faster than urban services
The issue of new cities has faded somewhat since 1970, such as sewers, schools, and streets could be provided for
possibly because it has become increasingly difficult just it. No time was available for planning; developers put up
to finance the maintenance of existing cities and suburbs, houses wherever land was available. In the early 1970s,
without taking on the even greater burden of building San Jose looked at itself and was appalled: a classic
new ones. Another limiting factor may have been the example of unplanned urban sprawl—"slurbia" it is
1973/1974 energy crisis, which starkly illuminated many called in the vernacular.
of the faults of today's settlement and commuting St. Louis, by contrast, is an acute example of central
patterns. Lowering population growth rates and some city decay. The central city's population declined by 17
abatement of internal migration may also have caused percent during the 1960s, while the surrounding suburbs
politicians to view the need as less urgent than it seemed a grew by 29 percent. Those who moved out were pre-
few years earlier. Nevertheless, the problem remains of dominantly young families, leaving behind a rising
accomodating the tens of millions of people who will be proportion of aging and retired people and disadvan-
added to the U.S. population by the end of the century. taged minorities, especially blacks. High and middle-
In addition, the numerous social difficulties caused by income families, both black and white, departed for
present and past movements of people must be solved suburbs or other cities, leaving the city of St. Louis to
and efforts made to prevent their being intensified in the support a high proportion of low-income people on an
future. Between 1950 and 1970, one American in five inadequate tax base.
moved each year, about 22 percent of these to a different One approach to ameliorating the problems of over-
state. Disproportionate numbers of the people who move burdened cities is to encourage people to return to rural
are young couples in their twenties and their children. areas and small towns and cities. Such a policy, however,
The destructive effects of such mobility on people and on might require considerable revamping of American
communities have been vividly described by Vance agricultural and industrial employment systems, as well
Packard." People are not inclined to develop loyalty or as of local welfare policies that inadvertently stimulate
civic concern toward a town in which they feel them- migration from rural areas to cities. Such explicit policy
selves temporary residents. The community thereby
"Urban growth and decline: San Jose and St. Louis in the 1960s.
"New towns in trouble. Time, March 24,1975. Another recent study, in which many of the economic, social and
r
'A nation of strangers; see also Urie Bronfenbrenner, The origins of environmental effects of unplanned urban growth are examined, is Irving
alienation. Hoch. City size effects, trends, and policies.
POPULATION POLICIES / 753

changes, although there are many powerful arguments in with the exception that family allowances—small allot-
their favor, have only begun to appear, and those have ments to subsidize support of children—have been
come mainly from the private sector as business firms provided for decades. Prohibitions on distribution of
relocated in smaller cities and towns. There has been contraceptive devices or information were repealed in
considerable discussion of reorganizing welfare policies 1969, and soon afterwards a government family planning
on a federal standard so that no locality will provide more program was launched. Regulation of abortion was also
attractive benefits than any other, but to date the discus- liberalized somewhat in 1969, but the new law has been
sion has not been turned into action. applied very conservatively. Easy access to abortion is by
Even without policy changes, however, a reversal of no means a reality in Canada.37
the centuries-long trend toward urbanization in the U.S. The Canadian birth rate is slightly higher (15.7 in
may now have occurred spontaneously.35Fed up with the 1975) than that of the United States and has also been
growing disadvantages of life in large cities—rising dropping rapidly. A major factor in Canadian population
crime rates and declining levels of services and ameni- growth has been immigration, which in the 1960s made
ties—millions of Americans have moved from cities to up about one-third of the nation's annual growth. In the
rural areas and small towns. A surprisingly large number early 1970s immigration increased as fertility declined.
of them have taken up farming, but with varied success. Traditionally liberal immigration policies are currently
Some of this back-to-the-farm movement derives from being reevaluated with a view to tightening restrictions
the earlier hippie movement and from a growing desire and reducing the inflow.38
among young, well-educated people for a more self-
sufficient, independent way of life than is possible in a Western Europe. Western European countries gen-
large city. Eventually, this change in life-style and erally have no official population policies other than
personal goals may influence large companies and the pronatalist policies left over from before World War II
government to develop policies that encourage decen- when birth rates were very low.39 Many of these coun-
tralization and discourage unnecessary mobility. tries still have family allowances to help support children
in large families. Predominantly Catholic European
countries still banned or restricted contraceptives and
Policies and Practices abortion as late as the 1970s.
in Other Developed Countries In Europe, widespread practice of coitus interruptus
has been given the major credit for lowering birth rates
Explicit population policies are the exception rather during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with
than the rule in most developed countries.36 Where laws illegal abortion also playing an important role. In most of
affecting demographic trends have existed, they have Western Europe by the 1970s, coitus interruptus and the
generally been indirect, most commonly regulating or condom were still the most used contraceptive methods,
prohibiting abortion or the distribution of contraceptive followed by the pill and the rhythm method. Among
information and materials. As in the United States, most Western European countries, only in England and Scan-
such laws until recently have been pronatalist in intent. dinavia are other contraceptive devices as well known
Nevertheless, a predominant social trend throughout the and readily available as they are in the United States. The
twentieth century has been the growth in acceptance of condom is still the most commonly used device, however,
the idea of family limitation. and withdrawal is much more widely practiced than it is
in America. However, use of the pill is increasing.40
Canada. Canada's population policies have generally
"Margot Zimmerman, Abortion law and practice—a status report.
followed the same lines as those in the United States, "Wendy Dobson, National population objectives are slowly taking
shape.
39
"Roy Reed, Rural areas' population gains now outpacing urban Much of the information on current policies come from Richard C.
regions; Americans on the move. Time, March 15, 1976. Shroeder, Policies on population around the world.
36 40
Bernard Berelson, ed.. Population policy in developed countries. Norman B. Ryder, The family in developed countries.
754 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

Sweden is an exception among European countries in East.42 The worldwide economic recession in the mid-
that it has had an official population policy since the 1970s led to an intensification of the controversy, espe-
1930s. This policy provided for sex education (including cially in Switzerland, which has twice considered out-
birth control) in schools, permitted abortion in some right deportation of all immigrants (thus throwing many
circumstances, and offered family planning services as firms, dependent on migrants, into panic).43 So far such
part of the national health organization. In addition, proposals have been rejected, although many social
Sweden was the first country to have a program to assist problems continue to be blamed on the foreigners in
other family planning programs abroad. most of these countries. Should economic conditions
England, since 1974, has provided contraceptives and seriously worsen, such xenophobic policies could be
abortions through its National Health Service, and revived and even implemented.
Parliament has begun discussion of developing an anti-
natalist policy. England also provides some family plan- Eastern Europe and USSR. In the Soviet Union
ning assistanceto LDCs, mostly its former colonies. and Eastern European countries, the substantial post-
Even though birth control has been illegal to some World War II declines in fertility were achieved mostly
degree in most Catholic countries, late marriage, high through abortion, which is provided by their national
rates of illegal abortion, and the use of withdrawal and health services. These countries now also distribute
the rhythm method have helped keep birth rates down. contraceptives, including the pill, partly in an effort to
Planned parenthood groups have long existed in France, reduce the abortion rate. This policy seems to be
Belgium, and the Netherlands in a quasi-legal status, but succeeding in some countries, although abortion is still
until recently they were hampered by laws restricting the the primary means of birth control. Discouragement of
dissemination of information and materials. When early marriage, an emphasis on training, education, and
France legalized contraceptives in the late 1960s, family the full outside employment of women also undoubtedly
allowances were also increased. Birth control devices are strongly encourage the small family trend.
still entirely illegal in Ireland, although a movement for Extremely low birth rates in Eastern European coun-
change has begun. They are also essentially illegal in tries have caused a reversion to more pronatalist policies
Spain and Portugal. Italy has legalized the pill for —especially a tightening of abortion laws—in response,
"medical purposes" (presumably to combat the ex- apparently, to concern about future labor supplies.
tremely high illegal abortion rate—see next section), and Communist ideology officially calls for a pronatalis:
condoms are available "for disease prevention." In 1971, posture, and the Soviet government periodically exhorts
Italian laws prohibiting the dissemination of birth con- its people to have more children. Interestingly, however,
trol information were declared unconstitutional, thus the Russians have cautiously begun to recommend lower
opening the way for much greater access to contracep- fertility in rapidly growing less developed countries.44
tives. In 1975 a new law authorized local governments to
establish "family centers" to counsel citizens on family Oceania. Australia and New Zealand have histori-
matters, including family planning.4' cally regarded themselves as underpopulated. Conse-
Immigration policies are also being reevaluated in quently their policies until recently were pronatalist and
several Western European countries. In recent years, pro-immigration. These policies are currently being
much of the labor force (11 percent in France and West reevaluated as the public becomes aware of the world
Germany, 7 percent in Britain, and 37 percent in population problem, and neither country any longer
Switzerland) has been composed of "guest workers" —
"Clyde H. Farnsworth, The doors are closing to world's immigrants.
temporary migrants from poorer countries in Southern New York Times, December 22, 1974.
43
Europe, Northern and Central Africa, and the Middle A bout of xenophobia, Time, October 28, 1974.
44
Boris Urlanis, The hour of decision, Uncsco Courier, July/August
4!
1974, pp. 26-29. The author is described as "the USSR's leading
Brenda Vumbaco, Recent law and policy changes in fertility control. demographer."
POPULATION POLICIES / 755

subsidizes the transport costs of immigrants. A Zero 13-4). Disapproval of the practice probably originated
Population Growth movement was founded in Australia with the Judeo-Christian ethic, yet it was not made
in 1971. As former English colonies, both countries have illegal until the nineteenth century. Then it was oudawed
long had family planning organizations and access to on the grounds that it was dangerous to the mother—
contraceptives. Their birth rates have been well within which it was before sterile techniques were developed.
the usual DC range, although their growth rates have When performed today under appropriate medical cir-
been inflated by high immigration rates. As in many cumstances by a qualified physician, however, abortion is
European countries and the United States, the birth rates much safer than a full-term pregnancy. The death rate in
in Australia and New Zealand have been declining the United States for legal abortion in the first trimester
toward replacement levels since 1970. (first three months of pregnancy) is less than 2 in 100,000.
For second-trimester abortions the rate rises to 12 per
Japan. Japan, the only fully industrialized country in 100,000, still only half die maternal death rate for
Asia, reduced its birth rate rapidly to DC levels after childbirth.45
World War II, largely by legalizing abortion. A policy of But danger to the mother escalates alarmingly when
encouraging the use of contraceptives has since reduced the abortion is illegal, as it still is in many countries. The
the abortion rate without changing the birth rate, even amount of risk varies according to the circumstances,
though Japan has been slow to legalize the pill and the which may range from self-inducement with a knitting
IUD. The social policy on population, which was needle or, almost equally hazardous, unsterile help from
promoted through massive educational and communica- untrained people, to reasonably safe treatment by a
tions programs in the 1950s, very strongly discouraged physician in a hotel or clandestine clinic.
having a family with more than 2 children. Accordingly,
fertility has been close to replacement levels since then. Changing abortion laws in DCs. Before abortion
Around 1970, alarmed by an apparent labor shortage, was legalized in the United States, bungled illegal
Japanese industry began campaigning for more births. abortions were the greatest single cause of maternal
The crude birth rate rose during the mid-1970s, but the deaths, accounting for a conservatively estimated 300 or
rise was essentially an artifact of age composition; the more deaths per year.46 They still are in those countries
postwar baby boom children born before legalized where abortion remains illegal or not yet widely avail-
abortion halved the birth rate (1945-1955) were then in able. In Italy, for example, contraceptives were entirely
their twenties—the prime reproductive years. The reces- banned until 1971, and the illegal abortion rate at that
sion of 1974 effectively seems to have silenced the time was estimated to be equal to or higher than die birth
campaign for higher fertility. At the same time, the rate—800,000 to 1.5 million per year—and costing as
growth of both environmental concern and a women's many as 3000 lives per year.47 Most of these abortions
liberation movement in Japan may have a fertility- were self-inflicted or accomplished with the aid of a
reducing effect in future years. sympathetic but untrained friend. When a woman with a
hemorrhage was brought to a hospital, she was automat-
Abortion ically given tetanus and penicillin shots. She never
"Family planning perspectives, Abortion-related deaths down 40
The most controversial method of birth control with- percent. . . . See also C. Tietze and S. Lewit. Legal abortion, whose
out question is abortion, which is surrounded by legal, figures for abortion mortality, derived from the U.S. and the U.K., show
abortion mortality risks approximate!}' equal to childbirth between the
ethical, and moral dilemmas. Despite this, it seems to twelfth and sixteenth weeks, and somewhat higher thereafter. Both
have been practiced in all societies and is probably still sources agree on the low risks of first trimester abortions.
"Christopher Tietze, The effect of legalization of abortion on popula-
the commonest method of birth control today, especially tion growth and public health. For an excellent overview of the changing
in LDCs. Until the early 1970s, abortion was illegal in legality of abortion worldwide and related social issues, see Tietze and
Lewitj Legal abortion.
most countries, including the United States (see Box J7
Rcportcd by David Burlington fui NBC News, February 5, 1975.
BOX 13-4 Abortion in the United States
Before 1967, abortion was illegal in the United Continuing this trend, a poll conducted in
States except when the mother's life was endan- 1971 for the U.S. Commission on Population
gered by continuing the pregnancy. Only six Growth and the American Future found that 50
years later, the situation had been completely percent of the adults interviewed felt that the
reversed, legally if not everywhere in practice. decision to have an abortion should be made by
Yet the change was not eifected overnight; it was the woman and her doctor, 41 percent would
the result of changed public attitudes in response permit abortions under certain circumstances,
to a growing reform movement. and only 6 percent opposed abortion under all
By the end of 1970, 15 of the 50 states had at circumstances. Similar results have been ob-
least partially moderated their abortion laws. tained in subsequent surveys."
Most of these new laws permitted abortion only In January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court
in cases where bearing the child presented a announced its decision on an abortion case which
grave risk to the mental or physical health of the in effect legalized abortion on request nation-
mother, where the pregnancy was a result of wide, at least for the first trimester (13 weeks),
incest or rape, and where (except in California) with restrictions on the second trimester being
there was a substantial likelihood that the child permitted in the interest of protecting women's
would be physically or mentally defective. To health. Only in the last ten weeks of pregnancy,
obtain an abortion, a woman usually had to (when the child, if born, had a chance of
submit her case to a hospital reviewing board of survival) the court ruled, could states prohibit
physicians, a time-consuming and expensive abortion except "to preserve the life or health of
process. Although the laws ostensibly were re- the mother."6
laxed to reduce the problem of illegal abortions, The number of legal abortions performed in
hospital boards at first interpreted the changes in 1972 (before the Supreme Court decision) was
the law so conservatively that they had little about 600,000; in 1975 it was about one mil-
effect. The number of illegal abortions per year lion—approximately the estimated previous
in the U.S. during the 1960s has been variously number of illegal abortions. At least two-thirds
estimated at between 200,000 and 2 million, with of these abortions probably would have been
1 million being the most often quoted figure. obtained illegally if legal abortions had been
This amounted to more than one abortion for unavailable.1" Nor had illegal abortions entirely
every four births. At that time, there were disappeared—25 of the 47 deaths from abortions
estimated to be 120,000 illegal abortions per year in 1973 were from illegal ones (those not per-
in California; in the first year after the passage of formed under proper medical supervision)—al-
California's "liberalized" law there were just though the incidence of such deaths clearly had
over 2,000 legal ones. The figures were similar been drastically reduced by 1975.1*
for the other states. Yet, three years after the Supreme Court
In 1970 Hawaii, Alaska, and New York passed decision, there were still large discrepancies
new laws essentially permitting abortion on from one region to another and between medical
request, and Washington State legalized abortion facilities in providing abortion services. An
on request not by legislation but by referendum. ongoing national study by the Guttmacher In-
Meanwhile, several other states began to inter- stitutee in 1975 concluded that between 260,000
pret their relatively restrictive laws much more and 770,000 women who needed abortions in
liberally, and the legal abortion rate rose consid- 1975—20 to 40 percent of the women in need—
erably. These changes in state laws were pre-
ceded and accompanied by an erosion of public "W. R. Arney and W. H. Trescher, Trends in Attitudes toward
opposition to abortion. Table 13-1 shows the abortion, 1972-1975.
'For a lively account of the campaign to change U.S. abortion
changes in public disapproval as revealed in polls laws, see Lawrence Lader, Abortion II: making the revolution.
taken between 1962 and 1969 for demographer '"Edward Weinstock, et al., Legal abortions in the United States
Judith Blake. since the 1973 Supreme Court decisions; Abortion need and
A poll taken early in 1970 asked: Should an services in the United States, 1974-1975, Family Planning
Perspectives, vol. 8, no. 2, March 1976.
abortion be available to any woman who requests ''Richard Lincoln, The Institute of Medicine reports on
one? In apparent contradiction to the earlier legalized abortion and the public health.
opinions, more than half of those interviewed Tan of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The
said yes. Although most respondents did not 1976 Study was titled: Provisional estimates of abortion need
and services in the year following the Supreme Court decisions:
approve of abortion except for the more serious United States, each state and metropolitan area. The 1976
reasons, the majority apparently felt that mothers Study was Abortion 1974-1975—need and services in the
should be free to make their own decisions. United States, each state and metropolitan area.