Population Matters

Resilient People, Resilient Planet

January 30th, 2012

The UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability has just released its final report (“Resilient People, Resilient Plant: a future worth choosing“).  The panel, which was chaired by Tarja Halmen, president of Finland, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, took an appropriately broad view of sustainability, looking at measures of human development, as well as environmental and natural resource indicators.  And not surprisingly it paints a mixed picture. While highlighting progress with respect to a number  of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it also notes the continued deterioration in many of the resources and biosystems on which continued human progress depends. 

Most importantly, it acknowledges that the current human trajectory is not sustainable, and it warns that, “The signposts are clear: We need to change dramatically, beginning with how we think about our relationship to each other, to future generations, and to the eco-systems that support us….Continuing on the same path will put people and our planet at greatly heightened risk.”

The report makes 56 specific recommendations, a number of which deserve special recognition, including support for expanding family planning and reproductive health options, incorporating sustainability considerations into national strategic planning, creation of a Sustainable Development Index, improvement in gender equity, and the development of  a set of “sustainable development goals” similar to the MDGs.

But perhaps the most noteworthy part of the report is its recognition of the need for a people-centered approach to sustainable development.  The report stresses that we need to empower people to make sustainable choices.  And that certainly applies to the need to empower women to be able to decide the number and spacing of their children. 

Today’s report is a welcome contribution to the growing global debate over sustainability, but the real test will come in June, when world leaders assemble for the Rio+20 Summit.  We need a strong and renewed commitment from world leaders to sustainability.  Without it, it appears unlikely that the human trajectory will change in time to avoid the real life consequences that flow from living unsustainability.  Indeed, we are already struggling with some of those consequences:  climate change, falling water tables, depleted fish stocks, etc.  The question is whether reports such as this one will spur us to move decisively to avoid far more serious damage to people and the planet.

Stay tuned.

 Posted by Robert J. Walker, president of the Population Institute

Halt the Assault

January 20th, 2012

In a world gone mad, it shouldn’t surprise that North Dakota is now requiring that the health education provided in the state include information on the benefits of abstinence within marriage, not just before marriage. Nor should it come as a surprise that the fiercest anti-abortion advocates would oppose the use of contraceptives. Nor, given all that, should we be surprised to find leading political figures, like Mitt Romney, doing a late in life U-turn on abortion rights and government support for family planning.

But enough is enough. It’s time to halt the assault on women and their reproductive health and rights.

Last year, despite all the high-level Congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, Congress renewed its support for Title X family planning assistance, rebuffed efforts to slash international family planning assistance, and stopped a campaign to re-impose the global “gag rule” on overseas providers of family planning services.

But with considerably less fanfare, social conservatives have been quietly winning “victories” at the state and local level. The Guttmacher Institute reported earlier this month that a record-setting 92 abortion restrictions were approved last year by the states. In their budget-cutting zeal, several states, including Gov. Perry’s Texas and Gov. Christie’s New Jersey, slashed state-support for family planning clinics: the reproductive health of low-income women be damned.

So what accounts for this sudden resurgence of attacks on abortion rights, family planning, and reproductive health? Has there been a fundamental shift in public opinion? Of course, not. Poll after poll suggests that most Americans still support the reproductive health and rights of women.

What’s different is that the success of the Tea Party movement has opened political doors that have long been closed to hardcore social conservatives. And they are seizing the political moment to push their extremist agenda.

In a representative democracy such as ours, majority views do not always prevail. If it did, America’s gun laws would be a lot tighter. And so would our campaign finance laws. Extremists and special interests, if they attach themselves to the right candidates and the right parties, can leverage their political strength to enact laws that lack popular support, and repeal laws that do have popular support.

But our government, despite its shortcomings, is still a functioning democracy, and, in times such as this, it is important for the majority to make their views and concerns known. It’s time for the women and men who fought so hard to establish reproductive rights in the first place to shake off their complacence: their hard-fought gains are in jeopardy. It’s also time for young adults, who have taken their reproductive rights for granted, to take a stand. It’s time to make your voices heard.

And it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is. Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, your political leaders need to hear from you. There’s nothing carved in stone that says that Republicans must deny women their reproductive rights, including access to contraceptives. There’s nothing in the party’s platform that says that Democrats must deny the “Plan B” pill to minors unless they have a prescription.

Left to their own devices, politicians will often do whatever it takes to get re-elected, even if it means taking a position that is contrary to public opinion or their own principles. So don’t ever leave your political leaders to their own devices: make your opinions and your values known. If you think that Rick Santorum is crazy when he says that states should have the authority to ban contraceptives, call his campaign and leave a message. If you think HHS Secretary Sebelius was “right” in requiring health insurance to cover contraceptives services without a co-pay, but “wrong” in limiting a minor’s access to the Plan B pill, let her know exactly where you stand.

We need a campaign to halt the political assault on women and their reproductive health and rights. And the campaign begins with you.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President re-posted from the Huffington Post (1/20/12)

Don’t Stay Silent

January 10th, 2012

For years now, social conservatives have set their sights on overturning Roe v. Wade.  Now, they want to overturn its antecedent, Griswold v. Connecticut, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized a “right to privacy” and struck down an old Connecticut law that banned contraception. 

As I outlined in blogs that I recently wrote for the Huffington Post and CARE2, public comments made by Rick Santorum have exposed what many have long suspected:  many anti-abortion advocates are also anti-contraception. 

After voters in New Hampshire reacted negatively to Santorum’s attack on family planning, Romney and other Republican presidential aspirants have taken steps to distance themselves from Santorum and his comments about Griswold.  But not very far.  In debates this past weekend, Romney opined about the improbability of any state voting to ban family planning, but he didn’t back off his pledge to abolish Title X, which provides low-income women in the U.S. with access to family planning and reproductive health services.  Nor has he changed his mind about a “personhood” amendment that would effectively ban several forms of modern contraceptives:  he’s still for it. 

Rick Perry still trumpets the fact that Texas this year cut state support for family planning clinics by two-third, and he still wants to ban abortions, even in the case of rape or incest.

Only time will tell how far these attacks on contraception and reproductive choice will go, but social conservatives have already succeeded in drastically cutting state support for family planning clinics in states like Texas and New Jersey.

It’s time, in this politically-charged year, for everyone who supports family planning and women’s rights to make their voices heard.  Call the campaigns.  Write a blog or a letter to the editor.  Post something on Facebook.  Tweet about it. Talk to your neighbors. But don’t stay silent.  Not now.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President