Population Matters

Population Institute Mourns Loss of Werner Fornos

January 22nd, 2013

The Population Institute received word earlier this week that Werner Fornos had passed away at the age of 79.  Werner served as President of the Population Institute from 1982 to 2005 and while I did not know him well, I knew him well enough to know that he was greatly admired for his leadership on international family planning.  He was a tireless champion of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and did so much to grow and sustain the Population Institute.

I first met Werner at a legislative retreat hosted by the Population Institute in 1985.  At the time, I was legislative director for Rep. Morris K. Udall, a Congressional champion of international family planning.  I remember being impressed by the great passion and intensity that Werner brought to his work.  It’s what made him such a respected spokesperson on Capitol Hill and around the world.  As one of his many admirers put it, “Werner is a force of nature.”

Very few people in this world have done as much as Werner did to build popular support for international family planning assistance.  An accomplished and highly-popular speaker, he spoke to audiences around the world about population. During his tenure as President, the Population Institute played a major role in building public and Congressional support for UNFPA.  During his presidency, the Institute also played a pioneering role in using entertainment media to increase awareness and acceptance of family planning in developing countries.  Through the Population Institute’s Global Media Awards program, he gave much needed recognition to reporters, authors, editorial writers, cartoonists, and radio and television producers for their outstanding coverage of population issues.   As a member of Rotary International, he actively promoted the Rotary Action Group on Population and Development, which today is doing so much to support family planning and reproductive health in developing countries.

Although he retired from the Population Institute in 2005, he continued to lecture widely about population and remained a fearless champion of family planning and women’s empowerment.

On behalf of Bill Ryerson, our Chair and CEO, and the staff of the Population Institute, we extend our deepest sympathies to his children and grandchildren and to Moyne Gross, his life partner.  He will be missed.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President

Victory in the Philippines…for Now.

January 2nd, 2013

It took 14 long years, but family planning advocates have won a major victory in the Philippines with the passage of the Responsible Parenthood Act, a new law providing free access to contraception and family planning services.  Despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and intense foot-dragging in the legislature, reproductive rights activists were able to get the reproductive health bill through both Houses and send it to the desk of President Benigno Aquino, who signed it on December 29.

Surveys in the Philippines have shown that four out of ten women in the Philippines who want to avoid a pregnancy are not using a modern method of contraception, and while condoms are available, they are very expensive.  Contraceptives, as a practical matter, are not available in most public health clinics.  As a consequence, the number of unplanned pregnancies is exceedingly high, as is the population growth rate.  In 1960, the population of the Philippines was 27 million.  Today, it is 96 million, and current projections indicate that its population could rise to 155 million by mid-century.

If this victory holds, and it may not, it would represent the biggest single advance in recent years toward the UN’s goal of ensuring that all women in the world have access to reproductive health care.  While the new law is scheduled to go into effect in mid-January, opponents of the new law are seeking to overturn it in the courts.  Let’s hope they fail.  If the new law is upheld, it will make a major contribution to preventing unplanned pregnancies, lowering the high maternal death rate, and reducing the number of unsafe abortions performed every year in the Philippines.

Congratulations to all those in the Philippines who fought for the passage of the new reproductive health law.  Let’s hope it holds.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President