Population Matters

World Population Day: How Are We Doing?

July 11th, 2014

Twenty-five years ago, the United Nations Development Programme declared July 11 to be World Population Day. Much has changed in the past quarter century. Significant progress has been made, but many challenges remain. More women than ever are able to decide freely how many children to have and when, but many women in the world still lack access to modern methods of contraceptives, and gender inequality in the developing world prevents many girls and women from exercising their reproductive freedom. As a result, global fertility rates have fallen, but not as fast as once expected. Without access to reproductive services, maternal and infant mortality remain unacceptably high, and the challenges posed by a growing world population continue to mount.

Every woman in the world should be able to decide, free from any coercion, when to have children and how many children to have. As part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN set 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to family planning and reproductive health services, but that target will not be met. Twenty-five years after the first World Population Day, the international community needs to recommit itself to empowering women and girls and ensuring that they have access to reproductive health services. Here’s why:

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Population is still growing. Twenty-five years ago, world population stood at 5.2 billion. Today, it’s 7.2 billion, and if global fertility rates were to remain unchanged, world population would soar to an unsustainable 27 billion by the end of the century. In 1989, women on average had 3.3 children in their lives; today they have 2.5 children. Fortunately, demographers are generally agreed that fertility rates will continue to fall, and if they fall as fast as currently projected world population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and nearly 11 billion by the end of the century. Even that projected growth path, however, has its perils.

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The Global Footprint Network estimates that we are already overusing planetary resources. In terms of renewable resources and the Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon, toxic chemicals and other forms of pollution, we will need two Earth’s by 2030 to sustain us for the long haul. Our current growth path is unsustainable. The warning signs are all around us, as rivers and lakes shrink, water tables fall, carbon emissions rise, deserts expand, forests shrink, and fisheries collapse.

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Current trends would suggest that we are on our way to becoming a “single-specie” planet. We have already using about half of the world’s land surface to grow our crops, raise livestock, construct our roads, and build our towns and cities. To grow our crops, we are using a land area about the size of South America, and to raise cattle and farm animals we have cleared an area greater than the continent of Africa. There is still land available, but what’s left, for the most part, consists of mountains, tundra, deserts, and lands of marginal utility. If we need more arable land, and it appears we do, we must chop down more forests, including tropical forests.

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Our claims upon the planet are having a devastating toll on all the other species that call this planet home. Scientists are warning that we are triggering the “Sixth Mass Extinction,” the great extinction, perhaps, since the dinosaurs were extinguished 65 million years ago. Rates of species extinction are currently about 1000 times higher than the natural rate.

Preventing unplanned pregnancies is in everybody’s best interests. In the developed world, where you and I are consuming a highly disproportionate share of the world’s resources, preventing unplanned pregnancies will help to reduce carbon emissions and slow the headlong depletion of the world’s limited resources. In the developing world, where fertility rates are still very high, family planning services are desperately needed to reduce maternal and infant mortality, fight poverty, end hunger, reduce gender inequality, and, in many areas, mitigate water scarcity and deforestation.

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The United Nations estimates that there are 222 million women in the developing world who want to avoid a pregnancy, but who are not using a modern method of birth control. Meeting that contraceptive need would cost only $3.5 billion a year. By any global standard that’s a tiny investment of money, but it’s one that would pay enormous dividends in terms of improving the health and well-being of families. But in addition to expanding access to contraceptive options, we also need to empower girls and women.

Child marriage, in particular, needs to end. It’s a violation of human rights that imperils the health and wellbeing of girls, and one that serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and hunger in desperately poor countries.

Today, as in 1989, we need to recommit ourselves to a healthier and more sustainable world, and that begins by promoting gender equality and providing universal access to family planning and reproductive health services. It’s not just a moral imperative, it’s a global imperative, and that’s why the Population Institute has launched a population education campaign that features a brand new series of graphics and factoids that can be shared with your family and friends. Click here for more information.

Posted by Robert Walker, President

This was originally posted on the Huffington Post on July 10, 2014

The Supreme Court thinks it is 1964, not 2014

July 1st, 2014

In 1965 the Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that married women could legally use birth control. Yesterday, 49 years later, the Supreme Court ruled that your boss’ religious views could trump your own beliefs and prevent you from accessing affordable contraception. It is nearly impossible for me to wrap my head around the idea that in 2014 women are still fighting for the right to access affordable contraception.

Contraception is basic health care for women. Not only does birth control allow women to plan when and if they get pregnant, thus preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion, it is treatment for a number of medical conditions. According to the Guttmacher Institute 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a method of contraception and 99% of women of reproductive age who have ever had sex have used a method of contraception.

When the Institute of Medicine was making its recommendations for what should be classified as preventative services, and thus available without a co-pay, it recognized that cost can be a barrier. This is particularly true with the IUD, which is the one of the most effective types of birth control, but not widely used in the United States for a number of reasons, cost among them. However, research has shown that when cost and lack of information are not a consideration women are much more likely to use a more effective method like an IUD or implant.

By allowing bosses to impose their religious beliefs on their employees fewer women will consistently use birth control and fewer will choose the most effective method, a concern that was raised in Justice Ginsburg’s dissent.

“It bears note…that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full time pay for workers earning the minimum wage…Working for Hobby Lobby…should not deprive employees of the preventative care available to workers at the shop next door.”—Justice Ginsburg

Unfortunately for any woman affected by yesterday’s decision, there will now be one more person in the doctor’s room with her when she chooses a contraceptive method… her boss.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

Hobby Lobby: The Day After

July 1st, 2014

In the 24 hours since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Hobby Lobby case, volumes have been written about the outcome of the case, but one of the best analyses that I have seen was written by Richard Cizik before the decision came down. Cizik, an evangelical leader of long standing, argued in a blog written for the Huffington Post that a victory for Hobby Lobby would be, in reality, a loss for all those “pro-life” Christians who are opposed to abortion. As Cizik duly notes, contraceptive coverage without a co-pay prevents abortion by preventing the unwanted pregnancies that lead women to terminate pregnancies. Cizik, citing medical opinion, rejects the argument made by Hobby Lobby that some of the contraceptive methods being funded by the Affordable Care Act are abortifacients.

 
Cizik also believes that Monday’s Supreme Court decision will turn out, in the end, to be a loss for religious freedom. Whether or not it turns out to be a loss for freedom of religion, it certainly is a loss for women who need and who will now lose contraceptive coverage as a result of the decision. The Supreme Court has joined social conservatives in chipping away at the reproductive health and freedom of women in this country. Shame on the court.

 
I urge our readers to read Cizik’s blog and join with the thousands who have given it a “like” on Facebook.

 
Posted by Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute

 
If Hobby Lobby Wins, Pro-life Christians Lose
Posted: 06/27/2014 9:25 pm

 
We now know with certainty that the Supreme Court will announce its Hobby Lobby decision on Monday. This weekend, the craft and home décor store, along with numerous evangelical institutions that have filed briefs in its support -including my former employer the National Association of Evangelicals–are hoping and praying God will favor them with a whole new expansion of religious freedom and the protection of human life. I’m praying for the opposite.

 
Along with nearly 50 other for-profit corporations, Hobby Lobby is demanding the same religious freedoms and protections that each of us has. Hobby Lobby was not endowed by its Creator with certain unalienable rights. It does not have a soul. It cannot have faith. Yet its owners (and their lawyers) insist that it should not have to comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds. The Obama Administration reasonably granted an opt-out to houses of worship and other religious nonprofits. Hobby Lobby wants similar treatment.

 
Evangelical intervention on behalf of the multi-billion dollar corporation, which donates generously to their causes, is wrong for many reasons but here are two major ones: If you are pro-religious liberty and pro-life and family, you can’t support allowing a for-profit corporation to use religion to deny contraceptive coverage.

 
First, supporters of Hobby Lobby think they are helping the Christian faith but are actually harming it. In fact, a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby weakens religious freedom.

 
When anyone can use religion to claim an exemption on anything, religion loses meaning. Rather than a personal belief embedded in our souls, faith would become a set of arbitrary rules any corporation could choose from to skirt the law.

 
Is this what evangelicalism needs? I spent nearly three decades in governmental relations at the National Association of Evangelicals defending the free-exercise of religion and the right to life, among many other traditional values. Coming to the aid of for-profit corporations who want to ride on the backs of religion is not one of these honored principles.

 
Indeed, it is a kind of corporatism invading the body of Christ — concern not for the “least of these” but the richest of those among us. Is this what Christ would do?

 
When corporations are allowed the same exemptions that have always been reserved just for churches–whether on health benefits, hiring, or land use–those special protections become less clear and more open for interpretation.

 
If a for-profit corporation is eligible for legal exemptions on grounds of religious freedom, it puts government in charge of deciding what is or isn’t religion. You can just imagine the lawyers who will find work forever litigating these claims. I know, from experience, that their concern for what should be “legal” is not the same as what is “spiritual” or truly serves the interests of the Church.

 
What if a corporation owned by Jehovah Witnesses refuses to cover blood transfusions? If Christian corporations are allowed to use faith to refuse contraception coverage to women who work for them, what’s to stop a Christian Scientist business from refusing to cover any health benefits?

 
Second, the supporters of Hobby Lobby think they are being “pro-life.” They are wrong. A massive study conducted in 2012 showed that contraception coverage without a co-pay could dramatically reduce the abortion rate.

 
That study, conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine, of 10,000 women at-risk for unintended pregnancy found that when given their choice of birth control methods, counseled about their effectiveness, risks, and benefits, with all methods provided at no cost, about 75 percent of women in the study chose the most effective methods: IUDs or implants. Most importantly, as a result, annual abortion rates among study participants dropped up to 80 percent below the national abortion rate.

 
Well, you might ask, based upon some of the charges being made, aren’t the contraceptive methods being funded through the Affordable Care Act, abortifacients? Not if you believe medical science.

 
In the words of Jeffrey F. Peipert, M.D., Ph.D., the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine, “these contraceptive methods work by preventing pregnancy (fertilization) from occurring in the first place. For instance, the intrauterine device works primarily by preventing fertilization. Plan B (or the progestin-containing, morning-after pill), along with Ella (ulipristal acetate), delay the release of a woman’s egg from her ovary. The egg does not get fertilized, which means the woman does not become pregnant.”

 
In sum, Evangelicals supporting Hobby Lobby at the Supreme Court are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life. If they win at the Supreme Court, these causes will be damaged in the long run.

 
Richard Cizik is President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Previously, he was Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization he served for 28 years.