The Failing Success of Population Control in the Developing World
Religion & Liberty Online

The Failing Success of Population Control in the Developing World published a press release from the Guttmacher Institute, the research division of Planned Parenthood, summarizing a new study that “the poorest countries are lagging far behind higher-income developing countries in meeting the demand for modern contraception. Between 2003 and 2012, the total number of women wanting to avoid pregnancy and in need of contraception increased from 716 million to 867 million, with growth concentrated among women in the 69 poorest countries where modern method use was already very low.”

Around the developing world, “Roughly three-quarters (73%) of the 222 million women in developing countries who want to avoid a pregnancy but are not using a modern method now live in the poorest countries, compared with 67% in 2003,” according to the report. “Furthermore, women in the poorest countries who want to avoid pregnancy are one-third as likely to be using a modern method as those living in higher-income developing countries.” Thankfully, between 2003 and 2012, “there was a shift away from sterilization (declining from 47% to 38% of all modern method use in developing countries) toward methods with higher failure rates, namely barrier methods (increasing from 7% to 13%) and injectables (from 6% to 9%).”

For those who value human dignity, this is actually good news. The “lagging behind” of birth control availability and success is the greatest hope for the developing world. In addition to the rule of law and sustained property rights, what Africa needs is more people, not less, in order for many countries to build the types of sustainable economies that allow real needs to be met in the long-run. In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II explains why:

Besides the earth, man’s principal resource is man himself. His intelligence enables him to discover the earth’s productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied. It is his disciplined work in close collaboration with others that makes possible the creation of ever more extensive working communities which can be relied upon to transform man’s natural and human environments. Important virtues are involved in this process, such as diligence, industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships, as well as courage in carrying out decisions which are difficult and painful but necessary, both for the overall working of a business and in meeting possible set-backs.

The final recommendations in the study include a need for increased allocation of financial resources at the global and country levels to improve access to contraceptive services and expand capacity where needed. Next, is a proposal to improve the quality of services including offering a range of methods to meet the different needs of women and couples, ensuring voluntary choice of methods, training staff to increase provision of accurate information and confidential and respectful care, giving priority to adequate counseling and follow-up care, and facilitating methods. And, finally, public education interventions are needed to reduce barriers to contraceptive use.

The best thing for the developing world would be for all of these recommendations to fail. What seems like compassion for the poor is, in fact, the dark ideology, borrowed from the eugenic visions of progressivism, that people are mere consumers and not creative producers. The worldview underlining this report is the belief that people are nothing but mere mouths to feed, thus draining society of static resources and not women and men who have been endowed with intellect, reason, and creativity to mutually discover ways to meet their needs and the needs of their families in a world where resources are dynamic. If man is man’s principle resource then what the developing world needs is more human capital not less.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.