Opposition to Family Planning

updated October 2016

Campaigners for universal access to reproductive health must contend with some of the most sensitive issues in international development.

The first obstacle has been the narrow dividing line between voluntary family planning and coercion. Fears have stemmed largely from the history of over-enthusiastic birth control policy in India in the 1970s and ’80s and the one-child policy imposed by China between 1979 and 2015.

China’s policy was explicitly coercive but claims to have averted 400 million births. However, a high price has been paid in the denial of human rights in family life and in the unspoken tolerance of sex-selective abortion. From 2010 to 2015, China’s birth ratio was 116 boys to 100 girls. The Chinese authorities themselves estimate that, by 2020, there will be 30 million more men of marriageable age than women. Similar abuse is prevalent in India.

The second obstacle is religious conservatism. The Catholic Church, which claims over one billion followers, opposes all forms of contraception, despite evidence of the consequent human distress.

Islamic teachings generally adopt a pragmatic interpretation of the Koran, supporting the right of women to space their children through use of family planning within marriage. Government programmes in Bangladesh and Indonesia have been praised for their success in reducing high fertility rates.

The Obama administration consistently supported higher levels of funding for reproductive health but faced strong opposition to family planning from the Republican-dominated Congress.

Answerable to the religious right in the US, Republicans seek to deny funding for the UN Population Fund and to enforce legislation known as the Global Gag rule. This rule blocks US funds from supporting any developing country organisation whose programmes implied tolerance of abortion. The rights and welfare of millions of women in poor countries remain at the mercy of rotating US administrations.

Wary of religious and racial sensitivities, aid agencies and environmental groups have tended to suppress their views about population issues. Their silence may have contributed to the long term downward trend in funding for overall population assistance.

The 2015 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which defines the Sustainable Development Goals and is the most important statement of shared global ambition in a generation, includes not a single reference to population growth.


Sexual and reproductive health and rights
this straightforward explanation of “SRHR” includes answers to typical criticisms
from Ulrike Lunacek

30 Years is Enough: End the Global Gag Rule
inconsistent US policy on funding reproductive health agencies has set back the cause of women’s rights
from PAI

more Population briefings
World Population Projections
Demographic Transition
Demographic Dividend
Population and Development
Overpopulation or Overconsumption?
Source material and useful links

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