by Bishop James T. McHugh
October 1, 1999
October 12, 1999 is designated as the day on which world population will reach 6 billion. The population controllers have already pushed the panic buttons, claiming that population growth is the cause of poverty, disease, famine, stifled development and a host of other ills.
The United Nations sponsored what seemed to be an endless round of meetings earlier this year to evaluate the impact and implementation of the 1994 Cairo World Population Conference. The hidden agenda of the preparatory meetings was to distort the demographic facts and to push for expanded population control programs. There was also a major effort to redefine contraception to include abortion--which by U.N. policy is to be discouraged and never treated as a method of family planning. Finally, there were efforts to push contraception, sterilization and abortion for adolescents--quite without any parental knowledge or consent. All of these efforts failed and, according to news reports, the U.N. Population Fund, which collects money from member nations to promote and fund family planning principally in developing nations, is now facing a shortfall in its so-called pledges.
However, perhaps the real reason for the ambivalence about population control and expanded family planning programs is the realization--well-founded in demographic studies--that population growth is not a serious threat to the global community. In fact, population growth rates have been declining steadily over the past 20 years and the actual influx of people will begin to decline in the early years of the new century. In all likelihood, world population will stabilize at about 10.5 billion people in 2200. All this is to say that it is difficult to assess or predict the effects of reaching 6 billion or 10.5 billion.
In any case, if we step back from these estimates and technical assumptions, we can see some clear patterns that challenge human ingenuity.
- The two most populous nations in the world are China and India, each with over 1 billion people. This is one-third of the world's population. Both nations have serious economic problems, in large measure due to weak economic systems.
- The United States ranks third in world population with 276 million people and a healthy economy and, at least for the present, strong productivity. Following the U.S. are Indonesia (290 million) and Brazil (168 million), both with weak economies.
- The driving force of population decline is the decrease in births in both developed and developing nations. The anticipated result of this is a smaller number of people to meet work-force needs, primarily in the developed nations.
- Especially in the developed world, there is a significant and disproportionate increase in older persons who are reliant on the state for pensions, health care and other benefits. The disproportion results from the decline in the birth of babies and young people entering the work force.
Now appears on the scene Dr. Nafis Sadik, Director of the U.N. Population Fund, who in a London press conference issued some very untrue statements about the Holy See. Dr. Sadik claimed that the Vatican, experiencing serious opposition and some verbal abuse at the Spring meetings, has given up on its position on population control and contraception. She states that the Holy See has abandoned trying to sustain U.N. policy that prohibits treating abortion as a method of family planning.
Dr. Sadik's comments are wrong and unfounded. She knows that the Holy See argued strenuously at the Spring meetings and, in fact, the member nations refused to open the door to abortion. She also knows that the Holy See intends to participate in U.N. meetings dealing with development issues, migration and population matters. And she must know that the continued population growth in China and India is unrelated to anything the Catholic Church has to say.
Fortunately, the U.N. Population Division puts out accurate data and carefully nuanced studies on population issues, and its work is highly respected. But the statements from Dr. Sadik are both untrue and a distraction from serious attempts to deal with a wide range of population issues related to aging, migration, the impact of AIDS in Africa and the failure of the global community to sustain development in the poorer nations.
Bishop James T. McHugh is Coadjutor Bishop of Rockville Centre and a Member of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities. He served as a Member of the Holy See's delegation to the 1994 World Poplation Conference in Cairo.