By Steven W. Mosher
Population Research Institute (www.pop.org)
No one in their right mind would suggest that American women would be forced to abort their children?
FRONT ROYAL, Va. (Catholic Online) – President Obama’s top science adviser and I have something in common: We both have a long-term association with Paul Ehrlich, my former colleague at Stanford University. There any similarity ends, however. Holdren, who has co-authored books on population control with Ehrlich and his wife, is the Stanford Professor’s ideological clone. For my part, I have long opposed the prescriptions of the infamous population bombster, and now find myself compelled to reject the almost identical views of the lesser-known but now more powerful Holdren as well.
What views? Let’s start with his 1973 book, co-authored with the Ehrlichs, called Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions. In it, he argued that “Human values and institutions have set mankind on a collision course with the laws of nature. Human beings cling jealously to their prerogative to reproduce as they please—and they please to make each new generation larger than the last—yet endless multiplication on a finite planet is impossible. Most humans aspire to greater material prosperity, but the number of people that can be supported on Earth if everyone is rich is even smaller than if everyone is poor.”
Their solution, if you can believe it, was to make everyone poor. They argued that the West should be “de-developed,” by which they meant that countries like the U.S. should have their economies deliberately dismantled and their wealth redistributed to the poor at home and abroad.
But their big push was for population control. The publication of the book predated Roe v. Wade decision, and the authors strongly argued for legalizing abortion as a population control measure. They suggest that abortion cannot really be considered the taking of a human life, on the grounds that neither the fetus, nor the newborn, nor the toddler, is truly human anyway: “The fetus, given the opportunity to develop properly before birth, and given the essential early socializing experiences and sufficient nourishing food during the crucial early years after birth, will ultimately develop into a human being,” [i] write the authors. [Italics added] Move over, Peter Singer. Holdren apparently agrees with the Princeton University “ethicist” that infants up to the age of two or so are not really human beings, and so can be eliminated without qualms.
Holdren and company go so far as to argue that abortion is essentially an act of mercy for “unwanted children” because it spares them from “undesirable consequences,” such as illegitimacy, or growing up in a broken home, or being deemed unfit for military service. They conclude, drawing upon a study from Sweden, that “There seems little doubt that the forced bearing of unwanted children has undesirable consequences not only for the children themselves and their families but for society as well, apart from the problems of overpopulation.”
But who is Holdren to say, on the basis of a single study, that the illegitimate would be better off if they had never been born? What consequence could possibly be more “undesirable” for a child than being deprived of the right to life itself? Better off? They would be dead.
Holdren then attacks opponents of abortion for condemning future generations to an “overcrowded planet.” “Those who oppose abortion often raise the argument that a decision is being made for an unborn person who ‘has no say’. But unthinking actions of the very same people help to commit future unheard generations to misery and early death on an overcrowded planet.” The trouble with this formulation, in which Holdren poses as the defender of generations as yet unborn, is that human beings have been leading longer, healthier lives precisely because our numbers have been growing. Contra Holdren, the prosperity generated by our numbers is helping to stamp out misery and lower mortality rates.
Convinced that mankind faced a population apocalypse, Holdren went on to propose even more extreme measures in his next book, also co-authored with the Ehrlichs. Called Ecoscience, this 1977 book endorsed compulsory abortion, mass sterilization, child abduction, the sterilization and abortion of undesirables, and a ‘Planetary Regime” with the power to dictate life and death to Americans. I am not making this up, as you will see below.
You might think that no one in their right mind would suggest that American women, like their Chinese counterparts, could be forced to abort their children. Yet Holdren et. al. wrote “[I]t has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.” (p. 837) Lest you be fooled by the passive voice (“it has been concluded”), let me point out that it was Holdren and the Ehrlichs themselves, who have not one whit of legal training among them, who “concluded” that there was nothing in the Constitution that forbade forced abortion.
Holdren turns out to have a particular animus against single mothers, whom he apparently believes should have their babies seized by the government and given away to other couples to raise. As he writes on page 786, “One way to carry out this disapproval [of single motherhood) might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption—especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone. If a single mother really wished to keep her baby, she might be obliged to go through adoption proceedings and demonstrate her ability to support and care for it. Adoption proceedings probably should remain more difficult for single people than for married couples, in recognition of the relative difficulty of raising children along. It would even be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement for adoption, depending on the society.”
The Chinese government’s solution to illegitimacy is to force all pregnant single women to have abortions. Holdren’s scheme is only slightly less Draconian: He would give pregnant single women the “choice” of either a shotgun wedding—with the government holding the shotgun—or an abortion. Those who have already given birth would have their babies seized and given away. The fact that these proposals are written in a neutral “scientific” tone does not make them any less appalling. In fact, I find them all the more appalling for the veneer of “scientific” neutrality in which they are cloaked. Hitler’s “Final Solution” for the Jews was written in equally “scientific” language.
Then there is Holdren’s proposal to put infertility drugs into the nation’s drinking water to effect a mass sterilization. “Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control,” he writes. But it doesn’t horrify Holdren, who apparently sees no ethical or moral problems with such a nightmarish scheme. Instead, he dispassionately outlines the technical specifications for such a sterilizing agent, which “must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock.” (p. 787-8) Only a morally unhinged individual would imagine a sterilant that the government could use to stop all Americans from having children.
Perhaps because he despaired of ever developing such a mass sterilant, Holdren went on to propose that the government could control women’s reproduction by either sterilizing them outright, or forcing them to accept long-term birth control. In a section called, “Involuntary Fertility Control,” he wrote that “a Program of sterilizing women after their second or third children, despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men …. The development of a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin and removed when pregnancy is desired opens additional possibilities for coercive fertility control. The capsule could be implanted at puberty and might be removable, with official permission, for a limited number of births.” (p. 786-7)
Here again there are echoes of China’s birth control policy, since women in China must have official permission to get pregnant, and are limited to one child in the cities and two children in the countryside. And, as he suspected, the Chinese government has found it easier to sterilize women than men after they have had their allotted number of children. Men, after all, tend to fight back. But even China, as despotic as its one-child policy is, hasn’t gone as far as Holdren, who imagines a society in which the government chemically sterilizes all girls at puberty.
You might think it cannot get worse. You would be wrong. In Holdren’s imagined population control utopia, anyone whom the government decides is causing “social deterioration,” can be compelled not to have children. Let me quote what I believe is the most chilling sentence in the whole book: “If some individuals contribute to general social deterioration by overproducing children, and if the need is compelling, they can be required by law to exercise reproductive responsibility—just as they can be required to exercise responsibility in their resource-consumption patterns—providing they are not denied equal protection. (p. 838)
There are two ways to read this sentence, both of which are equally repugnant. Here may lurk the old eugenics goal of more children from the fit and fewer from the unfit—with government bureaucrats determining who is contributing to “social deterioration” and who is not. Those who are found to be unfit will be hustled off to the sterilization or abortion clinic to prevent them from reproducing their kind.
But it is also possible that Holdren meant that those who are “overproducing children” are causing social deterioration and that such reckless reproduction must be stopped. In this interpretation, the government must intervene to prevent those who have more than two children, such as believing Christians, homeschoolers, or farm families, from having even more. Does he envision the police arresting women for the crime of being pregnant, hustling them off to clinics for a forced abortion, then sterilizing them to prevent a re-occurrence? That is what routinely happens in China, after all, where the government shares Holdren’s belief that too many people cause “social deterioration.”
Perhaps because Holdren understands that most Americans would object to his population control program, he wants to take matters out of our hands by setting up a world government to oversee it. In a section called, “Toward a Planetary Regime, “ he writes that “Perhaps these agencies, combined with the UNEP and the United Nations population agencies, might eventually be developed into a Planetary Regime—sort of an international superagency for population, resources, and environment. Such a comprehensive Planetary Regime could control … all natural resources, … all international trade, … including all food on the international market. The Planetary Regime might be given responsibility for determining the optimum population for the world and for each region and for arbitrating each country’s share within the regional limits. Control of population size might remain the responsibility of each government, but the Regime should have some power to enforce the agreed limits.” (p. 942-3)
Having lived in the People’s Republic of China, I can tell you that any government that controls all goods, all food, and all commerce will be a brutal tyranny. This is especially true if--like the PRC and the proposed “Planetary Regime”--it is dedicated to enforcing inhumane forced abortion and mass sterilization laws.
Holdren justifies his proposals—proposals that if enacted would effectively brutalize the entire human population--in the name of stopping a global overpopulation catastrophe. “Humanity cannot afford to muddle through the rest of the twentieth century,” he writes breathlessly. “This may be the last opportunity to choose our own and our descendants’ destiny.” (p. 944) Yet the eco-catastrophe that he predicted by the year 2000 did not materialize. Instead, as our numbers have grown, so has our prosperity and well being. On the whole, mankind is leading longer, healthier lives than ever before.
Holdren has apparently felt little angst over either his failed predictions of a population apocalypse or his outrageous proposals to counter it, either of which should have been sufficient to disqualify him from being named to advise the President on matters of science and technology. But his bizarre views did not come up at his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate. The White House released a statement saying, “This material is from a three-decade old, three-author college textbook,” but in fact Holdren has made such arguments in multiple publications and forums over the years. Addressing the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2007, for instance, Holdren opened with a quote from population control enthusiast Harrison Brown: “It is clear that the future course of history will be determined by the rates at which people breed and die.”
These days, most of his pronouncements on what he calls “public interest science” concern other topics. As the perceived “crisis” of population growth faded—thanks in part to the work of PRI--he began promoting alternative energy and opposing a missile defense for the U.S. More recently, he has zeroed in on another looming “catastrophe” that, like overpopulation a few years ago, has seized the imagination of trendy, power-hungry technocrats. Unless we make dramatic changes in the way we live, Holdren now tells us, we are headed for a climate catastrophe. Sea levels could rise as much as 13 feet by the year 2010, he reportedly said in 2006, a prediction that is scoffed at by respectable scientists. At his confirmation hearings he claimed that 1 billion people could die by 2020 as a result of climate change. And in a report to the U.N. on the dangers of global warming, he called for a planetary tax on greenhouse gas emissions. Same rhetoric, different subject.
As all this should make clear, Holdren, who was trained in Plasma Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a long history of opining on subjects to which he brings no particular expertise. He wrote on population issues but was not a demographer. He addresses energy resources but is not a geophysicist. He issues oracular statements on climate change but is not a climatologist.
What Obama’s new Science Czar really is is a professional doomsayer along the lines of his mentor, Paul Ehrlich. To advance his scientific career, he has advanced one end-of-the-world scenario after another. He has been, one must admit, rather spectacularly successful at this, given that he is now bending the ear of the U.S. President. But he has been consistently wrong on the facts and in his predictions. The fear mongering that he habitually engages in gives science, and scientists, a bad name.
[i] Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne H. Ehrlich and John P. Holdren, Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions (W.H. Freeman and Company, 1973), p. 235. The specific passage expressing the authors’ view that a baby “will ultimately develop into a human being” is chapter 8, which is titled “Population Limitation.”
Steven Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Population Control: Real Costs and Illusory Benefits (Transaction Books, 2008)