Subscribe to Christianity Today
by Agnes R. Howard
Other People's Children
In Fatal Misconception, his impressive chronicle of global population control, Matthew Connelly gives brief mention to demographers conducting surveys in remote locales in the mid-1960s, fishing for uniform data on sexual habits and family life, and showing little sensitivity to culture or privacy. "Did such questions," Connelly wonders, "including the responses they elicited, mean the same thing to all concerned—including the children who overheard their mother asked whether she preferred that they had never been born?" Population control carries the implication that it would be preferable for some people not to be. Whether these undesirables are defined as a Yellow Peril threatening to sink the West, hordes of the hungry ready to kill each other or you, or even just slovenly neighbors bullying your babies or absorbing welfare checks, fear of other people's children has been a powerful engine of public policy. "Population control presented itself as a charity like any other," Connelly observes, "helping less fortunate people. But it was the only one that promised to make them go away."
Who has authority to tell another whether to have children, or how many to have? What grew into the population control movement was actually a range of separate ones, replete with strong personalities and colorful characters: shifting coalitions of birth controllers, eugenicists, neo-Malthusians, the occasional natalist, and other reformers aiming to bring economic or social development along with birth-rate reduction. Showing admirable historical empathy, Connelly makes comprehensible the views of those who endorsed radical solutions for what they saw as an emergency. Reformers worried about population and immigration in the late 19th century, and world conferences were held on the topic in the 1920s. By the early 1950s, what Connelly names a "Population establishment" coalesced in the United States with support from the ...