The Cairo International Conference on Population and Development has the well-documented aim of limiting the world’s population.  This “anti-natalist” movement is not new but it has never seen such widespread support from both governments and intellectuals.  In this article, Winifride Prestwich traces the history of the anti-population movement from its origin with Darwin up to the first United Nations’ conference on world population in Bucharest, in 1974.

The document of the United Nations Cairo Conference on Population and Development has so shocked Pope John Paul II that he has issued this warning to the UN and the world: “What is at stake here is the very future of humanity…the transmission of life, the family, and the material and moral development of society.”

Latin American and African countries are well aware that the Cairo document is an international attempt (led by the UN and the U.S.) to force them to accept a culture which is alien to their morality, religion, and centuries-old traditions.  It is, in effect, a form of blackmail: “Accept abortion, sterilization, new types of families, homosexuality, if you want any aid for development and trade.”

Humberto Belli, the Nicaraguan Minister of Education, and spokesman foe Central American countries at the International Conference on Population and Development (New York, April, 1994) says: “What will be replayed in Cairo is deeply undemocratic or totalitarian,” and is based on Nazi ideology.  He continues:

“If we go to the depths of this ideology, we would see that all ethical and moral concerns are ignored on behalf of the interest of the powerful (emphasis added).  When you ignore ethics, ignore even individual rights for the sake of well-being of the state, nation, the race, the class, or the interests of a particular group of individuals, the laws are bound to descend to a point where euthanasia or mercy-killing, selective mass sterilization of the unfit, or the killing of the handicapped is legalized.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the Nazi trials at Nuremberg might well feel that “this is where we came in.”  But this time, the genocide is to be world-wide, and legalized by a supranational power, under the control of the United Nations.

Social Darwinism

When did the road to Cairo and genocide begin?  There are many answers, but, rightly or wrongly, most people choose 1859, the year that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species. The book’s subtitle, “The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” is more illuminating.  Twelve years later, in 1871, Darwin published The Descent of Man in which he developed, still further, his ideas on population control.  He wrote:

“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated, and those who survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.  We civilized men, on the other hand, do our best to check the process of elimination.  We build asylums for the imbeciles, the maimed and the sick.  We institute Poor Laws and our medical men exact their utmost skill to save the life of everyone up to the last moment.

No one who has attended to the breeding animal will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of domestic race, but except in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

Darwin’s theories on how to breed a better human race were expanded by Sir Francis Gatton, who is credited with coining, in 1883, the word “eugenics,” and claiming – quite wrongly – that eugenics was a pure science.  He saw in eugenics a way of “preventing bad stock from propagating while encouraging superior elements…to become a race of super-beings.”

The Eugenic Movement: 1900-1939

Despite the fact that scientists condemned eugenics as a “pseudo-science,” the eugenics movement became fashionable and spread rapidly in Europe and the United States.  Eugenic Societies were founded in Britain (1908), Sweden (1909), and the U.S. (1910).  The German Society for Racial Hygiene was founded even earlier, in 1904, by Alfred Ploetz – a man who once wrote: “race was the criterion of value.”

A number of universities (London, Vienna, Frankfurt, Munich, Bonn, and Uppsala) established, under various titles, departments for eugenics.  A number of graduates from these universities were to become world infamous.  One such graduate was Mendel.

In early days, sterilization was the main method of population control.  By 1920 some 25 states in the USA had compulsory sterilization of the criminally insane, and of persons who were considered to be “genetically inferior.”  There were also state laws which forbade interracial marriages, and others which forbade marriages of epileptics or any person rated mentally retarded.

In 1934, the Swedish government, influenced by the Race-Science Institute in Uppsala, passed strict sterilization laws.  Between 1934 and 1969 more than one per cent of Sweden’s 8.5 million people were sterilized, including the handicapped, criminals, the mentally ill, and gypsies.

By contrast, sterilization remained strictly illegal in Britain and, in Geneva, The League of Nations refused to support any measures for population control.

Eugenics and birth control

Two women were mainly responsible for founding the birth-control arm of the eugenics movement.  In Britain, Marie Stopes openly advocated the compulsory sterilization of “all inferior stock” as quickly as possible to prevent them from having children.  (For Marie Stopes, the term “inferior stock” meant “non-WASP”)

Margaret Sanger who led the birth control brigade in the U.S. was closely associated with the leaders of the Nazi sterilization programme.  As editor of the birth-control magazine, she published an article by Ernst Rudin, a psychiatrist of international fame who lived in Munich.  He became the leading Nazi medical expert in sterilization and in 1943 in an article in “Archive of Racial and Social Biology,” he praised Hitler for “inhibiting the propagation of the congenitally ill and inferior.”

Germany: 1895 to 1945

In The Nazi doctors, R.J. Lifton states: “Only in Nazi Germany was sterilization a forerunner of mass murder.”  With the mass killings “a barrier was removed, a boundary crossed,” and doctors (who had sworn the Hippocratic Oath to preserve and enhance life) “practiced systematic genocide.”  They killed deliberately, using a “controlled technology,” and as a “therapeutic imperative” for the benefit of the nation.

But there had been calls for direct medical killing, long before the Nazi regime.  As early as 1895, Adolph Jost had written, in The Right to Death, that the state “must own death” and “must kill” in order to keep society alive and healthy.  In 1920, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche published Permission to Destroy Life unworthy of Life which proclaimed that “worthless eaters” should be destroyed for the benefit of the nation.

This work was the blueprint for the Nazi as they moved from sterilization to killing; first they killed handicapped children, then the adults who were mentally or physically disabled, then Gypsies and finally Jews.  This was the Final Solution.

The United Nations: 1945 to 1974

The end of World War II heralded a new phase in the campaign for world depopulation.  The forces were the same old eugenics groups, but with new names, and new plans.  The crimes of Nazi Germany had discredited eugenics, and so the whole movement was recycled and sanitized.  It emerged as Planned Parenthood in Britain in 1948, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) in 1952.

Meanwhile, in 1945, the UN was founded, with headquarters in New York; in December of the same year the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – better known as the World Bank – was established in Washington, D.C.  Thus, the world centres for international political and financial power were both established in the U.S.  The United States was the world’s richest nation, and it was the largest contributor to the UN.  As a result it strongly influenced UN policy.  But the U.S. policy, in turn, was itself influenced by an oligarchy of wealthy and politically powerful families such as the Rockefellers, who were all eugenicists.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was formed in 1945 the U.S., as one of its first steps, recommended the establishment of a Population Commission.  Within a few years the World Bank and the UN member-nations which were wealthy and powerful would be dictating to poorer nations on how large their families should be.

There were new weapons in the campaign.  For the first time, scientists were learning about the beginning of life: the liberation of an ovum from an ovary was first seen in the 1930s; the union of a human sperm and ovum was first observed under a microscope in 1944; the events of the first few days after fertilization were spelled out in the 1950s.  The way was open for the development of new contraceptives and abortifacients.  The Population Council was founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1952 to find and develop IUDs, pills, spermicides, etc.

There was one further strategy.  To get people to co-operate in reducing their own fertility, the anti-natalists created a “Population Crisis.”  The theory of overpopulation – the old Malthusian idea – has been peddled by the media and some university departments, but it does not stand up under scrutiny by experts: statisticians, agriculturists, geologists, etc.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI addressed the UN at its headquarters in New York, and his speech made it clear that the loss of respect for human life in the UN’s agenda was already a matter of deep concern.  He pleaded:

“You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favour an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet.”

Pope Paul VI was loudly applauded, especially by the delegates from Latin America and Africa who were being pressured into accepting contraceptives.  But, despite this appeal, the next year (1966) the UN General Assembly, by a unanimous vote, passed a resolution (Population Growth and Economic Development) which called for special aid and for governments who were willing to “deal with their population problems.”

The UN’s agenda for controlling the size of the world’s population did not go unchallenged.  As early as 1952, at the first UN Population Congress, Alfred Savyr of France stated bluntly that the UN should be encouraging development in Third World countries, not spending money on birth control.  (He also warned that birth control in Europe would turn it into an enormous old-people’s home.)

Between 1960 and 1970 UNICEF was almost torn apart by a bitter controversy over whether UNICEF should provide contraceptives.  On one side were Sweden, Britain, the U.S. (and India and Pakistan who wanted money for their sterilization programmes); on the other side were Belgium, most Roman Catholic countries, and Africa – except for Nigeria.  In 1970, but not without bitterness, the UNICEF Board passed a resolution to supply contraceptives to any country which requested them.  The “contraceptives” were mainly abortifacients.

From 1970 to 1974, most industrialized countries, including Canada, were concerned with their own population policies and the UN Plan of Action for the Bucharest Convention in 1974.  Two major developments encouraged the population planners:

  • The eugenicists in the IPPF were not only becoming fashionable once again, but they had risen in power in the UN organization.  By 1971, IPPF was an international Non Government Organization (NGO) working as an associate with UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank.
  • Not surprisingly, the increasing use of contraceptives was concurrent with the demand for legalized abortion, a demand met (in part) by many countries.

The Bucharest Conference was to usher in a new phase in population control.