Donald Collins’ article on the “population bomb” and the history of birth control is an intriguing look into how we must consider family planning in the grand scheme of our problem of population growth. Collins, a long time advocate of women’s reproductive health rights, discusses the importance of assuring family planning capabilities not just in the United States, but worldwide.
After the invention of penicillin, many experts on population growth believed that access to the drug would lead to huge cuts in death rates as well as a rapid boom in population growth. This belief led to the theory of the “population bomb,” coined by Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich and his wife Anne Ehrlich in their titular book released in 1968 on the subject. The book posited that population explosions would lead to mass starvation by the 1980s and 1990s and potentially the end of the human race, but obviously the latter has not come to pass. But Collins believes that the bomb wasn’t a singular bunker buster, but several gradual explosions that have weakened us over time, until we have had an irreversible effect on the planet Earth.
The question raised from Collins’ article is simply, is he right? Has the population bomb already happened, and has it already impacted the Earth in such a way that we cannot reverse course? Conservative governments have in many instances disapproved of efforts to control population growth by fighting against reproductive rights, mainly access to birth control and abortions. The landmark Roe vs. Wade decision has remained today, but many conservatives have seen fit to try their hardest to prevent access to abortions, and many more have called for the decision to be overturned. Meanwhile, they have attempted to dismantle access to birth control via employer-provided health care plans, under the guise of protecting the employer’s religious beliefs.
The short term goal of these conservatives, to try and score easy points with their voters by fighting ostensibly in the name of religious freedom, is simply short-sighted at best and malevolent at worst. Such actions could inevitably lead to more small population explosions, ending in a critical and dangerous cascade effect. With inevitable automation of many jobs looming above the American economy like the sword of Damocles, the danger of a generation suffering from mass unemployment grows stronger everyday. The reckless abandonment of reproductive health will only contribute negatively to this.
“Some, including me, see great hope for the future in the rapid education which can be provided by the omniscient electronic revolution. Can such exposure enable enough changes in human behavior to allow the survival of human life on Planet Earth? The jury is still out, but providing more options in family planning for women here and overseas surely can help and the knowledge about contraception options will shortly become universal despite all opposition!”
Collins remains hopeful for the future of humanity on Earth as well as the fight for reproductive rights worldwide, but it is easy to become disconcerted about the struggle. In this age of growing partisanship, and Trump’s conservative government putting pressure on progressives to “fall in line,” we need to remember the principles at stake in these fights. The fight for reproductive rights is not just a progressive issue, it is a human issue; one that we all have a stake in.
Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.