Magazine: Free Inquiry
Issue: Spring 1994 (Vol. 14 No. 2)
The Rise and Fall of American Political Will
by Stephen D. Mumford
The 1960s saw a rapidly increasing American public awareness of the
world population problem. The invention of the contraceptive pill in
1960 stimulated broad public debate on birth control and the need for
it. When Pope John XXIII created the Commission on Population and Birth
Control in the mid-1960s, he gave hope that the church was about to
change its position on birth control. After all, why study the issue if
the church was not in a position to change its teaching? In 1968, Paul
Ehrlich published his book The Population Bomb, the most successful book
of this kind. That same year, the journal Science published one of its
most controversial articles, Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the
Commons," which sparked much discussion of the overpopulation threat.
Mainstream religious denominations called for a bold response to the
problem. For example, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church
in 1965 urged "the government of the United States to be ready to assist
countries who request help in the development of programs of voluntary
planned parenthood as apractical and humane means of controlling
fertility and population growth." By 1971, it recognized that "the
assumption that couples have the freedom to have as many children as
they can support should be challenged. We can no longer justify
bringing into existence as many children as we desire. Our corporate
responsibility to each other prohibits this." And in 1972, the
Presbyterians called on governments "to take such actions as will
stabilize population size. . . . We who are motivated by the urgency of
overpopulation .. . would preserve the species by responding in faith:
Do not multiply--the earth is filled!"
This cry for action made it safe for American politicians to call for
programs to deal with the problem of population growth. As a result, in
1969 President Richard Nixon sent a rare Special Message to Congress,
and Congress, in an equally rare move, voted to endorse the message.
The message set forth afar-reaching commitment to limit population
growth, and put in motion a broad range of government activities, both
domestic and international. These activities included: (1) the
creation of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future;
(2) increased research on birth-control methods of all types and the
sociology of population growth; (3) expanded programs to train more
people in the population and family planning fields, both in this
country and abroad; (4) expanded research on the effects of population
growth on our environment and on the world's food supply; and (5)
increased domestic family planning assistance, aimed at providing
adequate family planning services to all who want but cannot afford
them. This was the beginning of the peak of American political will to
deal with the problem.
Design for a Population Policy and Resistance to It
The twenty-four-member Commission on Population Growth and the American
Future was chaired by John D. Rockefeller 3rd. It ordered more than one
hundred research projects which collected and analyzed data for the
formulation of a comprehensive U.S. population policy.
After two years of intense study, the Rockefeller Commission made over
seventy recommendations. They included: passage of a Population
Education Act to help school systems establish well-planned population
education programs; sex education to be widely available, especially
through the schools; passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA);
contraception available for all, including minors, at government expense
if need be; abortion for all who want it, at government expense if
necessary; vastly expanded research in many areas related to population
growth control; and the elimination of employment of illegal aliens.
On May 5, 1972, at a ceremony to submit formally the Commission's
findings and conclusions, President Nixon publicly renounced the report.
This was six months before he faced reelection, and he was feeling
intense political heat from one particularly powerful special interest
group. During the two years that followed, it became clear that there
would be no further response to the Commission's recommendations. Thus
in May 1973 a group of pioneer population activists asked Ambassador
Adolph Schmidt to speak with his friend, Commission Chairman John D.
Rockefeller 3rd. At their June 1973 meeting in New York City, Schmidt
noted the disappointment he shared with colleagues because no program
resulted from the Commission's recommendations. What had gone wrong?
Rockefeller responded: "The greatest difficulty has been the very
active opposition by the Roman Catholic Church through its various
agencies in the United States." A similar evaluation became public last
summer when one Rockefeller Commission member, Congressman James Scheuer
(D-NY), spoke out for the first time on what had happened:
Our exuberance was short-lived. Then-president Richard Nixon promptly
ignored our final report. The reasons were obvious--the fear of attacks
from the far right and from the Roman Catholic Church because of our
positions on family planning and abortion. With the benefit of
hindsight, it is now clear that this obstruction was but the first of
many similar actions to come from high places.
It is tragic that Americans have been kept in the dark about this
undemocratic and un-American intervention by the Vatican. No doubt,
both Catholic and non-Catholic Americans would have strongly rejected
such interference had they been aware of it. The quality of life for
all Americans has been diminished by this unconstitutional manipulation
of American policy, undertaken for the purposes of protecting papal
Nixon Again Moves Boldly
Despite the intense opposition of the Catholic hierarchy to the
Rockefeller Commission Report, President Nixon's assessment of the
gravity of the overpopulation problem and his desire to deal with it
evidently were unchanged. On April 24, 1974, in the single most
important act of his presidency regarding the population crisis, Mr.
Nixon directed that a comprehensive new study be undertaken to determine
the "Implications of World Population Growth for U.S. Security and
I can only speculate on his thinking, but one can assume that President
Nixon knew he would encounter the same intense Vatican opposition he had
following the Rockefeller Commission Report. However, with his
reelection safely behind him, perhaps he felt that if a definitive study
of the national and global security implications of overpopulation
showed that the very security of the United States was seriously
threatened, it would generate public demand for action. This might
serve to overcome the continued opposition of the Vatican. Why else
would he have asked for this study, given his earlier experience with
the Catholic church? NSSM 200
In National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 200, National Security
Advisor Henry Kissinger, acting for the president, directed the
secretaries of defense and agriculture, the director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, the deputy secretary of state, and the
administrator of the Agency for International Development (AID), to
undertake jointly "a study of the impact of world population growth on
U.S. security and overseas interests." The report on this study was
completed December 10, 1974, and circulated to the designated
secretaries and agency heads for their review and comments.
Revisions of the study continued until July 1975. On November 26, 1975,
the 227-page report and its recommendations were endorsed by
then-president Gerald Ford in National Security Decision Memorandum
(NSDM) 314. "The President has reviewed the interagency response to
NSSM 200," wrote the new national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft.
"He believes that United States leadership is essential to combat
population growth, to implement the [UN] World Population Plan of
Action, and to advance United States security and overseas interests.
The President endorses the policy recommendations contained in the
Executive Summary of the NSSM 200 response." To this day, the policy
set forth in NSDM 314 has not been officially rescinded.
The NSSM 200 Report: Concerns and Recommendations
The NSSM 200 response details how and why world population growth
gravely threatens United States and global security, and provides a
blueprint for U.S. response to this burgeoning problem. The strategy is
complex, raising difficult questions. Some suggested policies are
necessarily bold. For these reasons, the report's authors urged that it
be classified for five years to prepare the American public for full
acceptance of the goals proposed.
The NSSM 200 report states: "There is a major risk of severe damage
[from continued rapid population growth] to world economic, political,
and ecological systems and, as these systems begin to fail, to our
humanitarian values." "World population growth is widely recognized
within the government as a current danger of the highest magnitude
calling for urgent measures." "[I]t is of the utmost urgency that
governments now recognize the facts and implications of population
growth, determine the ultimate population sizes that make sense for
their countries and start vigorous programs at once to achieve their
The NSSM 200 report includes the following recommendations:
-- The United States should provide world leadership in population
-- The United States should seek to attain population stability by 2000.
This would have required a one-child family policy for the U.S., thanks
to the phenomenon of demographic momentum, a requirement the authors
well understood. (This recommendation came two years before the Chinese
adopted their one-child family policy.)
-- The United States should have as goals (1) making family planning
information, education, and means available to all people of the
developing world by 1980, and (2) achieving a two-child family in the
developing countries by 2000.
-- The United States should provide whatever funds necessary to achieve
Political Will Peaks
President Ford's approval of the policy recommendations of the NSSM 200
response in his Decision Memorandum 314 represented the high point of
American political will to deal with the population problem. Then it
plummeted. Like the Rockefeller Commission Report, the NSSM 200
response--a definitive study by the most powerful departments in our
government, those with virtually all our intelligence-gathering
capability--identified a grave threat to United States and global
security. But none of its recommendations was ever implemented.
Dire Predictions Come True
The Rockefeller Commission Report and the NSSM 200 response are arguably
the most important documents on overpopulation ever written. Our
country and the world would be very different today if the
recommendations in these documents had been implemented. For example,
had illegal immigration been controlled and legal immigration adjusted
in 1971, as the Rockefeller Commission Report urged, the U.S. population
would have peaked at 243 million in 2035. Instead, in 1992 our
population stood at 255 million, and it will not peak until it reaches
383 million in 2050--assuming there is no more immigration after 1992.
The lives of all Americans will be significantly affected as we attempt
to accommodate this additional 128 million people. And this number can
explode if we do not deal with excessive immigration.
In 1974, the NSSM 200 report predicted that growing scarcities of
resources would lead to ever-increasing dislocations and conflicts all
over the globe that would diminish security for everyone everywhere.
The January 31, 1993, issue of the New York Times contains an op-ed
piece by Thomas Homer- Dixon, titled "Destruction and Death," which
documents that the predictions are already coming true. This article
examines case-studies of violent conflicts attributed to overpopulation
by researchers from four continents: brutal ethnic conflicts caused by
the migration of millions from Bangladesh to India; persistent conflict
in the Philippines driven by the desperate poverty caused by
overpopulation; conflict between Israelis and Palestinians caused by
severe shortages of ground water in the Jordan River basin; violence in
urban squatter settlements in South Africa fueled by migration forced by
destruction of ecologically sensitive territories; conflict in the
Senegal River Basin spurred by expanding population in Senegal and
Mauritania; growth of the violent Maoist Shining Path in Peru stimulated
by similar factors; and social strife in Haiti--with the resultant
exodus of boat people--caused by the irreversible clear-cutting of
forests and loss of soil. There are many other examples.
These examples reveal the consequences of our failure to implement the
policy recommendations of the NSSM 200 report. This implementation was
blocked by the swift action of the Vatican. The Catholic church had to
take this action for the same reason it had to block the Rockefeller
Commission recommendations: the NSSM 200 response forthrightly opposes
Rome on population strategy, family planning, and abortion.
During 1976, Catholic activists worked diligently to undermine
population growth control efforts. Dr. R. T. Ravenholt directed the
global population program of the U.S. Agency for International
Development in the Department of State from 1966 to 1979. On March 4,
1991, he addressed the Washington State Chapter of Zero Population
Growth (ZPG) and described how this was accomplished. (Copies of the
Ravenholt report are available from the Center for Research on
Population and Security, P.O. Box 13067, Research Triangle Park, NC
27709, (919) 933-7491, for $3.00 each.) [See R. T. Ravenholt's article
in this issue of Free Inquiry, and the article by Roland van Liew in the
Spring 1992 issue.--Ed.]
It is obvious that the Vatican is seriously out of sync with American
lay Catholic thinking on family planning and abortion. For example, a
recent study by Catholic priest Andrew Greeley of the National Opinion
Research Center found that only seven percent of U.S. Catholics support
the Vatican position on abortion. In fact, U.S. Catholics exhibit the
same family planning behavior as non-Catholics. There is a good reason
for this. The security-survival interests of Catholic Americans are
pitted against the security-survival interests of the papacy. For many
reasons--including economic, medical, and social reasons--family
planning, abortion services, good sex education, population education,
and the advancement of women's rights, enhance the security of the lay
person and his/her family and improve their odds of survival. But
family planning, abortion, etc., seriously undermine the security of the
papacy and threaten its very survival because they undermine papal
Vatican Claims Self-Protection
The Vatican claims the right to protect itself against harmful
laws--even when democratically legislated! The central difficulty here,
of course, is that the Vatican considers "harmful" to itself and its
authority what lay Catholics consider beneficial to themselves and their
families. In a letter sent to all American bishops by the Sacred
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the most powerful Vatican
office, Cardinal Ratzinger reminded the bishops that "the church has the
responsibility to protect herself from the application of harmful laws."
This letter was kept secret from the fifty-five million American
Catholics until a brief notice by Peter Steinfels appeared in the New
York Times on July 10, 1992. The actual text was published on July 15,
The church's assertion of "responsibility" implies a "right" as well.
The Vatican exercised the "right" to protect herself from what it
considered harmful laws when it blocked U.S. adoption of the Rockefeller
Commission recommendations and implementation of the NSSM 200 policies
approved by President Ford. "To protect herself," the church moved
quickly and efficiently to kill the two most important initiatives to
control population growth in American history.
The Threat to Papal Power
When our government legalized contraception and abortion, it pitted
civil authority against papal authority. The Vatican demands supremacy
over civil governments in matters of faith and morals, but our
government has rejected this concept. Thus, while the church is saying
that family planning and abortion are evil and grave sins, our
government is saying they are good and should be used. While many
Catholic countries in Latin America have abortion rates two to four
times as high as the U.S. rate, the bishops there ignore abortions.
Why? They are illegal abortions, not legal ones, and thus do not
threaten papal authority! So the bishops take no significant actions to
halt abortions in Latin America. But legal abortions in the U.S.,
because their legalization established their morality, do undermine
In Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control over Lay Catholic Elites,
published by the University of California Press in 1980, Jean-Guy
Vaillancourt, associate professor of sociology at the University of
Montreal, closely examined the sources and evolution of papal power. He
found that papal authority is vital to the maintenance of papal power.
However, the relationship between the two is circular. Less authority
means less power, which means even less authority. Thus, the very
survival of the Vatican is threatened by programs of population growth
This threat to papal authority was recognized decades ago by the Papal
Commission on Population and Birth Control. The commission, which met
from 1964 to 1966, consisted of fifteen cardinals and bishops, and
sixty-four lay experts representing a variety of disciplines. According
to commission member Thomas Burch, Pope Paul VI assigned the commission
the task of finding a way of changing the church's position on birth
control without destroying the pope's authority. But the commission was
unable to do this. Finally, after studying the dilemma, the laymen
voted sixty to four, and the clerics nine to six, to change the church's
teaching on birth control, even though it would mean a loss of papal
authority, because it was the right thing to do. However, Pope Paul VI
accepted the minority recommendation, and in 1968 issued the encyclical
Humanae Vitae, which banned contraception. But because two newspapers
had, without authorization, published the full texts of the commission's
reports in 1967, the world knew that a substantial majority of the
commission had recommended liberalization on birth control. And in
1985, Thomas Burch revealed to the world the real assignment of the
commission. Thus it was clear that Humanae Vitae was an admission that
the church cannot change its position on birth control without
undermining papal authority--an unacceptable sacrifice.
The Vatican believes, probably correctly, that if the solutions to the
population problem are applied, the dominance of Vatican power will soon
cease. Thus, it is in no position to compromise with the United States.
The Vatican simply cannot accommodate U.S. security interests.
The Bishops' Pastoral Plan
On November 20, 1975, the American Catholic bishops issued their
Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities. This was just six days before
President Ford made the NSSM 200 report public policy. The success of
that plan is confirmed in an excellent article that recently appeared in
Time, which I will discuss later.
The plan is a frank and superbly detailed blueprint of the bishops'
strategy for infiltrating and manipulating the American democratic
process at the national, state, and local levels. The purpose is to
kill the political will of the United States to overcome the
overpopulation problem. Abortion was the issue chosen to galvanize the
movement, as proposed by Jesuit priest Virgil Blum in a 1971 America
magazine article. The plan details a three- pronged attack, one devoted
to each of the three branches of our federal government: legislative,
judicial, and administrative.
As the Time article shows, with the election of the anti-abortion team
of Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1980, the Vatican seized control of
the administrative branch of our government in the area of population
and family planning policy. These two men appointed five Supreme Court
justices and 70 percent of all sitting judges in the federal court
system. All were anti- abortion, another goal of the bishops' plan.
The third branch has been more difficult for the bishops, though they
did achieve sufficient influence in Congress that pro-choice congressmen
could not override a presidential veto. So long as the bishops
controlled the White House, this was sufficient for their purposes.
Even in the Carter years, the bishops were highly successful in
undermining federal government population growth control efforts.
The bishops enjoyed considerable success at the state level as well. In
1987, I conducted a study to determine if the bishops had accomplished
the goal they set in their plan with regard to the North Carolina
legislature. AUniversity of North Carolina statewide poll had
established that 79 percent of the state's Democratic voters and 78
percent of the Republican voters were pro-abortion rights. When I
examined the voting behavior of the legislators on abortion legislation,
I found that 78 percent of the Democratic legislators voted pro on
abortion legislation, just as would be predicted if the legislators
accurately reflected the Democratic voters of the state. However, only
8 percent of the Republican legislators did, rather than the
approximately 78 percent one would predict given Republican voter
attitudes across the state. This was exactly the goal set by the
bishops. In North Carolina, the bishops had succeeded in making the
Republican party theirs.
The plan also called for the creation of a broad-based popular movement.
This emerged between 1976 and 1980, and became known as the "New Right
Movement." Catholics were key players in the movement and its
leadership. The creation and control of the movement by the bishops is
well-documented. There is a mountain of evidence that they enjoyed great
success in killing American political will.
Time Magazine Says It Like It Is
The headline on the cover of the February 24, 1992, issue of Time
magazine was: "HOLY ALLIANCE: How Reagan and the Pope Conspired To
Assist Poland's Solidarity Movement and Hasten the Demise of Communism."
The article, written by prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein,
contains the most significant revelations since the adoption of the
Pastoral Plan in 1975. Bernstein reports, "The Catholic Team: The key
administration players were all devout Roman Catholics--CIA chief
William Casey, [Richard] Allen [Reagan's first national security
advisor], [William] Clark [Reagan's second national security advisor],
[Alexander] Haig [secretary of state], [Vernon] Walters [ambassador at
large], and William Wilson, Reagan's first ambassador to the Vatican.
They regarded the U.S.-Vatican relationship as a holy alliance: the
moral force of the pope and the teachings of their church combined with
. . . their notion of American democracy."
Bernstein makes clear what the cadre of devout Catholics in the Reagan
administration did to protect the papacy from the NSSM 200 report. He
quotes our ambassador to the Vatican, William Wilson, who reveals that
during the Reagan administration, papal policy on birth control and
abortion replaced the policy set forth by the NSSM 200 response. In a
section of his article headed "The U.S. and the Vatican on Birth
Control," Bernstein writes:
In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed
to alter its foreign aid program to comply with the church's teachings
on birth control. According to William Wilson, the president's first
ambassador to the Vatican, the State Department reluctantly agreed to an
outright ban on the use of any U.S. aid funds by either countries or
international health organizations for the promotion of abortions. As a
result of this position, announced at the World Conference on Population
in Mexico City in 1984, the U.S. withdrew funding from, among others,
two of the world's largest family planning organizations: the
International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund
for Population Activities.
"American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican's not agreeing
with our policy," Wilson explains.
Presidents Reagan and Bush were the most pro-Catholic presidents in
American history. The bishops had seized control of the Republican
party just as they had set out to do. In November 1992, traditional
Republicans realized they had been taken. Outgoing Republican National
Committee Chairman Richard Bond told the members of that committee on
January 29, 1993, that it was time for the Republican Party to abandon
the papal position on abortion. Bond said that the party should not be
governed by "zealotry masquerading as principle."
So, there are reasons for hope. The bishops have suffered some major
setbacks in recent years. The publication of the Time article, the
surfacing of the NSSM 200 report, and the loss of George Bush were
serious setbacks. We can expect the bishops to suffer further reverses
in the Clinton years.
Here are the key points I have offered:
-- Papal security-survival is pitted against U.S. security-survival.
Right now, U.S. security interests are losing out.
-- The Vatican has recognized it cannot coexist with American democracy
when that democracy passes laws gravely undermining papal authority.
-- There is a code of silence that inhibits open discussion of the
issues Ihave presented. This code has been successfully imposed by the
Vatican. At the present time these issues are undiscussed even among
population specialists. There will be no success in dealing with
overpopulation until this silence is broken and the Catholic church is
successfully neutralized on this issue.
I hope each of you will help break this code of silence, so that
American political will can be reborn to deal with the population
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Notes (not included here).
Copyright 1994 by Free Inquiry magazine.