How Large an Obstacle is Religion to Population Stabilization?


An Italian mother and baby in Rome. © Angelo Cordeschi |

Our members often ask us whether it’s futile and a waste of time to advocate for increased access to family planning for women and couples in countries with strong religious identities. Our answer is that it is absolutely not!

The preference for and pressure to have large families in religious settings is complicated, and it’s an element of many religions that’s being challenged, not only by parishioners, but also by some religious leaders. For example, imams in some Muslim communities in Africa are saying that family planning is acceptable, as long as it’s used for birth spacing, which improves the health of children and their mothers, and not family size limitation (which is, of course, a natural benefit of spacing births farther apart). As with Christianity, there are very substantial differing interpretations of Islam from place to place. Iran, for example, has been a leader in terms of voluntary family planning.

In the United States, 98% of Catholic women who have ever had sex have used some form of artificial birth control. And 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals are currently using highly effective artificial contraception (sterilization, hormonal methods, or IUDs).

The Catholic Church certainly hasn’t made things easier in very observant countries such as the Philippines, where bishops control policy matters to a large degree (although the total fertility rate[1] in the Philippines is declining consistently—it currently stands at 2.87, down from 6.54 in the late 1960s). But people’s desire to plan their families is often much stronger than their desire to be 100% obedient to the Pope’s interpretation of the Bible and Church doctrine on family planning. Most of the countries that we think of as staunchly Catholic have the lowest total fertility rates in the world, e.g. Portugal (1.24), Poland (1.33), Spain (1.38), Italy (1.49), Cuba (1.58), Puerto Rico (1.59), El Salvador (1.87), Ireland (2.00), and so on.[2] Clearly, the observance of religion does not have to lead to large families.

Wherever birth control has been made readily available and consumers are educated about how to use it effectively, family size and fertility rates have dropped. Countries that now have fertility rates below replacement rate (2.1 children per woman), but had very high fertility (over 5 children per woman) just 40 years ago include Albania, Brazil, China (although that’s another story entirely, for a different blog post), Costa Rica, Iran, Lebanon, Martinique, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, UAE, and Vietnam.

The real issue is a lack of affordable and appropriate methods of birth control in the countries with the highest fertility rates—also, typically, the poorest countries. In those places, access to birth control and clear instructions on its proper use can be difficult to obtain, due to lack of funding, too few medical professionals, and wariness of side effects. That’s why we’ll keep working toward a doubling of U.S. foreign aid for international family planning—so we can help get family planning services and supplies to the women and couples in aid-dependent countries who desperately want them. Unfortunately, as a direct result of last November’s elections, we now must defend current levels of U.S. investment in key programs.

Help us if you can, by taking the actions suggested on this page!


[1] The number of live births a woman would have if current age-specific fertility rates remained consistent throughout her lifetime.
[2] Fertility data from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision:


Our 2017 Action Plan

2016 was a year full of challenges…to say the least.

But despite setbacks, Population Connection made some amazing progress towards tackling the population challenge. All of it is thanks to YOU—our dedicated, generous donors, activists, volunteers, and supporters make all of our progress possible!

We reached some major milestones in 2016.

  • We built the first real movement on reinterpreting the Helms Amendment in more than 40 years. This backwards policy bars U.S. foreign aid from being used for safe, legal abortion, even when women’s lives are in danger, or they are pregnant as a result of incest or rape. We mounted a serious campaign last year with Population Connection Action Fund to raise awareness about the Helms Amendment—inspiring grassroots activism in key states and getting some major media coverage. Our biggest victory came when it became part of the Democratic national platform last year—demonstrating real buy-in from our nation’s leaders who are taking a cue from the wellspring of grassroots activism around the country. We’re shifting gears now and building support for a permanent repeal of the Helms Amendment.
  • 200 activists learned about population, the environment, and women’s health issues at our annual Capitol Hill Days lobbying event in Washington, D.C. Attendees personally lobbied 153 members of Congress for family planning funding. (Interested in attending our 2017 event? Find more info here!)
  • We engaged thousands of students and teachers internationally through our innovative online activities, available at and, where our famous World Population “Dot” video gained more than 600,000 unique views!
  • Our innovative and award-winning Population Education program trained 11,500 teachers in 700+ Population Education workshops nationwide.

But our work is far from done.

In short? People and our planet are suffering the brunt of rapid population growth’s most dire consequences.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by such a monumental challenge, but we’re here to tell you that YOU—yes, YOU—can help us meet it. Some truly impactful things you can do to help:

  • Stay up to date on legislative issues and news related to women’s access to family planning! Join our email list here. YOUR voice is extremely powerful—by staying informed, you’ll have the ability to be an effective advocate for population-related issues and push your elected officials to stand up for women everywhere…
  • …so you can contact your national lawmakers to urge them to invest in family planning programs. Don’t know who represents you in Congress? Find out here and here.
  • Request multiple copies of our magazine, Population Connection, at no charge, to distribute at your local libraries, coffee shops, or other public venues. Email Marian Starkey at to get some copies ASAP.
  • Sign up to attend our next Capitol Hill Days lobbying event in Washington, D.C. This annual event is a unique opportunity to learn more about our issue, receive training on how to effectively lobby elected officials, and meet and network with like-minded population advocates from all over the United States! Learn more here.
  • Distribute informational materials at your local Earth Day fair or environmental expo. We’re a grassroots organization and our strength lies in numbers. You can help by getting members of your own community on board! Get informational materials from our Field and Outreach staff by contacting Lauren Salmiery at
  • Are you a professional educator? Do you teach in a classroom, or know somebody who does? Visit our PopEd program’s website at to learn about opportunities to attend a workshop in your area, become a volunteer trainer for the program, or request FREE, high-quality curriculum materials to use in your own classroom!

In short—stay informed, stay active, and stay committed.

As part of a grassroots network over 500,000 strong, we are uniquely placed to make a true and lasting difference on this most critical issue. Here at Population Connection, we’re optimistic about our ability to make headway towards ensuring a bright, sustainable future for the entire planet. I hope you’ll join us in 2017 to keep the momentum going forward!



The Twelve Days of Trump-Mas* the first day of Trump-mas the THE DONALD gave to me A CON-MAN in the West Wing.

On the second day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me TWO tiny hands
and a CON-MAN in the West Wing.

On the third day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me THREE trade wars,
TWO tiny hands, and a CON-MAN in the West Wing.

On the fourth day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me FOUR** meddling kids,
THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands, and a CON MAN in the West Wing.

On the fifth day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES,
FOUR meddling kids, THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands,
and a CON MAN in the West Wing.

On the sixth day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me SIX deplorables,
FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES, FOUR meddling kids, THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands,
and a CON-MAN in the West Wing.

On the seventh day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me SEVEN orange spray tans,
SIX deplorables, FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES, FOUR meddling kids,
THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands, and CON-MAN in the West Wing.

On the eighth day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me EIGHT racist staffers,
SEVEN orange spray tans, SIX deplorables, FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES,
FOUR meddling kids, THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands,
and a CON MAN in the West Wing.

On the ninth day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me NINE conflicts of in’trest,
EIGHT racist staffers, SEVEN orange spray tans, SIX deplorables,
FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES, FOUR meddling kids, THREE trade wars,
TWO tiny hands, and a CON MAN in the West Wing.

On the tenth day of Trump-mas THE DONALD gave to me TEN unwanted kisses,
NINE conflicts of in’trest, EIGHT racist staffers, SEVEN orange spray tans,
SIX deplorables, FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES, FOUR meddling kids,
THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands, and a CON MAN in the West Wing.

On the eleventh day of Trump-mas, THE DONALD gave to me ELEVEN grabby gropings,
TEN unwanted kisses, NINE conflicts of in’trest, EIGHT racist staffers,
SEVEN orange spray tans, SIX deplorables, FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES,
FOUR meddling kids, THREE trade wars, TWO tiny hands,
and a CON MAN in the West Wing.

On the twelfth day of Trump-Mas THE DONALD gave to me TWELVE Twitter flame-wars,
ELEVEN grabby gropings, TEN unwanted kisses, NINE conflicts of in’trest,
EIGHT racist staffers, SEVEN orange spray tans, SIX deplorables,
FIVE GOLDEN WEAVES, FOUR meddling kids, THREE trade wars,
TWO tiny hands, and a CON MAN in the West Wing.


* C’mon, you know he’ll rebrand it by next year.

** Well, three plus a son-in-law

Why Focus on Global Population Growth When Americans Are the Big Consumers?

Our members and supporters often take the time to send us their thoughts and questions about population issues. As Population Connection’s Director of Communications, I’ve answered countless numbers of these inquiries over the years, and realized that many of them come up frequently. In this monthly feature I’ll address our FAQs in detail to hopefully answer some of your own questions about population issues.

“Why does Population Connection focus on global population growth, which is occurring almost exclusively in the less developed countries, rather than on population growth in the United States where we consume so much more per capita?”

Consumption by the wealthy plays a huge role in the environmental problems we face today, especially at the global level. Poor people tend to degrade the environments where they live out of necessity (cutting down forests for firewood, lumber, and agricultural land; fishing until stocks expire; destroying wildlife habitats for their own use, etc.). Rich people, through their conspicuous consumption, degrade all environments everywhere with their carbon emissions and purchasing of products made worldwide.

Having acknowledged that, this is the reason we don’t focus on U.S. population growth:

Since the 1970s, the United States fertility rate has been at or below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. The latest data (from 2014) show that women are currently only having 1.86 children in this country. Of course there are plenty of families who have more than two children, dragging the average up from those who have none or one.

© Monkey Business Images | -  American Family Sitting In Garden

© Monkey Business Images | – American Family Sitting In Garden

Advocating for a further reduction in the United States fertility rate (although it would be an outcome we would welcome) doesn’t really make sense when it is already so low.

Advocating for a reduction in unintended pregnancies (45% of all pregnancies in the U.S.), however, makes sense for health, economic, and demographic purposes. There are an estimated 1.5 million unintended births in the U.S. each year (37% of all births), which account for half the net population growth we experience annually.

Population Connection works with our grassroots and on Capitol Hill to encourage efforts that will reduce unplanned pregnancies and births, lobbying to maintain Title X, the family planning program for low-income American women; to offer comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education in schools, as opposed to ineffective abstinence-only sex education; to ensure that pharmacists fill birth control prescriptions; to make the sale of emergency contraception available without age restrictions; and to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible.

Small families are already the norm in the United States and have been for two generations. If we moved toward providing excellent sex education to all public school students, and made universal affordable access to birth control and safe and legal abortion a national priority, we would see our rate of unintended pregnancy and birth plummet.

Americans don’t need to be convinced to have fewer children—our politicians need to enable them to do so through increased funding for family planning and progressive policies for all aspects of sexual and reproductive health.

Help us kick off the giving season on Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday — a day where millions of compassionate people like you will support organizations both big and small all around the world. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.


This year, a few generous donors have stepped up to show their commitment and offered to double the first $6,500 in gifts to Population Connection before midnight on Giving Tuesday.

If you’d like to participate, you can make your gift here! Make your Giving Tuesday gift now!

When you make your gift before midnight tonight, you’re ensuring that your support will go twice as far to fight for access to birth control for all women, spread the word about the threat of rapid population growth, and hold politicians accountable for policies that threaten our environment and human well–being.

Thank you for helping us meet this important challenge — and join us in celebrating this season of giving!

Easing Abortion Restrictions Could Save Lives in El Salvador

Women bring their products for sale to a local market on the outskirts of San Salvador, El Salvador. © 2001 Alfredo L. Fort, Courtesy of Photoshare

Women bring their products for sale to a local market on the outskirts of San Salvador. © 2001 Alfredo L. Fort, Courtesy of Photoshare

El Salvador has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world. It is one of only six nations that enforces a blanket ban on abortion without exceptions—including in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

Women in El Salvador can face up to 50 years in prison if they are suspected of having an abortion, often times including women who have had miscarriages.  Some women are imprisoned for seeking out medical attention after having an unsafe abortion. Even women who have late-term pregnancy or unsafe abortion complications are hesitant to seek out medical attention in fear of being accused of inducing an abortion. Under the country’s current law, if a man raped a teenage girl and she sought out an abortion, he would serve only six to ten years. She would serve 30 to 50.

The strict abortion laws have created a health and human rights crisis in the country. Women are continuously and unjustly criminalized for seeking out reproductive health services. Women like Cristina Quintanilla who experienced complications during her second pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage. After being taken to the hospital to be treated for her miscarriage, she was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide.

Every year, an estimated 35,000 women in El Salvador risk their lives with unsafe abortions due to the harsh penalizations for abortion. El Salvador’s maternal mortality rate is higher than the regional average, and at least 13% of these deaths are caused by unsafe abortion. These deaths are preventable and unacceptable.

This problem extends far beyond El Salvador’s borders. Globally, 22 million women risk their lives with unsafe abortions, and 47,000 die from complications every year. Even of those who survive, many suffer long-term health complications. Draconian abortion laws like those in El Salvador unjustly criminalize women and perpetuate the stigma, contributing to the unnecessary deaths of women around the world.

Hope for the women

Activists in El Salvador and around Latin America have been fighting for increased access to safe abortion and at this moment—partly due to the risks associated with Zika Virus—there seems to be some hope for change.

After 18 years of the stringent laws, El Salvador is seeking to relax the country’s restrictions to allow for abortions in cases of rape or risky pregnancy. El Salvador is taking a step towards breaking the barriers to women’s reproductive freedom. Women would still lack unrestricted access to abortion, but if passed, this reform bill would permit legal abortion for women in the most vulnerable circumstances and save the lives of women throughout the country.

While this may be a small step for El Salvador, it’s a crucial one. This proposal to loosen restrictions suggests that the country is moving towards prioritizing the reproductive rights and health of women throughout the country. Countries need to continue investing reproductive healthcare and ensuring greater access to safe abortion to provide for women and girls around the world.

Four Reasons to Defend Access to Affordable Birth Control

Republicans don’t much like being accused of opposing women’s health and rights. But they don’t much like actually supporting them either. Enter Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to claim that health insurance coverage of birth control is a “nitty-gritty detail” that isn’t worth talking about.

Well, Mr. Speaker, we hope you’ll consider some facts.

Hands Off my BCFirst things first: Birth control is health care. Women use birth control for many reasons, including being able to have sex without fear of unwanted pregnancies. Women with endometriosis, ovarian cysts, acne, painful menstrual cramps, excessive bleeding, hormonal imbalances and many other medical problems use birth control to keep their symptoms under control. Having access to birth control can be a life saver for many. Read testimonies of women whose lives were saved by birth control. Literally.

But let’s remember that birth control to prevent pregnancy is also health care. Going through pregnancy and childbirth have huge implications for women’s health. Childbirth is more dangerous than safe abortion; every year, more than 300,000 women around the world lose their lives- not to mention jobs and economic and educational opportunities for self-growth- to pregnancy and childbirth. Taking affordable birth control away hurts adolescents the most, as girls under 18 face a significantly higher rate of health complications and mortality from pregnancy and childbirth.

This is especially important in the U.S. While global maternal mortality rates have gone down around the world, they have gone up here. In fact, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Forcing women to give birth because they can’t afford or get birth control puts women’s lives in danger and creates a public health crisis.

Investing in birth control is economically smart. Decreasing access to affordable birth control will hurt poor and marginalized women the most. Unplanned pregnancies cause economically disadvantaged women to stay stuck in the cycle of poverty, drawing on the very entitlements you’d like to see disappear. Birth control is proven to be one of the best tools we have for decreasing poverty. For every dollar we invest in birth control in the U.S. we save seven dollars.

Access to birth control impacts men, women, everyone. This idea that birth control access is a fringe problem that only matters to young women who get drunk and hook up with strangers is not only insulting but also inaccurate. All women, regardless of their marital status or sexual activity, have a right to access birth control. Birth control is not just a women’s issue. It matters to men too. It allows men to also be able to partake in the decision to become parents if and when they want. It always families to make decisions about the finances and logistics of having children and be in control of what happens to them.

Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Study after study has proven this fact. People who want to have sex are going to do so regardless of whether they’ve been told not to by a teacher or a pastor. The important thing is to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and infections.

Access to affordable contraceptives is essential to a woman’s health, autonomy, dignity, and economic security, and it’s important to their partners, children, and communities as well. That’s why the overwhelming majority of Americans support it and why you should too, Mr. Speaker.

We Have to Face the Facts on International Family Planning

A recent presentation by Joseph Chamie, the former director of United Nations Population Division, outlines the cataclysmic possibilities of population growth in Africa.

One of the key underlying causes is lack of investment in international family programs. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently documented the decline in donor country assistance. It’s worth noting that the US provides nearly half of all such family planning aid and that most family planning funding originates within developing nations.

As fertility rates declined in wealthier nations, family planning has often come to be seen as “yesterday’s news.” There has been no shortage of magical thinking – as if Africa’s challenges would somehow resolve themselves as the world’s attention moves on to other topics.  It hasn’t happened.

The Gates Foundation has stepped up its investments in international family planning in recent years. For the most part, that has only replaced reductions in investments by donor nations. This leaves a growing gap as the population of the poorest places on earth continues to increase.

Like many challenges, it’s a matter of will – in this case, political will, to counter the stiff resistance of a variety of fundamentalists and others who embrace outmoded doctrines and ignore facts.

Pro-Choice Cats Defends Women’s Reproductive Rights

In September, we spoke with Amanda Patton, a spunky, bright 28-year old reproductive health activist and founder of Pro-Choice Cats (, about her 2015 efforts to raise money to put pro-choice billboards near the state house in Columbus. Just a few days ago, Amanda’s billboards went back up, this time targeting the dangerous Trump campaign.

pro-choice-cats-first-billboard2Cats and reproductive rights are Amanda’s two primary passions. Using the internet’s obsession with funny felines, she was able to combine the two and start a locally-minded social movement. Pro-Choice Cats is an advocacy group that raises awareness for abortion rights and access in Columbus, Ohio.

Through social media, sales of her products (t-shirts, cross-stitch art, stickers, etc.), and word of mouth, Amanda has raised enough money to support pro-choice billboards in Columbus. They are strategically placed along the only route to the state house. The billboards first made their appearance in November of 2015, receiving a lot of support – as well as a lot of backlash. Anti-choice groups would park their slogan-covered trailer under the billboard in protest.

“Our main point was to send the message to our state legislators that there are pro-choice people in the community paying attention and voting,” Amanda says.

pro-choice-cats-first-billboard3Speaking out against Injustice

In 2014, Amanda received a photo of anti-choice protesters harassing women outside of a Toledo abortion clinic. Shocked and outraged, she found herself inspired to protect women seeking reproductive healthcare. Soon after, Amanda began volunteering at the Founder’s Women’s Health Center—the last independent abortion provider in Columbus.

“My friends and I would walk patients from their cars to the front door of the clinic to help them feel safe in the face of the aggressive anti-choice protesters. After a few months, I quit my job in the tech industry and began working inside of Founder’s as a patient advocate.”

Whether it is through guiding women through prohibitive reproductive health laws, lobbying for laws to protect women from facing harassment while accessing health care, or putting up billboards that call out anti-choice politicians, Amanda is dedicated to continuing her valuable work.

pro-choice-cats-first-billboard4“A big motivator is seeing people [who] want to take our rights away,” Amanda says determinedly. One of these people is Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has continue to support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, threatened to limit women’s rights, and bragged about his own sexual assault allegations.

With the support of her allies and fans of Pro-Choice Cats, Amanda continues to stand up for access to reproductive healthcare.

An original version of this blog was posted on September 9th, 2015.


Teen Pregnancy Leads to Early Marriage in Many Countries, Study Finds

What does poverty mean for young people in the developing world? For far too many girls it means adolescent sexual activity – often transactional – followed by pregnancy and early marriage.

An estimated 15 million girls are married before their 18th birthdays each year – that’s 28 girls every minute. A recent study conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in Kenya and Zambia, shows that gender inequality and economic insecurity are the leading factors of early marriage. When a girl lacks economic opportunities to support herself, or cannot receive support from her family, she is more likely to become involved in adolescent transactional sexual activity.

- Courtesy of ICRW

Societal pressure and economic barriers often lead girls to early marriage. – Courtesy of ICRW

This study is among the first to find that, in this region, teen pregnancy oftentimes precedes early marriage. After a young girl becomes pregnant, her family and community may pressure her into marrying as a means of providing for herself and her child.

Breaking the cycle of early marriage isn’t a quick task. As aid organizations continue their work for ending the cultural acceptance of early marriage and empowering girls, it is imperative to remember the importance of social and cultural norms that sustain early marriage. Involving youth, their parents, community elders, and health professionals in the conversation is essential for lasting success and cultural and societal change.

In the context of the countries and communities where teen pregnancy lead to early and forced marriage, one important remedy to early marriage is the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. Engaging parents and community leaders in discussions about sexual health and adolescence addresses misconceptions head on, while earning the respect and legitimacy of the community, will help advocates break down harmful stigmas.

In Kenya, mothers with their babies come for monthly health clinics to receive check-ups on their children's health and early development, and for vaccinations

In Kenya, mothers with their babies come for monthly health clinics to receive check-ups on their children’s health and early development, and for vaccinations. © 2014 Karolina Lagiewka, Courtesy of Photoshare

Given the important role reproductive rights can play in the empowering of young girls and preventing early marriages, it is imperative that leaders around the world contribute more to funding services. This is especially urgent right now as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is struggling with a funding shortfall which will hinder the organization’s important work in making reproductive health services available around the world. As a global leader in family planning and reproductive health funding, the United States has to commit to increasing support in order to prevent a looming public health crisis caused by lack of access to contraception.

Investing more in the reproductive health of teenagers is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart move for global development. In fact, for every dollar spent on contraception and reproductive health services, we can save four dollars, which can be used for improving the quality of life in the most impoverished communities.

Ensuring that women and girls have access to the knowledge and tools needed for their reproductive health will go significantly further than just providing them with contraception. It will empower women and girls to be the decision-makers in their own lives and maintain control over their bodies. In fact, more we invest in women’s empowerment, the less frequently we will see the perpetuation of harmful practices such as early marriage. It’s time to give girls equal access to a fulfilling life.



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Since 1968, Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth or ZPG) has been America's voice for population stabilization—we are the largest grassroots population organization in the United States, with over 40,000 members, and hundreds of thousands more supporters and participating educators!

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