In a year filled with many…memorable…milestones, 2016 closed with a truly depressing one, as giraffes were added to a list of “vulnerable” species headed towards eventual extinction for the first time. Their numbers have declined precipitously over the last three decades, according to a report released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains endangered species lists.
The culprit? You guessed it—human population pressures.
Habitat destruction due to human activity—such as logging, farming, and armed conflicts—is pushing giraffe populations to the breaking point throughout the African continent. An ever-expanding human population, largely unchecked due to a huge unmet need for family planning, is having a frighteningly damaging effect on these majestic animals.
U.S. funding of international family planning programs has the greatest impact in the developing world, where women desperately want to limit their family size but lack the means to do so. All ten of the countries with the highest total fertility rates are currently located on the African continent. Home to some of the world’s most iconic wildlife, these nations are struggling to meet the needs of their human inhabitants while protecting the natural habitats that these animals depend on.
And sadly, the implementation of the Global Gag Rule has thrown another huge obstacle into the path of slowing population growth throughout the developing world. It deeply undermines progress made towards smaller families and more sustainable communities. Humans and wildlife alike will suffer the consequences if we don’t keep fighting to make international family planning a funding priority.
I had the unparalleled pleasure of marching with women (and friends of women) at San Diego’s Women’s March. I have never experienced a feeling of total solidarity and pride in my gender as I did that day. The moment I hopped in my Lyft to head downtown, my driver, an older woman named Marlene, told me that although she had to work, she was proud of us for marching and was with us in spirit. I was one of many people she was ferrying down to the march, and our conversation sparked that initial fire that burned steadily even after the march was over.
By the time I arrived, the crowd was too thick to get anywhere near the Civic Center. I could only vaguely make out the voices projected over microphone. We waited with anticipation for any sign that we could begin to march. I chatted with the people around me, and we all took turns taking pictures of each other and complimenting creative signs and outfits. It started to rain pretty heavily while we waited, and the ones who brought umbrellas generously shared with those who did not. Despite the poor weather and increasingly claustrophobic conditions, the sense of cheerful community was palpable. People broke out in to song, singing “We are family! I got all my sisters with me!”
Cheers erupted when we finally started to walk. Call and response chants were spontaneous and frequent, the most popular refrain being “Love trumps hate.” People of all walks of life attended: Men, women, and children of all races and age groups. The crowd was kind and respectful, making extra room for wheelchair bound participants and the elderly. The Kumeyaay – the native tribe indigenous to this part of Southern and Baja California – marched as well, resplendent in elaborate traditional garb, cleansing the air with burning sage. Their drums set the tempo for the march, maintaining a steady pulse.
The most notable aspect of the signage at the march was the unabashed references to female reproduction. Amongst the sea of pink pussy hats, it was variations on a theme: the female form was on proud display, a strange and startling sight to behold in a public space. If not being used for sexual objectification, our bodies are typically rebuked, painted as a source of shame. It was revelatory to see such open celebration honoring the sacred autonomous functionality of the female sex, claiming it as our own to both define and control. It was, in a word, liberating.
Some are saying this is the largest demonstration in American history. And while it originated here, there is a reason the march spread internationally – women’s rights are human rights. This is very much a global issue. Access to reproductive health care and family planning is not only an essential right to basic care and bodily autonomy, it is crucial to the fight for environmental justice. Deforestation, food and water shortages, and climate change are exacerbated by unmitigated population growth. Study after study has shown that the best way to combat overpopulation is to provide robust resources for women’s reproductive health.
Trump, unfortunately, appears to be making good on his promise to undercut reproductive rights with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule. This is a threat to women everywhere, including Mother Earth. The women who marched on Saturday know this. There were many signs that proclaimed “I’m With Her” with an arrow pointing to Earth, and others that simply asserted the simple fact that “Climate Change is Real.” Environmental rights and women’s rights are inextricable.
The fight ahead will not be easy. But after witnessing the abundance of positive, proactive energy all over the world, I have great hope that we have the momentum necessary to push women’s rights to the fore, to expand reproductive justice, and to overcome the damaging policies sure to come our way.
On Saturday, millions of women took to the streets around the world in protest. Their message was loud, and it was clear—women’s rights are human rights, and all elected officials should sit up and take notice that curtailing the rights of our nation’s and world’s most vulnerable people will not stand.
Yet today, Donald Trump and Mike Pence decided to use their first week in power to undermine women’s health, rights and security around the world by imposing the Global Gag Rule.
This means that, as of today, it is now illegal for any overseas health clinic that receives U.S. aid to even talk about abortion. The Gag Rule creates a major dilemma for foreign organizations that rely upon foreign aid to empower women with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and services. By “gagging” their ability to even discuss abortions—even though no U.S. aid can be used to provide them—it forces providers to censor how the advise patients or risk going bankrupt. Moreover, documentation by a consortium of NGO’s has found that abortion rates (resulting from decreased access to contraceptives) go up when the Global Gag Rule is in place. Not only does this policy result in outcomes that directly contradict it’s supposed aims (to make abortions rarer), it directly hurts women and families already living in some of the world’s poorest places.
Offering aid on conditions that reduce the quality of family planning programs makes it impossible for organizations working on the ground to effectively serve their communities. Several countries whose family planning assistance was severely cut due to the imposition of the Gag Rule have revised their population projections upward. Kenya is perhaps the most jarring example: before the Gag Rule, Kenya’s population in 2050 was projected to be 44 million. In the latest revision, however, that figure rose to 97 million. This example illustrates the time sensitive nature of compounding population growth. Each generation creates a larger base upon which the next generation grows.
It’s easy to see that this policy is both deeply damaging to individual women all over the globe AND to the well being of our entire planet. We know that the most effective way to slow global population growth is to ensure universal access to modern family planning methods. The Gag Rule deeply undermines the progress we’ve made towards smaller families and more productive, sustainable communities. If you’d like to take action to fight back against the imposition of the Global Gag Rule, sign our sister organization Population Connection Action Fund’s pledge here.
Fake news played a hand in some of 2016’s most pivotal events—going so far as to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. The Oxford Dictionaries even made post-truth its 2016 Word of the Year.
So in other words…flat out lies.
After the recent emergence of an insane alt-right conspiracy positing that Hillary Clinton and campaign chair John Podesta were running a pedophilia ring from the basement of a DC pizza parlor (which does not even have a basement), a North Carolina man took it upon himself to “self-investigate” by entering the pizza shop with a rifle, pointing it at an employee, and firing a shot. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the “Pizzagate” incident brought to light just how dangerous post-truth politics can be.
Clearly, flinging around stories, “facts,” and outright conspiracies untethered from reality holds the potential to erode public understanding of some of society’s most pressing issues.
Women across America have already become victims of post-truth nonsense. Anyone who watched the final presidential debate remembers Donald Trump’s jaw dropping “rip the baby out of the womb” at nine months gestation comment. Post-election, we’ve seen a striking increase in abortion restrictions. Many of the architects of these restrictive proposals proudly state that they were inspired by Trump’s anti-choice rhetoric. Here are a few of the most dangerous examples:
- In November, Texas passed a law requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated after an abortion for no medical reason whatsoever, but rather out of “respect for the sanctity of life.” Fortunately, a judge issued a temporary restraining order before it went into effect on December 19.
- Just last month, Ohio state legislatures passed a bill to make abortion illegal after 6 weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. Using Donald Trump’s anti-choice fallacies, these Ohio legislators are feeding into the post-truth arena and deepening its damage. Although the bill was not signed by Ohio Governor Kasich, a 20-week abortion ban, just as harmful, was approved instead.
- The new version of the booklet (A Woman’s Right to Know) that Texas requires all women to read before having an abortion links the procedure to breast cancer—a claim that has been unanimously debunked by doctors.
- As Trump fills his Cabinet and staffs his White House, the public continues to face fallacies and threats to reproductive healthcare. Katy Talento, a new pick for Trump’s healthcare staff suggested that birth control can lead to infertility and miscarriages. This is not only wildly untrue, but harmful to the progress made by medical researchers around the world.
When they enter political debate, such lies no longer exist in a vacuum—they do real harm to real people.
Case in point, environmental issues have also already been touched by post-truthers, fueled by Trump’s baseless rhetoric asserting that climate change is a “hoax.”
We know, factually, that climate change is threatening the very future of human civilization, yet the incoming administration stands by its plans to increase the use of industrial oil and gas over the next four years. Post-truth “news” sites have appealed to these terrible policy suggestions, twisting meteorology and the words of climate scientists to support their own claims that climate change is “science fiction.”
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the EPA, has continued to prove his disbelief in the reality of climate change and its real impact on the planet. During his January 18th confirmation hearing, Pruitt denied that climate change is due to human activity, even though this a widely-accepted scientific fact. Maybe it’s his close ties to big oil, or his five failed attempts to sue the EPA to stop regulations on pesticides, but it has become clear that Pruitt will refuse to face the reality of climate change.
Fatalities at a pizza parlor may have been prevented, but legislative attacks on women’s rights and our planet won’t be spared if we don’t push back against the proliferation of fallacies standing in for facts. Our planet, and all of its inhabitants, depend on organized action grounded in empirical evidence—not convenient “truths” peddled by those with a hidden agenda. It is important that we expose the harm of fake news, especially on women and marginalized communities, as we enter the next era of American politics. As each day brings us closer to Donald Trump’s Administration, it is more important than ever for each of us to consume information critically and consider its source—and to challenge those who believe and/or propagate fake news.
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 Worldof7Billion.org and www.WorldPopulationHistory.org, 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.
- We’re adding 228,000 people to our planet every day, or 83 million a year. Global population is projected to surpass 8,000,000,000 people in just SEVEN YEARS.
- Right now, 225 million women in the developing world who want to avoid pregnancy are not using modern contraception. Every year, women in the developing world have 74 million unintended pregnancies, which result in 28 million unintended births
- In the U.S., nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. For teen pregnancies, that number jumps to four out of five.
- In 2015, 303,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Each year, an estimated 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions.
- Over 900 million people—1 in 7—live in poverty.
- One in nine people doesn’t have enough food to eat, and one in seven people lives with water scarcity.
- We consume one and a half times Earth’s renewable resources every year.
- Human activities have driven thousands of species to extinction, triggering what scientists now call the Sixth Mass Extinction.
- We have accelerated the pace of climate change, and scientists warn of the possibility of a 6 foot sea level rise by the end of the century.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com.
- Are you a professional educator? Do you teach in a classroom, or know somebody who does? Visit our PopEd program’s website at populationeducation.org 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
First 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.
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.
In September, we spoke with Amanda Patton, a spunky, bright 28-year old reproductive health activist and founder of Pro-Choice Cats (www.prochoicecats.com), 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.
Cats 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.
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.
“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.