Santa Cruz Good Times

Oct 07th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Planned Parenthood Revisited

condomsA look at the environmental consequences of family planning budget cuts
This year the Earth’s population will hit seven billion, and this number will climb to nine billion by 2050, according to United Nations (UN) reports.

Even though the United States will produce fewer children than developing nations, our growth will have disproportionately detrimental environmental impacts. By the time Americans hit age 16, it’s not unusual for iPods, camera phones and personal cars to be added to the list of needs that includes food and shelter. In fact, according to the Sierra Club, the average American child uses as many resources as 35 youth in India.

As we move forward into an increasingly populated future, contraception, sex education and birth control services may help slow population growth. Yet despite evidence that family planning offers environmental as well as social benefits, the conservative House of Representatives nearly cut funding for Planned Parenthood during the heated budget showdown on Friday, April 8.

A policy rider was originally proposed barring the nonprofit from receiving federal funding, according to Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM). After a successful lobby on behalf of family planning, the federal budget passed on Friday, April 8 without the controversial amendment.

But despite the victory, Planned Parenthood representatives say the threat of cutbacks remains. “We expect conservative members to continue pushing to include the proposal to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funds in upcoming budget proposals,” says Fran Linkin, Santa Cruz spokesperson for PPMM, which operates clinics in 29 California counties.

This week the Senate will consider restructuring Title X—a federal grant program that helps fund family planning services offered by groups like Planned Parenthood. Nationwide, Title X organizations prevent an estimated 973,000 unintended pregnancies each year, according to the Washington D.C.-based Guttmacher Institute, which works to advance sexual and reproductive health issues. If Title X funds were cut altogether, Linkin estimates that 65,000 individuals stand to lose services at PPMM, impacting one fourth of its patients. The restucturing is not expected to defund Planned Parenthood, but will include severe cuts to Title X.

Family Planning Footprints

Though the media has given little attention to the environmental impacts of family planning, recent analysis from the New York, NY-based Population Council shows that birth control and education help reduce our human footprint.

“The United States is one of the few rich countries still growing,” says John Bongaarts, distinguished scholar at the Population Council. “And since the average American consumes more natural resources like oil and water, the more rapidly the U.S. population grows, the more serious global environmental problems become.”

In February, just hours after the House of Representatives sent the first round of family planning cuts to the Senate, which responded with a veto, Bongaarts presented his research on population growth at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C. His analysis shows that family planning can help reduce the number of unwanted and unintended pregnancies in the United States.

“We might reduce unwanted pregnancies from 15 percent to 5 percent with access to family planning and better information in schools,” says Bongaart. He adds that, currently, 35 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unintended or unwanted—a higher number than is currently found in most other developed nations, where contraception is more easily obtained.

At the global level, a lack of family planning may cause populations to skyrocket faster than previously predicted. The UN projects that fertility rates will stabilize and decrease after numbers hit 9.5 billion—this is based on low levels of childbearing in Southern and Eastern Europe, and an assumption that women in other geographic locations will eventually have fewer than two children, on average. Yet Bongaart argues that fertility rates may not decrease without family planning options, at least not in many regions.

“If contraception and family planning options aren’t available, we could hit 10 or even 11 billion by [2100], and this will put a much larger strain on environmental resources than we are currently feeling,” he says. In contrast, he has found that, with massive investments in family planning, the Earth’s population might grow more slowly than analysts predict, and peak at 8 billion. This may be due to the additional life options made available to women by family planning programs.

Even when family planning programs support the option of having a large family, they often still result in overall reductions in population growth. “When women are granted access to comprehensive education about sexuality and family planning health services, and are afforded the support and resources to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, they often voluntarily choose to limit their childbearing,” says Linkin. “Planned Parenthood does not strive to limit childbearing, but rather empower women to make their own decisions about family size.”

Population Debacle

Reducing the rate of population growth has two environmental benefits: it eases the strain on natural resources, and allows for sustainable city planning.

“The environmental benefits come from having fewer people, less pollution, and lower consumption of water, food and oil,” says Bongaart, “but slower population growth also makes it easier for economies and human communities to plan and execute growth.”

When population growth is rapid, cities collapse into cycles of urban sprawl. Slower growth facilitates urban redevelopment projects, which create more compact cities. With the extra time, solar power and rooftop water harvesting can be integrated into homes and offices, and mass transit systems can be designed, replacing cars.

Because cities in the United States use a lot of resources, cuts to national family planning programs may also have more far-reaching, global environmental repercussions.

According to the Sierra Club, the United States contains 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 22 percent of fossil fuel resources. We create 24 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and use 33 percent of papers and plastics.

In many communities, the typical family uses 176 gallons of water a day. In contrast, many African families use five gallons a day. In Australia, where living standards are high, many homes use only 35 gallons, according to a spokesperson from the Santa Rosa-based Post Carbon Institute.

From farm to tabletop, food is also trucked farther in the United States. Each year, a single long-haul truck can release five tons of the particulate-forming air pollutant nitrogen oxide. Finally, to bring produce home from the market, the average American uses 500 plastic bags a year, according to the Surfrider Foundation. These don’t biodegrade and usually can’t be recycled.

This is why the proposed budget cuts have raised concern in the environmental sector as well as the public health and women’s rights communities. “There are a lot of people who argue [that] population growth is the single most important problem facing the human race. If you mess with family planning, you are messing with the planet,” says Kevin Collins, the chair of the Santa Cruz County chapter of the Sierra Club.

As for the future of family planning in the U.S., if the Senate approves cuts to Title X this week, there may be a Presidential veto, says Rodriguez. In the meantime, Americans will continue reproducing. 

Comments (2)Add Comment
written by Lisa B, May 06, 2011
Planned Parenthood doesn't force people to have abortions, and they certainly don't encourage women of color to refrain from bearing children (neither do they encourage white women to have babies). Accusing PP of eugenics is a huge stretch. To the contrary--if we defund birth control policies we will by default force some women who DON'T WANT CHILDREN to become pregnant and become mothers. Often women in these positions are disenfranchised either because of abusive relationships, a lack of family support, religious pressure, youth, or poverty. Why is it ok in your book to force women to have children (when you react so strongly to the idea of forcing women to remain without children)? I find your posting hypocritical.
written by Keith46, April 15, 2011
ONE WORD: EUGENICS. The principal manifestations of eugenics are racism and abortion. Eugenics is the driving force behind euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and embryo and fetal research. It is the driving force in global population policy, and affects American foreign policy. It is the force driving much of the environmentalist movement, welfare policy and welfare reform, and health care.
Eugenics is the study of methods to improve the human race by controlling reproduction. The word was coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. This is a RELIGIOUS belief that has the Goo to You foundation of Darwin that places no value on human life. Government is not the answer and anyone who thinks tax should sport human sacrifices to the selfishness centered religions of the world should check their values against the truth of God.

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Making a Scene

As it celebrates its 30th year, Santa Cruz County’s Open Studios is one of the most successful in the country—and a make-or-break event for many local artists


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


At Clothes Range

FashionART’s 10th anniversary show introduces a new generation of designers on the edge


A Ritual & Initiation

The Pope has come and gone, but his loving presence ignited new hope and goodness in many. While he was in NYC, China’s ruler arrived in Washington D.C. East (China) and West (Rome), meeting in the middle, under Libra, balancing sign of Right Relations. The Pope arrived at Fall Equinox. Things initiated at Fall Equinox are birthed at Winter Solstice. The Pope’s presence was a ritual, an initiation rite—like the Dalai Lama’s visits—offering prayers, teachings and blessings. Rituals anchor God’s plan into the world, initiating us to new realities, new rules. The Pope’s presence brings forth the Soul of the United States, its light piercing the veils of materialism. The Pope’s visit changed things. New questions arise, new reasons for living. A new wave of emerging life fills the air. Like a cocoon shifting, wings becoming visible. The winds are different now. Calling us to higher vision, moral values, virtues that reaffirm and offer hope for humanity. A changing of the guard has occurred. Appropriately, this is the week of the Jewish Festival of Sukkoth (’til Oct. 4), when we build temporary homes (little huts in nature), entering into a harvest of prayer and thanksgiving, understanding our fragile and impermanent existences. We are summoned to reflect upon our lives, our humanity, our nature, our spirit and each other. Offering gratitude, becoming a magnet for others. We observe. We see the needs. We love more.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When people say they’re “going down” somewhere, and they’re actually traveling north. Julia Ragen, Santa Cruz, Psychologist


Downhill Cellars

An easy-drinking Chardonnay from Downhill Cellars


If whales have a message for humans, what might it be?

“Do not come in the water and join us.” Howard Hall, Santa Cruz, Retired


Wargin Wines

The wine world is buzzing about this Pinot Gris