January 20, 2015

Don’t breed ‘like rabbits’: Was Pope Francis breaking new ground on birth control?

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Pope Francis gestures as he speaks with journalists on his flight back from Manila to Rome on Monday (January 19, 2015). Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Giuseppe Cacace/Pool  
*Note: This photo may only be used with RNS-POPE-CONTRACEPTION, published on January 20, 2015

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks with journalists on his flight back from Manila to Rome on Monday (January 19, 2015). Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Giuseppe Cacace/Pool *Note: This photo may only be used with RNS-POPE-CONTRACEPTION, published on January 20, 2015

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(RNS) As Pope Francis often does, he is shifting the focus from the “rules” to the principle behind the rules, even on such closed-book issues as birth control.

  • Jack

    The Pope has it precisely backwards. Affluence leads to smaller families, not the other way around.

  • Jack

    To clarify, affluence leads to smaller families, but smaller families do not necessarily lead to affluence. And low birth rates are correlated with low or no-growth economics…..you cannot have serious economic growth without continued population growth. Why? Because wealth isn’t what’s in the ground….it’s the thing in people that enables them to discover new uses for what’s in the ground.

    Put another way, people don’t just consume; they produce. They don’t just take jobs; they create jobs.

    For some reason, we have a Malthusian blind spot that only sees other people as takers, not givers, consumers, not producers…..

    Ask China how well that’s going to turn out when their one-child-only policies inevitably lead to hundreds of millions of elderly Chinese and not enough younger people to support them.

    It will be a humanitarian disaster of….er…..biblical proportions.

  • Good article. One thought though:

    “malleable” does not necessarily imply “wobbly.”

  • Larry

    That doesn’t even remotely make sense from any kind of logical POV.

    Smaller families mean resources are concentrated on fewer individuals.

    In general people have smaller families where women have decent access to education and career opportunities. Women put off producing a litter in their 20’s to concentrate on education and careers. Children become more a voluntary act for families than accidental “blessing”. Family incomes increase and more resources are available. .

    Large families generally lead to impoverished existence unless one is from a wealthy family. Frequently, unexpected or unwanted pregnancy is a major cause of poverty. Having children when one does not have the economic or social wherewithal to handle them in a sane manner. The nations with the largest birthrates are also the ones with the highest infant mortality and lowest per capita incomes.

    Low birth rates are associated with high levels of education and economic stability. Its why the countries with the lowest birthrates have some of the highest per capital incomes in the world.

    “Put another way, people don’t just consume; they produce. They don’t just take jobs; they create jobs. ”

    But you are assuming a nation is a closed system. Immigration is becoming the norm for virtually the entire developed world. Developing countries, those with poor education and economic systems and rampant birthrates are supplying the labor to keep developed economies going.

    “Ask China how well that’s going to turn out when their one-child-only policies inevitably lead to hundreds of millions of elderly Chinese and not enough younger people to support them.”

    Not the best example since the one-child-only policy is frequently subverted by wealthy Chinese or ignored in the poorer interior of the nation. If you want something to blame over there, blame patriarchal culture (much like what is espoused by religious fundamentalists of all stripes). The desire for male heirs created a gender imbalance in much of the nation. One of many reasons for an ongoing Chinese diaspora.

    There is no sane or rational reason for opposing contraception. It is entirely based on rather silly religious notions borne of a time when cultural dominance frequently came by demographically overwhelming others.

  • Martin Silvain

    So Pope Pius XII invented abstaining in the 1950s?

    “Yet as Francis often does, he is shifting the focus from the “rules” to the principle behind the rules.”

    Which is what? It’s the principle that Gibson gets wrong – that every conjugal act must be unitive and open to life – when he implicitly equates it with the erroneous idea that the only licit sex is that which results in conception.

  • Jack

    But I don’t oppose contraception at all. I strongly support it as a choice. But I don’t see it as some sort of global or familial imperative, ie like the zero-population-growth fanatics and the demand-side economists who are viewing reality upside down. The idea that more people is bad for the planet was refuted long ago, when Paul Ehrlich, the high priest of Malthusian population peddlers, lost a bet with Julian Simon on the direction of resource prices.

    I used to think like you on politics and other societal issues. That was when I was a teenager. Then I grew up and took a good hard look at the real world.

  • Betty Clermont

    Selective reporting about this pope is the prerequisite for those who earn their living this way. Omitted by every paid commentator is this remark by the pope which accompanied his “breeding like rabbits” comment: “responsible parenthood. how do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood.”

  • Susan

    Pope Francis needs to talk to an Ob-Gyn, because natural planning does not work.

  • Susan

    I took birth control pills for years for medical reasons that had nothing to do with birth control. It saved me a great deal of discomfort and pain due to an irregular cycle.

  • Larry

    So you oppose the most extreme and least popular view on the subject. So what? It still doesn’t make any of what you said sensible or true.

    Malthus was wrong. The Green Revolution put his ideas to bed. Famine is far far less prevalent than it was back in his day. Nowadays it is largely a function of conflict, not lack of national resources.

    More people are bad for the planet if growth is unsustainable. We have an impact on the environment. Both in our living spaces and the infrastructure needed to keep it going. Urban and agricultural growth is one of the leading cause of species extinctions. Waste removal and clean water issues are some of the most important, yet mostly ignored by the public at large. Where is all of our crap going?

    The best forms of population control have been the least appreciated: education and gender equality. Women entering the white collar workplace and generating real income in careers.

    “I used to think like you on politics and other societal issues. That was when I was a teenager. ”

    If it makes you feel better, you still act like one with your snide remarks and your ideas are infantile. Nothing you said in your first post was remotely based in facts or sensible.

  • Scott

    Natural family planning does work — if taught properly. I can tell you that my wife and I have used it successfully for years. The problem is that it isn’t often taught properly — even in Catholic circles.

  • Francis speaks of “responsible parenthood” and decries “breeding like rabbits”. But in Manila recently he defended the Vatican’s 1968 ban on contraception, foolishly promulgated by Pope Paul VI against the advice of nearly all of his own advisers. “Responsible parenthood” and combating climate change require universal access to contraception and legalization of abortion. Francis needs to decide which side he is on. – Edd Doerr (arlinc.org)

  • Larry

    Scott, it has NEVER worked anywhere. “Natural” family planning has been used for centuries. It is essentially synonymous with no family planning whatsoever. Your claim of “it isn’t often taught properly” is garbage. Judging by its effects, it isn’t taught “properly” anywhere in the world, by anyone. Assuming it is even realistic or possible to do so. The reason the overwhelming majority of Catholics ignore the church’s stance on contraception is because it is so unrealistic and unworkable.

    Burying your head in the sand and telling people about abstinence has never been a successful policy. All it does is give some self-righteous people an excuse to wag fingers at the general public with nonsense assertions such as, “it doesn’t work because you are all so sinful!!”

  • Jack

    Larry, the guy just said it worked for him and his wife, so either he’s lying or you’ve shot yourself in the foot for the zillionth time as a result of making a sweeping, absolutist statement.

  • Larry

    Scott hardly made much of an endorsement. Hardly a credible one for “natural methods” as being effective. For all we know he has 12 kids, never has relations with his wife anymore, or is too old to procreate. [Exaggerating for effect] Or is fibbing.

    Abstinence only methods as a policy is a failure. Every objective study on the subject, even a federal one done under the GWB presidency all pointed to abject uselessness.
    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/02/20/3310751/abstinence-failures-charts/

    The claim “it isn’t taught right” is repeated constantly when people are faced with the plain truth of the matter.

  • It does not seem to occur to people that Francis’ remarks might mean very little other than to indicate to whom he was ingratiating himself at that moment. Understanding Francis requires assessing actions (which are abusive toward those who favor the traditional rite and indulgent to promoters of heresy).

  • That doesn’t even remotely make sense from any kind of logical POV.

    It make sense to those familiar with the temporal relationship between economic development and fertility. (And those do not include you).

  • foolishly promulgated by Pope Paul VI against the advice of nearly all of his own advisers.

    The prohibition on artificial contraception is ancient. It was not conjured up by Pope Paul in 1968, nor would any responsible pontiff pay attention to ‘advisers’ who told him to reverse defined teaching. The ‘advisers’ would have offered more sophisticated arguments than the world’s professional atheist motormouths in any case.

  • If it makes you feel better, you still act like one with your snide remarks and your ideas are infantile. Nothing you said in your first post was remotely based in facts or sensible.

    I’ve never quite figured out whether statements like this from you are just forensic chaff or whether you have a capacity for projection that is abnormally well developed.

  • Larry

    No it doesn’t. Not even close. I don’t know whether you are a bald faced liar, compulsive curmudgeon, or just ignorant.

    The most “fertile” places on the planet, where family sizes are the largest on average, are some of the poorest. Places where subsistence agriculture is the predominate economic activity.

    Its telling that some of the nations with the lowest birth rates are some of the wealthiest per capita (ex. Singapore, Germany and Japan).
    Family sizes decrease based on many factors involving increases in economic development:
    – Low infant mortality
    – Access to career and education opportunities for women
    – Increased sustainability of urbanization
    – Economies moving from production based to consumption based.
    All of this works to make small families more beneficial and desired in developed economies.

  • Larry

    Effective contraception is fairly modern. That being said, there is not a single sane and rational argument made against contraception. Without the religious impetus, this would be a non-issue.

  • Jack

    It sounds like you have bits and pieces of facts in your head on the economics/environment/population set of issues, but you don’t fully understand the connections, how to put them together, or why and how Malthus was wrong and what that implies for the left on nearly every issue and for the right on the immigration issue.

    Malthus’ blind spot was not just on the demand side, ie his failure to see how population increases level off with rising affluence, but on the supply side as well, with his failure to appreciate the ability of free men and women to create and invent and transform, resulting in new technology which raised productivity, most notably agricultural productivity, to astronomical levels that seemed like fantasy not many decades ago. He failed to see that the real source of wealth is not what’s in the ground, but what’s in people — the ingenuity and creativity that enables them to take what’s in the ground and make real wealth from it.

  • Jack

    Art Deco, the content of Larry’s posts shows that he doesn’t quite understand what the issues are, let alone how they hang together or which positions flow from which premises.

  • Jack

    Larry, nobody is denying a correlation or even a causal connection between low national birth rates and high national affluence. The question is one of direction. Are low national birth rates the cause, or are they the effect, of high national affluence? You seem to think they’re the cause. In fact, they are the effect.

    But as to how nations got rich in the first place, it’s the other way around. While most high-population-growth nations are poor, it is hardly the high population which makes them so. Extremely high population growth is mostly a modern phenomenon, with record declines in infant mortality rates and record improvement in health care driving down death rates across the world.

    A Malthusian view would predict mass starvation as a result. But Malthus forgot that the same human ingenuity that came up with inventions that drove down the death rates would eventually come up with innovations to raise farm productivity.

    The modern problem is that while in some places, that ingenuity was unleashed due to high levels of education and political and social structures that honored human freedom and awarded human initiative, in other places, it remained bottled up because of the dearth of these good things.

    Again, population growth wasn’t the problem…..on the contrary, without population growth, you cannot have economic growth. The problem was that in too many places where there was population growth, there were no institutions or pro-freedom cultures conductive to wealth-building.

    IN other words, population growth was and is a necessary but insufficient condition for creating affluence. The paradox is that rising affluence leads to a decline in population growth and eventually no-growth economies. For a good while, nations can mask the problem by immigration or tremendous technological advances as a result of past growth spurts, but in the long run, population stagnation will lead to growth-and-opportunity stagnation.

    This is one explanation for the cyclical rise and fall of nations.

    But for high-population growth countries that are impoverished, the late Jack Kemp said it best: The problem isn’t global maldistribution of wealth….it’s global maldistribution of democracy and freedom, including economic freedom.

  • Larry

    Do you have something other than derogatory remarks and gish gallop asides, because it doesn’t appear you have a coherent or well conceived point to make.

    “Malthus’ blind spot was not just on the demand side, ie his failure to see how population increases level off with rising affluence, but on the supply side as well”

    Hence my reference to the Green Revolution. The major change in agricultural technology which allowed for a global population increase in the billions within 1-2 generations.

    We both agreed that Malthus was wrong. It was an irrelevancy. None of it is even remotest support that large families are conducive to economic development.

  • Shawnie5

    My husband and I used it successfully for our first two years together (no moral reservations about contraception, but we were saving every cent to put into a new house and I didn’t want to pay for it). It CAN work, but it largely depends on the individual woman’s physiology, how regular her cycle is, and how aware she is of its rhythms.

  • Larry

    Jack, you are trying to shift goalposts here and ignored some important points I made.

    Population growth of a developed nation is not purely the function of birthrates and family sizes. You made an initial assumption of national populations as a closed system. It was completely erroneous. The US has fairly consistent population growth but rapidly declining family sizes on average.

    The reason for it is immigration. Taking advantage of the rampant birthrates in the developing world to make up for a declining workforce in the developed world. Developed countries with restrictive immigration are facing declines. Japan is a perfect example of this. In light of such facts, they have developed a semi-coherent immigration policy in the last 20 years.

    Immigration factors into population growth for the developed world. In the developed world it accounts for the predominate population growth. It is far easier to import labor than to expect educated career women to become mass breeders.

    Large families in developing countries are a result of poor economies. They are a result of poor education, few opportunities for women, and the prevalence of subsistence agriculture (which demands large numbers of people and is seldom mechanized to any real extent). In well industrialized or information age economies large families become a greater liability. A sign of poverty sustainable due to the prevalence of public assistance.

    There is no example of a country which is economically developed with high per capita income with high birthrates. Its immigration which accounts for the population growths

  • Larry

    Such statements are akin to claims of systems of “beating” various casino games. You might find some isolated anecdotal signs of success but it never works as a long term strategy or policy. In the end such methods are more clearly failure than what is likely or usually happens.

  • Larry

    Low birth rates are actively sought in affluent nations as a means of sustaining affluence and a function of it. Few children means more resources devoted per children.

    Smaller families also usually mean a large increase in earning with both parents employed. Large families with the greater demands on personal resources for childcare make dual income families next to impossible. So not only is it preferential in affluent societies to have small families, it also is conducive to economic growth to families as well. Both cause and effect in a continuum.

    Population growth is not based on birthrate in the developed world anyway. It is a function of immigration. You have been barking up the wrong tree with half-baked conclusions and missing the big picture.

  • Scott, it has NEVER worked anywhere.

    You do not know what you’re talking about; stop beclowning yourself.

  • You are just ignorant on this subject.

  • That being said, there is not a single sane and rational argument made against contraception.

    No. Larry lacks the skills and interest to investigate and assess those arguments, so he pretends they are not extant.

  • Art Deco, the content of Larry’s posts shows that he doesn’t quite understand what the issues are, let alone how they hang together or which positions flow from which premises.

    On this thread and on every other in which he participates. The chronic confusion is either feeding his unearned self-confidence or the latter is a pose masking the chronic confusion. I’ve never figured out which is the case.

  • Larry, you’re out of your depth.

  • Shawnie5

    @Art Deco:

    I have. It’s the latter, most definitely.

  • Greg

    Larry: You stated that “[e]ffective contraception is fairly modern. That being said, there is not a single sane and rational argument made against contraception. Without the religious impetus…” Well I don’t think this issue is only a religious one, although it is very important to Christianity. But from the non-religious perspective, contraception destroys marriages. It is one of the root causes of divorce. I’ve read testimony of women who are not religious, but have agreed to practice Natural Family Planning, and … who suddenly felt like women again. Contraception transforms a woman into a mere receptacle for her husband’s sexual pleasure. When couples practice Natural Family Planning, they actually talk more to one another, understand each other’s bodies better, enjoy each other in many and diverse ways, beyond just life in the bedroom. And … they develop a deep trust between them. Contraception, on the other hand, has made marital infidelity a breeze; it makes sex outside of the marriage a snap. The worst thing a couple can do is have sex before marriage, and then to practice contraception once married. Those two things, if practiced, are a recipe for divorce. Contraception is the largest destroyer of marriage, with or without religion.

  • no

    Psycho pedo pope, I bet he has a herd of boys dressed in thongs in his closet, aren’t Catholics and religious nuts known for that?

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  • Mark P. Kessinger

    @Greg – “Contraception destroys marriages.” Care to cite some evidence for that absurd claim? My own parents had a 51-year (until death), very happy marriage. They were Presbyterians, not Roman Catholics. I am the youngest of five siblings. Although my parents had a large family, they believed in, and used, effective contraception, choosing to have kids only when they felt they were in a position to responsibly do so. I am not married, but my four siblings, all of whom have used contraception as a means of family planning, are all happily married. Their respective marriages have lasted 44 years, 42 years, 39 years and 27 years respectively. Millions of other happily married couples have done so as well. Sorry, but a couple of anecdotes about women you know who suddenly “feel like women again” is not a valid basis on which to state such a sweeping claim. Unless you can provide verifiable data that supports your half-baked hypothesis, then it remains a half-baked…

  • Mark P. Kessinger

    How does he know if it “worked?” The mere fact that his wife didn’t get pregnant during that time proves nothing, because every unprotected copulation does not, and never has, resulted in pregnancy. (indeed, a nephew of mine and his wife tried — prodigiously, I’m told — to conceive a child for nearly three years before she finally got pregnant, and there was no identifiable medical issue with either one of them that should have prevented a pregnancy. More likely, Scott and his wife were statistically lucky. in order to make any valid assessment of ‘natural’ family planning, one would have to survey a statistically significant sampling of couples who were using that method, and a corresponding group of couples who were using conventional contraceptive methods, and compare the number of unplanned pregnancies that resulted in each of the two groups.

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