Bernie Sanders Advocates Population Control in ‘Poor Countries’

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Dover, N.H., September 1, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Progressives still view The Population Bomb as a policy manual, not a discredited screed about the end of the world.

During yesterday evening’s lengthy climate-change town hall, Democratic candidates proposed a variety of increasingly absurd policies to address environmental issues. California senator Kamala Harris, for instance, continued her theme of promising to arrogate unconstitutional power to herself as president, announcing that she would deal with supposed GOP obstruction on climate change by abolishing the filibuster.

Entirely ignored during the course of the event was the fact that all seven Democratic senators running for president have signed on as cosponsors of the Green New Deal in the Senate but, when it came to the floor this spring, refused to vote for it. So much for an “existential threat.”

The most outrageous comment came from Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who responded to a question about population growth by expressing support for taxpayer-funded abortion in poor countries. Here’s the full exchange:

Audience member: Good evening. Human population growth has more than doubled in the past 50 years. The planet cannot sustain this growth. I realize this is a poisonous topic for politicians, but it’s crucial to face. Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact. Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?

Sanders: The answer is yes. And the answer has everything to do with the fact that women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions. The Mexico City agreement, which denies American aid to those organizations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control, to me is totally absurd. I think especially in poor countries around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to control the number of kids they have, it’s something I very, very strongly support.

Sanders isn’t alone in linking abortion rights to concerns about the climate. Some of the most ardent abortion-rights activists routinely lament the choice to have children, on the grounds that doing so is bad for the environment. Pro-abortion organizations, meanwhile, turn that unwarranted concern into a policy agenda, spending their resources foisting abortion and contraception on women in Africa, most of whom want no part of it.

Pushing birth control and abortion as a means of lowering population growth, and specifically of eliminating “undesirable” populations, is not a new tactic on the part of progressives. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, for instance, was a pioneer in the eugenics movement’s effort to provide contraception to minority communities, largely to limit the continued growth of what she deemed unwanted populations. Sanger put a fine point on this in her writings: “The feebleminded are notoriously prolific in reproduction.”

In the early 20th century, many medical experts, lawmakers, and activists in the U.S. even went so far as to advocate forced sterilization, which came to fruition in the widespread use of government-sanctioned, federally funded sterilizations targeted at thousands of disabled and mentally ill people, immigrants, minority women, and the poor. This regime was sanctioned by the Supreme Court’s decision in Buck v. Bell (1927). Referring to the defendant, who had been sterilized at birth, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” That horrific decision has never been overturned.

In his 1968 manifesto The Population Bomb, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich turned the concern about minority overpopulation into a broader movement concerned that human reproduction in general would contribute to the apocalypse. Ehrlich swore that the end was nigh, predicting “an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity” within the following 15 years.

Adherents of Ehrlich’s group Zero Population Growth embraced the notion that childbearing ought to be forbidden, and Ehrlich argued that compulsion would be acceptable. “There’s too many people, and we’d like to see people have fewer children and better ones,” Ehrlich’s disciple Stewart Brand said at the time. “Maybe anybody who’s thinking of having a third child ought to go hungry a week.”

Ehrlich favored creating a blacklist of anyone who impeded population control, imposing taxes on those who had children, and awarding responsibility prizes to childless couples. The worldwide fear about his predictions was acted on most aggressively in India, where the government conducted 8 million sterilizations over a period of two years in the 1970s.

But Ehrlich has been proven obviously and dramatically wrong — and not because citizens of the world listened to his cries and ceased reproducing. “I was recently criticized because I had said many years ago that I would bet that England wouldn’t exist in the year 2000,” he said in a 2014 interview. “Well, England did exist in the year 2000, but that was only 14 years ago.”

Even so, today’s progressives evidently have internalized Ehrlich’s theories, despite no longer advocating methods as aggressive as forced sterilization. By advocating taxpayer-funded abortion in “poor countries,” Sanders not only exaggerates the environmental threat of overpopulation but also displays grotesque chauvinism in his demand that the world comply with the West’s determination to exterminate our future.


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