Damage Report: Humanae Vitae at Fifty

Edd Doerr

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the Vatican’s misogynist declaration (“encyclical”) condemning abortion and all forms of contraception. This c olumn will explore the consequences of that catastrophic document.

But first let’s note that Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in defiance of the wise counsel of nearly all members of his own advisory commission; that the overwhelming majority of Catholics ignore the ban; that Catholics have abortions at about the same rate as non-Catholics; and tht one of the more important organizations defending women’s rights of conscience is the respected Washington-based Catholics for Choice, publisher of the excellent journal Conscience. Catholics, including priests, the world over took issue with the Vatican when Humanae Vitae was issued. In Washington, D.C., the Catholic archbishop suspended nineteen priests in the archdiocese for criticizing the contraception ban. (One of the dissenting priests went on to oppose his church in another controversy, becoming a spokesman for a coalition defending public schools at legislative hearings in Maryland over an effort to divert public funds to Catholic and other private schools.)

Less than a month after issuing Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul flew to Bogota, Colombia, to head up an outdoor “Eucharistic Congress” expected to attract a million participants. I was there on holiday and can report. Newspapers were publishing letters by parish priests criticizing the ban. The country’s foreign minister had harsh words for the pope and had to be replaced. When Pope Paul landed in Bogota, the motorcade bringing him from the airport to the capitol made a point of passing in front of the city’s largest family planning facility. Then the Eucharistic Congress was a flop, as people stayed away in droves.

Of course the Vatican is not the only culprit in our planet’s crisis over climate change and overpopulation. There are also the hordes of conservative evangelical preachers and their flocks who make up 20 percent or so of the U.S. population, not to mention conservative religious leaders and cultures the world over. Add in to that general apathy and ignorance aided and abetted by the serious inadequacies of the media in informing their readers and viewers.

We cannot stress too strongly or too often the whole long list of the concomitants, causes, and effects of the climate change and overpopulation crises. Rather than list them all again, let me just refer you to my column in the December 2017/January 2018 Free Inquiry, “Al Gore’s Good but Incomplete Sequel” (available online at https://secularhumanism.org/index.php/articles/9648, no subscriber login required).

At this point, let’s look at some numbers. World population is at about 7.5 billion, quadruple what it was when I was born in 1930. It is projected to reach ten billion by 2050. How many abortions have there been worldwide since Humanae Vitae was released? Over fifty million per year. How many children and women die each year worldwide from inadequate medical care? At least ten million. How many births were/are prevented by worldwide use of the various methods of contraception available? Unknown, but surely tens of millions per year. In sum, without all those abortions, without all those tragic deaths of children and women from inadequate medical care, and without all the births prevented by contraception, world population today would exceed a totally unsustainable ten billion.

As cannot be repeated too often, in 1974–1975 the Republican (!) Nixon/Ford administration produced the National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 200 report on the overpopulation issue. It recommended universal access to contraception and noted that without legal abortion, overpopulation could not be stopped. The NSSM 200 report was immediately “classified” and buried until it was declassified in 1989, published, and publicized by population scientist Stephen Mumford.*

The Clinton and Obama administrations made modest efforts to combat climate change and overpopulation, but Republican administrations have worked hard to reverse them, especially the one today headed by the pompous, ignorant, “malignant narcissist” buffoon in a White House (see The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, edited by Dr. Bandy X. Lee, St. Martin’s Press, 2017) crammed with climate-change deniers and opponents of family planning.

As this is the most important election year in a century, it is imperative that voters across the religio-political spectra work together to elect federal and state lawmakers and governors committed to dealing effectively with climate change, overpopulation worldwide, and women’s rights. We must also elect lawmakers who will defend our public schools against the Trump/DeVos/etc. drive to divert public funds to religious and other private schools. Losing that battle would mean that all taxpayers would be forced to support private schools that deny climate change and oppose family planning. We have a lot of work to do.

This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the film Planet of the Apes. Viewers will remember that at the very end of the film the main character, the astronaut played by Charlton Heston, figures out that our civilization was destroyed by human blunders and screams “Damn them all to hell!” Will there be anyone left in fifty years to write a script for Planet of the Ants?



*My writing on NSSM 200 may be accessed online at arlinc.org in issues 43, 49, and 50 in Voice of Reason, published by Americans for Religious Liberty.

Edd Doerr

Edd Doerr is a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He headed Americans for Religious Liberty for thirty-six years and is a past president of the American Humanist Association.

Humanae Vitae, one of the greatest mistakes of the twentieth century, turns fifty.

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