George Bush, family planner


President Bush wrote this 18 years ago when he was U.S. representative to the United Nations.

MY OWN first awareness of birth control as a public policy issue came with a jolt in 1950 when my father was running for the United States Senate in Connecticut. Drew Pearson, on the Sunday before Election Day, "revealed" that my father was involved with Planned Parenthood.

My father lost that election by a few hundred out of close to a million votes. Many political observers felt a sufficient number of voters were swayed by his alleged contacts with the birth controllers to cost him the election. The subject was taboo -- not only because of religious opposition but because at that time a lot of people were unwilling to discuss in public what they considered a private matter.

Today, the population problem is no longer a private matter. In a world of nearly 4 billion people increasing by 2 percent, or 80 million more, every year, population growth and how to restrain it are public concerns that command the attention of national and international leaders. The per capita income gap between the developed and the developing countries is increasing, in large part the result of higher birth rates in the poorer countries . . .

I served on the House Ways and Means Committee. As we amended and updated the Social Security Act in 1967, I was impressed by the sensible approach of Alan Guttmacher, the obstetrician who served as president of Planned Parenthood. It was ridiculous, he told the committee, to blame mothers on welfare for having too many children when the clinics and hospitals they used were absolutely prohibited from saying a word about birth control. So we took the lead in Congress in providing money and urging -- in fact, even requiring -- that in the United States, family planning services be available for every woman, not just the private patient with her own gynecologist.

I remember another bill before the committee. This one successfully repealed the prohibition against mailing information about birth control devices or sending the devices themselves through the mails. Until 1970 the mailing of this information had been heaped in with the mailing of "pornographic" material.

As chairman of the special Republican Task Force on Population and Earth Resources, I was impressed by the arguments of William H. Draper Jr. that economic development overseas would be a miserable failure unless the developing countries had the knowledge and supplies their families needed to control fertility. Congress constantly pressed the rather nervous federal agencies to get on with the job. Draper continues to lead through his tireless work for the United Nations Population Fund . . .

When I moved to the United Nations in 1971 as United States ambassador, I found that the population problem was high on the international agenda, though lacking some of the urgency the matter deserves. The General Assembly had designated 1974 as World Population Year with a major conference of governments scheduled. The UN Fund for Population Activities, which has raised some $50 million, now stands ready to help agencies and governments develop appropriate programs. It is quite clear that one of the major challenges of the 1970s, the Second United Nations Development Decade, will be to curb the world's fertility.

The United Nations population program, including the [population] fund and specialized agencies, stands today at the threshold of international impact. The problem has been recognized; the organizations exist; the resources are at hand. But policy making on the international level, no less than on the national one, is an educational process. In developing the programs needed, the public as well as government leaders learn from one another. New technologies lead to new policies and laws, new public and private values, new insights into our own problems as well as those of others. We all proceed by trial and error. Will we learn fast enough from one another and with one another how to defuse the population bomb?

One fact is clear: In a world of nearly 4 billion people, with some 150 independent governments, myriad races, religions, tribes and other organizations, major world problems like population and environmental protection will have to be handled by large and complex organizations representing many nations and many different points of view. How well we and the rest of the world can make the policies and programs of the United Nations responsive to the needs of the people will be the test of success in the population field.

Success in the population field, under United Nations leadership, may in turn determine whether we can resolve successfully the other great questions of peace, prosperity and individual rights that face the world . . .

Certainly the private organizations, like the Population Crisis Committee, Planned Parenthood -- national and international -- the Population Council, the Population Reference Bureau, the Population Institute, Zero Population Growth and others, have played a major role in assisting government policy makers and in mobilizing the United States' response to the world population challenge.

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