The world population is now six billion and increasing at the rate of approximately 220,000 people every day. It took 100,000 years for the human population to reach two billion. In a single lifetime, that number has risen from two to six billion. The biblical adage “populate or perish” is a threat to every form of life on the planet.

Overpopulation and environmental destruction are the biggest issues facing humanity today. The Vatican’s “pro life” stance (shared by anti-abortionists and various fundamentalist sects) is a threat to all forms of life including the human species. Despite the fact that the environmental and social consequences of overpopulation are well documented, the Vatican is still vehemently opposed to all forms of artificial contraceptives. The only method permitted by the Vatican is the rhythm method – otherwise known as “Vatican roulette”! For the Vatican to confront the issues of the environment, population and birth control, it would mean putting to rest the myth of papal infallibility and relinquishing absolute power over the lives of a billion people!

Since the Vatican – also known as “Holy See”- is treated as a state by the UN, it has the power to influence policy on birth control. In the past, the Vatican did not hesitate to form alliances with Muslim fundamentalist organizations in order to fight policies, such as “microcredit” in Bangladesh, aimed to enable poor women in impoverished countries to gain some degree of financial independence. Vatican delegates claimed that such policies would undermine the man’s status as head of the family and therefore are harmful to the family unit. Recent attempts by the Vatican to form a dialogue with Islam, makes one wonder on their hidden motives! Roman Catholicism and Islam have been enemies for centuries. However, they are quite happy to put their differences aside when it comes to fighting against secularism, atheism and feminism! At the UN conference on population and development, Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Holy See’s delegation, stated that “the Vatican supported the advancement of women’s level of education and healthcare” and made the admission that “the Holy See does not support procreation at all costs”. However, the Holy See’s condemnation of birth control contradicts all of the above. The role that the Vatican has played as an obstacle to AIDS education in Africa brings into question its moral right to a place in the UN and highlights the hypocrisy of its pro-life stance.

While the Vatican and its ideological allies, claim to be “pro family” and “pro life”, that did not stop Pope John Paul II from supporting brutal and dictatorial regimes in Latin America and elsewhere. The Pope supports human rights only when the perpetrator is perceived as atheistic or Marxist, thus endangering the status of the church; he does not speak out against human rights abuses when the perpetrator is a right-wing regime, sympathetic to the Vatican’s ultra-conservative beliefs. Not long ago, the Pope condemned UN agencies for providing Kosovo rape victims with “morning after pills”, yet he did not utter a word to condemn the rapes, torture and ethnic cleansing. It is hypocritical for the Vatican to talk about human rights when it declined to sign the European Declaration on human rights. The reason for that is that canon law contradicts a range of human rights included in the European Declaration. Blind obedience to the injunction against birth control and women priests, has become THE test for loyalty to the Pope. In order for clergy to rise in the Church hierarchy they must fully submit to the Pope’s injunction regarding birth control and women priests – in other words, place their brains in the food processor and press puree!

It does not seem to bother the Vatican that in many countries children are forced into prostitution and child labour. Millions of children are suffering from malnutrition, lack of basic health care and lack of education. In Rio de Janeiro “street children” are hunted down and shot by death squads. Rather than act on these appalling injustices the Pope, up until recently, travelled around the world in order to condemn contraceptives and abortion. Keeping women in their traditional/subservient roles far outweighs any concerns on the social and environmental problems caused by overpopulation. In many countries, cultural and religious beliefs are condemning women to perpetual child bearing, poor health, poverty and misery.

In the US, “pro life” fanatics are using arson, shooting and bombing to terrorise and kill abortion providers. There have been many bomb attacks on clinics and shootings of medical staff providing abortions. The reign of terror is not unlike that of Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East. A terrorist organisation going by the name of “Army of God” has produced a manual that reads like a “how to” on making and detonating bombs. They actually advocate arson and bombing as well as murdering abortion providers. Medical staff and receptionists go to work every morning knowing that their lives will be at risk. On January 29, 1998, a bomb attack ended the life of an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse at a women’s clinic in Birmingham. On October 23, 1998, an assassin shot and killed Dr. Slepian, a highly regarded ob-gyn. It is estimated that forty-three percent of American women will choose to have an abortion, for whatever reason, at least once during their lifetime. Outlawing abortion will not stop it from happening, it will only make it unsafe. Even in countries where abortion is punishable by death – such as the Philippines – abortion still takes place. The hypocrisy is appalling when you think that those who oppose abortion do absolutely nothing to make it less necessary. The same people who vote against women’s abortion rights also want to slash family planning services so that women can’t get contraceptives.

WHO estimates that 55 million abortions take place every year and around half are performed in unsafe conditions, usually because abortion is illegal or inaccessible – as many as 550 women die every day from trying to end unwanted pregnancies.

In the last few years, many US hospitals have been taken over by Catholic administration. As usual, the Catholic administration is forcing its religious beliefs on its patients. There was a case of a pregnant woman who was admitted to hospital with a haemorrhage. Even though her life was at risk the doctors would not perform an abortion since that would go against the Pope’s teachings on abortion. The woman did finally get an abortion after her plight became public. In another case, a woman pregnant with her eighth child was refused a tubal ligation after the birth for the same reasons.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Roman Catholic Church’s “Sanctity of Life” dogma has been responsible for the deaths of many pregnant women. Sometimes during labour the head of the feotus would become stuck and could not be dislodged. The only way to save the woman was to perform a craniotomy, which involved crushing the skull of the feotus. Since devout Catholic doctors obeyed the church’s “Sanctity of Life” dogma, the labouring women were condemned to slow and agonising deaths.

When anti-abortionists speak of “pro life”, what they are referring to is human life, and specifically the life of the human feotus. They insist that the bible prohibits abortion and they quote the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex.20:13) as evidence. They ignore the bible’s definition of life, and the fact that Mosaic law in Exodus 21:22-25, makes it clear that a feotus is not a human being: “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine”. “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” While the bible orders the death penalty for murder of a human being (“Thou shalt not kill” only forbade the murder of already born Hebrews, it was open season for pagan tribes), it does not do so for the expulsion of a feotus. Jewish law traditionally considers that personhood begins at birth. As for the bible being “pro life”, the following commandments speak for themselves:

“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones.”
— Numbers 31:17

“Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.”
— 1 Samuel 15:3

“Dash their children, and rip up their women with child.”
— 2 Kings 8:12

“Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.”
— Isaiah 13:16

“They shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.”
— Isaiah 13:18

“Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children.”
— Ezekiel 9:6

“Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”
— Hosea 13:16

The above verses are only a small sample of biblical commandments to commit violence and atrocities: Do not take my word for it, check them out! Anti-abortionists are not driven by love for children, but by hatred for women inherited from the bible. They are condemning women to the status of incubators by granting the fertilised egg/embryo the same rights as a three-year old child. Indeed, the bible is full of verses that demean and insult women. Organised religion always has been and remains the greatest enemy of women’s rights.

It is not uncommon for anti-abortionists to express annoyance at people who spend time and resources trying to save whales, tigers and other endangered species, while an X number of babies are “murdered” by abortion every year. For anthropocentric, anti-abortionists the only life that has value is human life, and then only at the foetal stage. I have never heard of anti-abortionists condemning female infanticide in China and India, nor have they expressed any concern about the millions of children living in extreme poverty and squalor. Their warped, myopic and narrow view prevents them from realising that all forms of life from the most primitive to the most sophisticated are interconnected. Life is something that we share with all species and we become poorer every time a species becomes extinct.

It is no longer just the issue of a woman’s right to choose the number of children that she will bear. There is the issue of what kind of future we wish our children to have, or rather, whether or not we will have a future! Anyone who claims that humans have a right to breed unhindered is ignorant, irresponsible and has no regard for all the other forms of life with which we share the planet. In countries where birth control is accessible and affordable there is no excuse for people not to limit their families. We have a moral obligation towards other species and future generations to limit our numbers.

Ultra-conservative women, who blindly obey the Pope’s command and produce litters of children, are not averse to attack women who use contraceptives to limit their families. They often accuse women who use birth control of being selfish, self-centred, anti-family and unwomanly. If every couple on earth obeyed the Vatican’s injunction on birth control, the world population would double in less than twenty years. All other forms of life would become extinct except for the ones used for human consumption. The earth would be a giant feedlot and we would all be living like ants in concrete jungles. Some short-sighted “experts” have made claims that the earth could support 12 billion. They obviously did not take into account the rapidly changing weather pattern due to deforestation and greenhouse gasses, desertification, depletion of aquifers, soil degradation, not to mention the unknown impact that genetically engineered foods will have on future food production.

As Paul Ehrlich once quoted: “There is no doubt that human population growth will soon come to an end. What remains to be seen is whether it will happen through the humane method of birth control or by nature wiping out the surplus.

By Voula Papas