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Debating the Ethics of Population Control during the Cold WarFebruary 6, 2023
Inspired by a Brazilian critique of overpopulation concerns emanating from the United States during the early 1950s, this project examines debates about the ethics of population control among staff of the Rockefeller Foundation and Population Council, from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. The historical episodes highlighted include John D. Rockefeller, 3rd's establishment of the Population Council in 1952; the council's formation of an "ad hoc committee on policy" in the mid-1950s; reaction among population control advocates to the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, after JDR 3rd and Population Council staff had worked to cultivate alliances with Catholic clergy, particularly Jesuits; and discussions surrounding the United Nations population conference and the simultaneous "population tribune" for representatives of non-governmental organizations, both held in Bucharest in 1974. There is brief discussion of the expansion of family planning initiatives within Latin America—often sponsored by the Population Council, the UN, and the Ford Foundation—during these decades. Among the figures discussed most frequently are John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, demographer Frank Notestein, and Population Council President Bernard Berelson. By the mid-1970s, there was a pronounced ideological split regarding population control between Population Council staff and the Vatican, as well as between advocates of population control measures in the industrialized world and representatives of developing nations who reframed concerns about poverty and resource scarcity to highlight other causes of global inequality. Feminist perspectives are largely absent or ignored early in the period analyzed but become much more evident by the 1970s.
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