By Mark Seager
President, Population Connection Action Fund
Note: This commentary was first published February 1, 2015 by The World Post.
Don't get me wrong, Francis. You seem like a sincere, congenial man, and I admire you for bringing the world's attention to the need to address poverty, fight climate change, and eliminate inequality. But, sadly, your unwillingness to accept access to the full range of contraceptives as a necessary and moral good is completely incompatible with your efforts to make the world a better place.
You see, modern contraceptive methods – like the birth control pill, condom, and intrauterine device – do much more than provide people with a healthy sex life. Contraception saves lives, especially those of women and girls living in the developing world, who often don't have access to antenatal services. Mothers and babies die when women aren't able to delay, space, or avoid pregnancies. And young children whose mothers die in pregnancy or childbirth are more likely to die themselves.
Incredibly, if all women in the developing world who want to avoid pregnancy used modern contraception, the number of unintended pregnancies would drop by 70 percent and unsafe abortions would fall by 74 percent. The ability to plan one's family provides women and girls with more educational and job opportunities. And many economies would get a much-needed boost.
There is no doubt that universal access to contraception would bring us closer to achieving economic and gender equality in one fell swoop. Imagine that!
But, Francis, providing people with access to the full range of contraceptives is also crucial to combating climate change. If you're serious about engaging in this work, you simply must end your proscription of modern birth control.
Though the population-climate link is based on science, it's not rocket science. And your defense of the Church's ban on modern contraception – less than a week after you stated that "the majority" of climate change is caused by humans and after years of calling for climate action – is mind-boggling.
Modern-day contraceptives are extremely effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. And preventing unintended pregnancy helps to slow population growth – one of the leading causes of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a 2010 study, leveling the world population at 8 billion, instead of the projected 9 billion, by 2050 could provide 16 to 29 percent of the emissions reductions required to prevent dangerous climate change. It would have a much greater impact than if global deforestation were completely eliminated.
And while most of the world's climate pollution is being emitted from industrialized nations – namely, the United States – the fastest population growth is happening in developing countries – some of which, like Mexico and the Philippines, have a majority Catholic population. In fact, roughly 16 percent of the world population practices Catholicism, and the religion is growing fastest in Africa – the continent with the most rapid population growth.
Francis, that means nearly one-sixth (and growing) of the world population acknowledges your teachings. Nearly a sixth of the people on Earth have been told, by you, that it is a sin to use modern contraception. And all of them will contribute to and be affected by climate change.
Therefore, you have a responsibility to ensure that your followers have all the tools they need – including contraception – to reduce their carbon output and strengthen their resilience to the inevitable effects of climate change.
For many people around the world – especially women and girls living in poverty-stricken countries – having the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies means they have a better chance at coping with extreme weather events. That's because families who are able to plan the birth of their children are likely to have more resources and, as a result, are more able to respond to changes in their environment.
Surely some of the families that you visited during your recent trip to the Philippines would have been better equipped to withstand the effects of super-typhoon Haiyan if they had access to contraceptives. It is largely due to the influence of the country's Catholic bishops that 90 percent of the unintended pregnancies – half of all pregnancies there – are the result of a lack of modern contraception.
Planning and preventing pregnancy is not only a personal choice; it's a human right that saves lives, combats poverty, and helps to close the inequality gap. But more than that it's a crucial requirement for slowing population growth and, in turn, saving the planet from its greatest threat – climate change.
The world is depending on you, Francis.
See also the previous PCV posts:
• Overpopulation and the Catholic Church: Can't We Become Part of the Solution?
• Contraception's Con Men
• Birth Control, the Bishops, and Religious Authority
• Out of Step With the Flock: Bishops Far Behind on Birth Control Issues
• We Are the 98 Percent
• Who Is the Church? And How Does the Church Discern Morality?
Related Off-site Links:
Bishops Don't Speak for Most Catholics on Contraception – Keith Soko (CNN, February 4, 2012).
Pope Francis Might Not Be As Awesome As We Thought He Was – Asher Bayot (Inquisitr.com, January 18, 2015).
The Trouble with Francis: Three Things That Worry Me – Mary E. Hunt (Religion Dispatches, January 6, 2014).