An Open Letter to Oppose the Formation of a National Optimum Population Commission

Date Published: July 15, 2006

We, an alliance of feminists, environmentalists and other social justice advocates, strongly oppose the establishment of a National Optimum Population Commission. We question the legitimacy of an optimum population policy for the following reasons:

I. The major causes of environmental degradation are not directly related to population size because not all people consume resources and generate pollution equally. Currently, the industrialized nations, with only a fifth of the world's population, consume almost three-quarters of the world's resources. In the United States, ever-deepening economic inequalities ensure that the poor consume less and the rich more. Efforts to control population size distract us from the real causes of environmental degradation, such as polluting technologies, rapid unplanned urbanization, militarism, consumerism, wasteful and inhumane economic systems that exploit people and nature in the drive for short-term profits, and the displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples by agribusinesses, timber, mining, and energy corporations, often with the assistance of national governments and international financial institutions.

II. No objective criteria exist for determining the size or composition of an "optimum population." Inevitably, whatever criteria are used will reflect the "cultural preferences" of those on the Commission. As a result, some demographic groups will be designated as less desirable than others. Decades of population control policies around the world have shown us whom the "excess" populations will certainly be: the poor, people of color, immigrants, and the disabled. The wealthy, who consume the lion's share of our society's resources, will be let off the hook; corporations and the military, who generate most of our pollution, will receive no mention at all.

III. Throughout the century, policies that have sought to reduce population size have consistently undermined the health and well-being of the most vulnerable women. Across the globe, poor women, women of color, and migrant women have been the subjects of unethical contraceptive experiments and coercive fertility control programs. Often, population control programs have practiced non-consensual sterilization, failed to inform women of the risks and adverse effects of unsafe forms of contraception, neglected proper medical screening and follow-up care, and ignored the need for safe abortion and barrier methods.
In the United States, poor women and women of color are increasingly encouraged to "opt" for long-acting forms of contraception such as Depo Provera and Norplant. Although these drugs carry a host of adverse effects, population control advocates support their use because they take routine reproductive decisions out of the hands of women and give them to health care professionals. In some cases, women facing criminal sentencing have been forced to accept Norplant as part of their punishment, as have women in prisons and women drug addicts. In addition, women welfare recipients have been strongly pressured to use Norplant, and recent changes to the welfare system penalize women for having children while on welfare. While drugs such as Depo-Provera and Norplant proliferate, low cost, quality health care for the poor and working classes has virtually disappeared due to drastic cuts in social spending and welfare reform, often making abortion services inaccessible.

IV. Severe restrictions on the immigration of non-Europeans are a cornerstone of population control ideology in the United States. Immigrants, however, are not our nation's major consumers or polluters. Calls for immigration restrictions not only foster a climate of racial prejudice, but also endanger the rights of immigrants to asylum, freedom of movement, and family reunification. Population control rhetoric only exacerbates a dangerous political climate in which immigrants face increasing levels of hatred, discrimination, and violence. We must take a stand against the scapegoating of immigrants.

For these reasons, we the undersigned oppose the establishment of a National Commission on Optimum Population, and urge everyone who shares our concern for reproductive rights, immigrants' rights, and environmental justice to do the same. Our environmental problems are real enough, but they cannot be solved without addressing important matters of social injustice. Women's activists worked hard during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development to create a humane concluding document that would direct policy towards women's education, women's empowerment, and reproductive health. The National Optimum Population Commission is the kind of cruel, clumsy, and inhumane demographic approach that we fought against-the kind that scapegoats the most vulnerable sections of the population while allowing the real despoilers of the environment to remain unaccountable to anyone.


David Acosta, The GALAEI Project
Olga Morales Agruri, Mujeres Project
M. Jacqueline Alexander, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Medgar Evers College
Elena M. Alvarado, National Latina Health Network
Laura Atkinson, National Organization for Women, Winthrop University
Veronique Autphenne, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Kelly Baden
Lucy Balic, Institute for International Cooperation and Development (IICD)
Asoka Bandarage, CWPE
Rajani Bhatia, CWPE
Anannya Bhattacharjee, CWPE
Andrew Blumberg, RU NOW
Toni Bond, CWPE
Sarah Bortt, CWPE
James K. Boyce, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts
China Brotsky, CWPE
Rebecca Calhoun
Gabriela Canepa, CWPE
Enette Claxton
Christina M. Coleman
Eugene P. Coyle, Eco-Economics
Kelly Jane Dacey
Marsha Darling, CWPE
Angela Y. Davis, Black Women's Health Project, Women of Color Resource
Center, and National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
Jashodhara Dasgupta, Society for Participatory Rural Development (Sahayog)
Michelle Doty, UCLA School of Public Health/
Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Nona Fontnel, International Reproductive Rights Research Action Group
(IRRRAG)
Marlene Gerber Fried, CWPE
Patrice M. Gammon
Felix E. Gardon, AIDS Theater Project
Fred Goff, DataCenter
Allen Gomez
Marsha A. Gomez, Indigenous Women's Network
Laura Gonzalez
Michael Green, Center for Environmental Health
Liz Gres, Southwest Women Working Together
Devon Greyson, Lesbian Avengers
Carmen M. Guzman, Coalition Right to Live in Peace
Gina Hall
Betsy Hartmann, CWPE
Susanne Helm
Anne Hendrixson, CWPE
Jennifer Hope
Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita, Harvard University
Regina Hughes, Hampshire College
H. Patricia Hynes, Professor of Public Health, Boston University
Jerome Joffe
Stephanie Josephson
Monica Kainz, IICD
Rachel Kamel, CWPE
Isabel Kang, CWPE
Frances L. Key, Center for Population and Family Health, Columbia School of
Public Health
Pamela S. Kido, History of Consciousness
Ynestra King, CWPE
Ji Sung Kim
Peggy Kocoras
Dzorhloe Dzinya Ladzekpo, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Francine Coey Lanx, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Jennifer Lanyun, Brave Souls
Vickie Legion
Barbara Ley
Sara Littlecrow-Russell, Native American Women's Herb Collective
Ann Marie Lovallee
Tara K. Luce, Capacidad
Mary L. Lyndon, St. John's University of Law
Marisa Maach
Polly Mann, Women Against Military Madness
Luz Alvarez Martinez, National Latina Health Organization
Denise McKinney, IICD
Debi McNutt, CWPE
Sonal Mehls, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Sandra Mongeon
Soheir Morsy, Independent Scholar and UN Consultant
Tirso Moreno, Farmworker Association of Florida
Kate Nelson, Hartwick College Women's Center
Donna Nevel, Center for Immigrant Families
Judy Norsigian, CWPE
Maura Olivos, EACH, Environmental Awareness Cultural Hacienda
Kendra Pampst, Hartwick College Women's Center
Justin Paulson
Lisbeth A. Pelsue, Anarchist Black Cross
Barbara Pillsbury, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Melissa Ray
Diana J. Riddle
Lisa Richey, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Carol Rogers
Judith Rollins, Wellesley College
Tracy Rysany, Positive Futures Network
April Schottenstein
Judith Scully, CWPE
Cassandra Shuyler
Patricia Sikora
Jael Silliman, CWPE
Andy Smith, CWPE
Chris Ann Smith
Justine Smith, CWPE
Melody Sokolow, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
Donna Spiegelman, Harvard School of Public Health
Byron Stookey
Lee Stookey
Milton Takei
April Taylor, CWPE
Nam P. Thai
Shin Tsuji, Women and International Development
Julie Turner, IICD
Meredeth Turshen, Rutgers University
Diana Vaca, NLIRH
Nalini Visvanathan, CWPE
Jennifer Weedon
Anne West-Church
Janelle L. White, San Francisco Women Against Rape
Jennifer Yanco, CWPE
Lyuba Zarsky, Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development