The End of Babies?

The End of Babies?

By Alexander Sanger

 

In its November 17, 2019 edition, The New York Times published a two-page Opinion Essay by Anna Louie Sussman entitled, “The End of Babies”. The gist is that Modern Capitalism is inimical to reproduction: economic, social and environmental factors, and moral ones too, are hostile to having babies. The article compares capitalism and its effects in low-fertility Denmark and China. Late Capitalism, she argues, “has become hostile to reproduction”. The system in such countries, where basic needs are met and there is seemingly limitless freedom, may make children an afterthought or an unwelcome intrusion in a life that offers rewards of a different kind – career, hobbies, holidays. Women often defer childbearing or finally realize they actually want children at an age where they are forced to turn to assisted reproduction.

 

The story did not look at fertility rates in non-capitalist countries, like Russia or North Korea, where fertility is equally low, or lower.

 

Nor did the word “biology” appear. There are two paragraphs on men and male attitudes and behaviors, including that one in five men in Denmark and the U.S. will not become a parent. The rest deals with the female experience, including her own, and female advocates for reproductive justice.

 

I went back to Ms. Sussman’s article when Dr. Sarah E. Hill’s book, How the Pill Changes Everything, arrived on my desk last week. The book examines declining birthrates but from a biological angle. The word, “biology” appears throughout. As do the words “men” and “males”.

 

The default position, indeed, the primary focus of our work at International Planned Parenthood, is rightly on women and girls, and providing them sexual and reproductive health services and advocacy for reproductive justice. We are a proudly feminist organization. Yet, as my grandmother said 75 years ago when IPPF was founded in Bombay, India, “We won’t get anywhere without the men.” Women, who want children by means other than assisted reproduction, won’t get anywhere without the men either. As Ms. Sussman noted, “Reproduction is the ultimate nod to interdependence. We depend on at least two people to make us possible.”

 

So, with all the focus in her article on the social, economic, educational, urbanization etc. factors and their effects on female fertility, might human biology and men have something to do with the declining birthrate? Might our Darwinian mating system, which has evolved since the time any life appeared on the planet, not be working? If not, why not? The answer might lie in changes to our biology, not just in the changes in the socio-economic system, or systems. Dr. Hill focuses on this and raises the issue of whether the Pill’s mere existence affects fertility in ways beyond its obvious contraceptive effects.

 

I wrote in Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century of hormonal contraception’s effect on the Major Histocompatibility Complex. There is evidence, I wrote, about the interference of the Pill with the normal mechanism of sexual selection as reflected in MHC preference. This preference leads males and females to choose mates with differing MHCs, thus leading to a better chance of a successful pregnancy and of their offspring having a better genetic quality and chance of survival. Hormonal contraception, I wrote, appears to interfere with a female’s mating preferences by leading them to choose males with a similar, not dissimilar, MHCs.  This can lead to difficulties in getting and keeping pregnant and in healthy progeny. Furthermore, hormonal contraception also interferes with a male’s mating preferences. Males avoid mating with females who are on hormonal contraception, whether they consciously know it or not. Thus, the Pill interferes with natural mate choice and hence successful reproduction by both males and females. I wrote that more study was needed, but that women and men needed to be aware of these possible unintended consequences of hormonal contraception.

 

Dr. Hill brings this research up to date, which confirms what I wrote 15 years ago. Dr. Hill states that hormonal contraception affects … ta da…a woman’s hormones and that, in turn, affects everything, including their mate choices, the chances of a successful long-term relationship and the chances of becoming pregnant and having healthy offspring. Women seem to prefer different types of men when on and off the Pill. A woman’s natural hormones, unaffected by the Pill, may guide women to men who have healthy compatible genes. Hormonal contraception, however, may guide women to men who have less compatible genes, thereby making it more difficult to get pregnant and have healthy children. Dr. Hill warns, correctly, that the science has not proved this conclusively and that any conclusions are speculative.

 

Ms. Sussman does state in her article that, “Chemicals and pollutants seep into our bodies, disrupting our endocrine systems,” but she is not referring to hormonal contraception and its effects on mate choice. She also does not mention the multiple studies surrounding declining sperm count in males and reduced sperm quality.

 

Dr. Hill points out that the Pill has also been seen to reduce the sex drive of some women. Certainly, celibacy was not one of the intended consequences of this method of contraception. But also, the Pill may make men less interested in having sex with women on the Pill and thus less likely to be chosen as a mate. The Pill appears to reduce the boost in attractiveness that comes with a pre-ovulatory estrogen surge. Hence, the mating system is at risk of being thrown out of whack.

 

Dr. Hill argues that the pill, by changing women’s biology, has the ability to have cascading effects on everyone and everything a woman encounters, including potential male mates. And when you multiply this type of an effect by the many millions  of women around the world on hormonal contraception, the pill changes the world. (At IPPF, hormonal contraception constitutes about 45% of the methods we distribute: Injectables at 11%, Oral Contraceptives at 11% and Implants at 23%. In addition, some IUDs we distribute contain hormones.)

 

There is no doubt that the mating system is more than biological. With women achieving more, thanks to contraception, men are achieving relatively less. Men, as an economic matter, are thus less attractive as mates. The mating market is thus bifurcated into two markets – the dating-sex market and the marriage market. The Pill enables the former and has a depressing effect on the latter. In the U.S., for the first time in history, single women out number married women. Hence more single motherhood (and sometimes fatherhood), delayed motherhood and assisted reproduction. The fertility rate of single women is about half that of married women, hence the low overall fertility rate, and, in some countries, a declining population. How much do biology and the hormonal effects of the Pill on women and men contribute to this quandary and this outcome? As Dr. Hill says, this is still undetermined but not outside the realm of biological possibility.

 

Reproduction is too often seen by commentators as a rational lifestyle choice affected only by socio-economic factors. It is far, far more that. The Unknown Unknowns, to borrow a phrase, are staggering.

 

 

Letters to the Editor: The lie that Planned Parenthood’s founder was a virulent racist

Clyde W. Ford wrongly lumps my grandmother, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, with far-right immigration opponents.

Her version of eugenics was far different from that described by Ford. It sought to address the manner in which heredity and other biological factors, as well as environmental and cultural ones, affect human health, intelligence and opportunity. My grandmother hoped to locate birth control in a larger program of preventive social medicine to improve the condition of all people.

She spoke out against immigration acts and other measures that promoted racial or ethnic stereotypes. She worked for more than 50 years to provide reproductive autonomy to poor women, including women of color, because she saw it as an essential tool of individual liberation and social justice, not of social control.

Alexander Sanger

New York

The writer chairs the International Planned Parenthood Council.

With thanks to Ellen Chesler — she and I spend too much time rebutting these falsehoods.

Toulmin Foundation Orchestral Grants 2019

The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation announced its 2019 grants in The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Orchestra Commissioning Program for Emerging Female Composers.

These grants fund commissions for emerging female composers at selected orchestras nationwide.

The 2019 recipients are:

  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas, TX – Composer Angelica Negron
  • Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia, PA – Composer Xi Wang

The 2019 awards are part of a series of annual awards for female composers that the Foundation has made since 2013. Past grants have been made to, among others, the New York Philharmonic for Ashley Fure, Los Angeles Philharmonic for Natacha Diels and Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Amy Beth Kirsten. The Foundation also funds awards to emerging female composers through the Earshot Program, a partnership of the League of American Orchestras, the American Composers Orchestra, American Composers Forum and New Music USA, as well as awards to composers via the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and National Sawdust.

The Foundation has made numerous grants to support commissions for female composers, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female playwrights and choreographers in the fields of theater, opera, and ballet. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.

Toulmin Foundation Ballet Grants 2019

The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation announced its 2019 grants in The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Ballet Commissioning Program for Emerging Female Choreographers.

These grants fund commissions for emerging female choreographers at selected ballet companies nationwide.

The 2019 recipients are:

  • Boston Ballet, Boston, MA – for Choreographer Lauren Flower
  • Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle, WA – for Choreographer Eva Stone
  • Ballet West, Salt Lake City, UT – for Choreographer Jennifer Archibald

These grants are in addition to grants previously awarded in 2019 to New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater for their new ballets by emerging female choreographers. The 2019 awards are part of a series of annual awards for female choreographers that the Foundation has made since 2013, including to New York City Ballet for Lauren Lovett and Gianna Reisen, Dance Theater of Harlem for Claudia Schreier and Atlanta Ballet for Gemma Bond.

The Foundation has made numerous grants to support commissions for emerging female choreographers, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female playwrights and composers in the fields of theater, symphonic music and opera. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.

Toulmin Foundation Ballet School Grants 2019

The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation announced its 2019 grants in The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Ballet Schools’ Training Program for Female Student Choreographers.

These grants fund the training of female student choreographers at selected ballet schools nationwide.

The 2019 recipients are:

  • Boston Ballet School, Boston, MA — Student Choreographic Project for the 2019/2020 Academic Year
  • Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle, WA – New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance

In past years, the Foundation has supported the schools of both Boston and Pacific Northwest Ballets for their programs to encourage, mentor and train emerging female choreographers among their students. The Foundation has also supported, and continues to support, a similar program at the School of American Ballet in New York City. The Foundation also supports commissions for female choreographers via Dance USA and at the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center, the Joyce Theater Ballet Festival and the Vail Dance Festival.

The Foundation has made numerous grants to support commissions for female choreographers, focusing its grant-making on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female playwrights and composers in the fields of theater, symphonic music and opera. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.

Toulmin Foundation Theater Grants 2019

The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Announced 2019 grants For Its Women Playwrights Commissioning Program.

The 2019 recipients are:

Atlantic Theater, New York, NY – Playwright Sanaz Toossi

New York Theater Workshop, New York, NY – Playwright Mfoniso Udofia

Primary Stages, New York, NY – Playwright Sarah Mantell

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New York, NY – Playwright Stacey Rose

The Public Theater, New York, NY – Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza

The Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, PA – Playwright Mary Tuomanen

Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago, IL – Playwright Masi Asare

The 2019 awards are the seventh in a series of annual awards for female playwrights that the foundation has made since 2013. Past recipients include: The Public Theater for Patricia lone Lloyd for Eve’s Song, Soho Rep for Jackie Sibblies Drury for Fairview and Culture Project for Staceyann Chin for MotherStruck!

The Foundation has made over 50 grants to support commissions for emerging female playwrights, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female composers and choreographers in the fields of opera, symphonic music and ballet. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.

Chile Expands Abortion Access

For the last two years, our partner, APROFA, has been working hard to officially register the abortion pill. The pill is actually two medications called Mifepristone and Misoprostol that safely end pregnancy when taken together. Access to it reduces barriers for many women and healthcare professionals, especially because it is non-invasive and can be done at home. The Chilean Government has finally approved APROFA’s application to register the abortion pill.

While abortion is only currently legal in certain circumstances in Chile, this win brings us a step closer in the fight for global reproductive rights.

APROFA will begin distributing the combination pill in early 2020.

Fred Sai 1924-2019

Fred Sai, though diminutive in size, was a giant at International Planned Parenthood Federation and globally for women’s rights and health.

We met far too infrequently, most memorably at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, where Fred was the chair, and at an IPPF meeting in New Delhi in 2002 where Fred gave a rousing speech to the delegates. He had experience chairing various international conferences, experience which stood him in good stead in the contentious plenary meetings in Cairo, where there was sharp dissent to making women and women’s rights the center of family planning programs and development. After days of a small but contentious band of opponents having their say, Fred Sai declared, “Consensus has been reached” and banged his gavel, signaling the adoption of the Program of Action. It was a historic moment for women’s rights.

48932EX-R01-008.jpeg

I had the honor to nominate him for Lasker Award but unfortunately the Lasker Committee did not see the giant that the rest of the world saw.

I was honored when Fred presented to me the IPPF Individual Volunteer Award in 2011. I will never forget his eloquence, dedication and passion for our great cause.

 

IMG_6088.jpeg

Indigenous women and the patriarchy of conquest

By Debora Diniz, a Brazilian anthropologist and researcher at Brown University,
and
Giselle Carino, an Argentinean political scientist and director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR)

The word “poop” emerged from the sewers and became news in Brazil when President Bolsonaro positioned it as an environmental threat. First, he suggested disciplining one’s intestines: one should only defecate “every two days” as a means to protect the environment. Then, pressured by what many see as an attack on indigenous territories through his environmental policies, he mocked indigenous communities by stating that their “petrified poop” would render the land useless for economic exploitation. This nonsense is an authoritarian amusement of power, the “political ridiculousness” described by Marcia Tiburi: he mentioned the unmentionable in the public sphere, and his environmental policies promote deforestation and the dispossession of indigenous lands.

Bolsonaro’s vulgar maneuver is also spontaneous discourse because he views indigenous nations as human waste. The repetition of “poop” when talking about the environment is an ideological metonymy to dehumanize indigenous lives. But, since political life is chaotic, historical events can be simplified and seen as the “cause and consequence” of the abuses of power. During the same week that Bolsonaro reveled in his scatological vocabulary, 2,000 indigenous women from 120 groups met in Brasilia for the first march of indigenous women in Brazil’s history—Territory: our body, our spirit. They joined forces with 100,000 other rural women workers known as the Margarida’s March, the largest permanent movement of Latin American women. Ro’Otsitsina Xavante, who does not see herself as the leader of the indigenous women’s movement but rather as a spokeswoman said, “we want to join the Margaridas to show that we have an alliance.”

The alliance will jumpstart an effort to unravel the historic patriarchy that never ceased to exist in Latin America: indigenous and rural women are among the main victims of what Rita Segato calls “patriarchal crimes.” By joining the Margarida’s March, indigenous women are defying the patriarchal arrogance that describes them as a residue of history, while also defying the restrictive cultural rules of their participation in the “white world.” During the march, indigenous women chose to occupy a symbol of white power—the government building where indigenous health policies are elaborated. The occupation was a gesture designed to show how the indigenous massacre took place in Latin America: by the spread of disease and by the exploitation of the environment.

The violations imposed on indigenous bodies is an extension of the expropriation of indigenous territories to advance capitalism. Indigenous lands are described as “unexplored territories” and their conquest aligns with the patriarchal order of power. The expression “colonization of power” is found in Latin American critical theory to describe how the intersection between capitalism and racism is entrenched in political power throughout the region. Rita Segato prefers to call it the “conquestiality of power,” an endless male mandate for the feudalization of indigenous territories based on racism and patriarchy. It is through this framework of colonial predatory power that fascist leaders shape the war against women and the environment: the crimes of the patriarchy were already established as a hallmark of power before the spread of the misogynist world order.

If the patriarchy of “conquestiality” was perpetrated through possession and arrogance, so was the installation of the Catholic-evangelical and military order of our countries. Indigenous and rural women have suffered this permanent looting of life, as seen in the alarming rates of domestic violence and femicide in countries as diverse as Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. If indigenous and rural women rise up and shout “we are united and we will not be silenced,” it is up to women in the “white world” to listen and request participation in the alliance. According to Segato, all forms of power gravitate around the issue of gender. This is exactly where unexpected narratives about the perversion of patriarchal and racist power will emerge to transform politics.