Russia and China vs. San Marino?

The headline of the day from The Guardian: “Russia’s Population Undergoes the Largest ever Peacetime Decline.” One demographer estimated the decline to be about 1 million since October 2020. A low birth rate (1.5 est.) and high Covid deaths accounted for the overall population decline. Russia’s past efforts to increase the birthrate include subsidies to families with more than two children and attacking “gay propaganda”.

China’s population will soon decline, if it isn’t already, (both Russia and China have suspect demographic figures). Last year, China’s mothers bore fewer babies than any year since 1961. The Covid death rate is unknown. China recently attacked “effeminate men” and prohibited movies showing gay love. It has recently permitted families to have three children, though this will likely have the same effect as the laws a few years ago permitting two children, i.e. negligible.

Aside from attacking gay men and women, both countries are inching to granting subsidies only to those with large families, i.e. apartments.

Both countries are also zeroing in on their abortion laws. Abortion being generally legal in both countries, the authorities are gradually seeking to restrict its availability – sex selection abortion is already prohibited in China. In China, the recent State Council declarations said China would reduce the number of abortions for “non-medical purposes”, though this type of statement has been made before. In Russia, some in the government and the leading Patriarch have called for banning many or all abortions.

National power being dependent on demography, it is not surprising that Russia and China want an increased (or at least a not drastically decreased) population. (see my previous article on white Texas males).

Then we have the non-world power of San Marino, all 33,000 of them, hidden away within the confines of Italy and just as nominally Catholic. 40% of the population turned out to vote in an abortion referendum and 77.3% of them supported allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and in some cases thereafter. This leaves Malta, Andorra and Poland as the European countries banning abortion.

History shows that banning abortion only drives it underground and makes it more dangerous for women. History also shows that men (and alas some women) in power don’t understand History.

Deep into the Heart of Texas (and Mexico)

By Alexander Sanger

In the last week, Texas moved to criminalize abortion, while across the border Mexico moved to decriminalize it. Granted one (Texas) was by act of the legislature and Governor, while in Mexico it was by a unanimous Supreme Court. What is going on politically to account for such a divergent result?

To get to the politics, I argue first get to the demographics. 

It was big news a month ago when the US census date were released, confirming trends that had been apparent for decades. The while US birth rate is on a continuing decline, falling behind that of Hispanics (which is also declining). Hispanics and other minorities are making up a greater percentage of the US population. In Texas, one headline in August 2021 stated that people of color made up 95% of the Texas population boom. In some quarters, in Texas and elsewhere, white fears of becoming a minority are real and not unfounded. In Texas, Hispanics constitute 40% of the population. There was much talk before the 2020 election of Texas turning Blue (i.e. Democratic) – this didn’t happen with Trump holding Texas with 52% of the vote. Still, Texas is getting closer to turning Democratic. White Republicans are panicking. 

Commentators have focused on Republicans using abortion politics to cement white evangelical support (and some conservative Hispanic-Catholic support).

What happens when abortion is criminalized? Again, commentators say poor women, especially minorities, are targeted and most affected, being less able to travel to nearby states where abortion is legal. True. But white, poor women are affected too (and middle-class white women as well), their options hampered. Which demographic is more likely to turn to the back alleys? Which more likely to give birth? Time will tell.

This country has been through campaigns to criminalize abortion before. In the 19th Century, states (and the Federal government through its Comstock Laws) enacted measures criminalizing birth control and abortion, which had been legal since our nation was founded. What led to this?

The main factor, I argue, was demographics and immigration and the threat to white Protestant hegemony from Irish Catholic immigration. Hence the creation of the Know-Nothing Party (the 19th Century version of today’s arch-reactionary Republican Party). The Whites noted that their birth rate was less than the fecund Irish immigrants. Just one quote from those times (1874) from a prominent physician: “The annual destruction of fetuses has become so truly appalling among native American (Protestant) women that the Puritanic blood of ’76 will be but sparingly represented in the approaching centenary.” See my book, Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century for a longer discussion.

The physician was talking about white women’s abortion rates. Not minority or Irish. White. Has anything changed? I argue that the Texas legislature can see the demographic handwriting on the wall as did the 19thcentury physician. How to stop the decline of white population? Stop white women from having abortions. Stop the white wives and daughters of the legislators from terminating pregnancies. Grow the white birth rate. Make abortion illegal and arguably white women will obey, or so they hope. Do the legislators care about minority women’s reactions? Not one whit. Probably they hope minority women will go to back allies and lose, if not their lives, then their fecundity. A double victory for white supremacy.

What happened after abortion was criminalize in the 19th century? Did it work? The US birth rates continued their century-long decline. Women found a way. Too often it was to a back alley. Alternatively, a huge black market in home grown potions and abortifacients grew up, some of which may have worked, but too many of which killed the woman. 

These days there are a legal drugs that cause a miscarriage. These are dispensed in this country and across the border in Mexico. I can see the cross-border trade ballooning in misoprostol and other abortifacient drugs, especially as the Mexican states eliminate their criminal abortion laws. Women will find a way. But too many women will see their health or life damaged or lost and the birth of an unwanted child. 

As for Mexico, more study is needed on their racial politics. They are not post-racial as recent studies have shown. But the stark racial-political division is less evident. 

The Texas legislature is playing a cynical game that it can’t win. Women, though, are the losers.



On September 7, 2021, just days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing Texas to enact one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country, the Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled to decriminalize abortion. Prior to the decision, only four out of Mexico’s 32 states decriminalized the procedure and, despite some exceptions that applied, women and other pregnant people who obtained an abortion ran the risk of incarceration and some remain in jail. In response to the ruling, Giselle Carino, chief executive officer of International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region, issued the following statement:

“The unanimous ruling by the Mexico Supreme Court to eliminate criminal penalties for terminating a pregnancy is a resounding rejection of a dated and dangerous world view and an unmistakable affirmation of the rights, dignity, and freedom of women and people who can become pregnant. The political power that once penalized and incarcerated people for seeking abortion care has now been replaced with the collective power of millions who fight to make abortion safe and legal throughout Latin America and the world.

“This groundbreaking decision is just the beginning. While we applaud the Supreme Court’s decision, we know that the absence of a criminal penalty does not mean abortion is immediately legal. The next step is working to expand safe and legal access throughout Mexico. We only need to look across the border to the United States to be reminded that our rights, even when secured by law, are never fully protected.

“We will continue to fight the barriers that remain and will march shoulder to shoulder fueled by the Green Wave, poised to transform the world bringing a new dawn of reproductive justice for all. Inspired by this historic decision, we will tighten our green bandanas and double down our efforts to advance legislation that will make abortion legal and safe, fight to release those who remain in jail for obtaining an abortion, work to improve the fragmented healthcare system that limits access to care, and replace the silence and stigma that has controlled us with a chorus of cheers for reproductive health and freedom. In Texas, Mexico and around the world, la lucha continua.”

We stand alongside our partners, healthcare providers and the feminist organizations who have fought tirelessly to make this happen through many years of activism and organizing. Below is their reaction to the Supreme Court ruling:

“Today, Mexico’s Supreme Court took a historic step toward the recognition and protection of the rights of women and others who can get pregnant . With this ruling, the court opened the door to the decriminalization of abortion throughout Mexico. GIRE, along with its partners, activists, and other allies will continue fighting until access to legal and safe abortion services becomes a reality nationwide.” – Rebeca Ramos Duarte, Executive Director, Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE)

“As a result of today’s Supreme Court ruling, women will no longer have to go to jail for simply having an abortion. We celebrate the fact that this ruling respects separation of church and state, recognizes freedom of conscience, acknowledges the plurality and diversity of the Mexican people.” – Lola Guerra, Co-Executive Director, Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – México (Catholics for Choice – Mexico)

Women, Men and Population Worries

By Alexander Sanger

The recent simultaneous release of the census data from the United States and China has led commentators around the world to ponder causes and effects of declining rates of childbirth in these and other countries. This is not a new phenomenon – birth rates have been declining in the West for 200 years, long before the pill. More recent declines have occurred in many countries in the East and West, North and South, for decades as women have become more educated and modern contraception has become more available. In many countries of varying incomes, fertility rates are stubbornly below the replacement rate, presaging declining populations.

Commentators have focused on the economic effects of reduced work forces, leading to reduced economic growth, innovation and standards of living, and on the budgetary effects of aging populations (in Japan diapers for adults outsell those for babies) leading to pressures on pension schemes. 

Discussions about what is causing this phenomenon have looked at the emancipation and education of women and the rising costs of childbearing and the never-yet-lessened demands childbearing and child raising place on parents. Parenting, or non-parenting rather, can be seen as a rational economic and lifestyle choice – an either-or between career and personal fulfillment and happiness on one side and the cost (financial and otherwise) of children on the other. Childcare and housing and outstanding student loans are cited as the major deterrents. Women especially still, despite decades of advancement, bear the brunt of this unpalatable choice – old gender patterns and expectations lead to women performing most childcare and housework and sacrificing more career opportunities. Add in the economic insecurity brought on by COVID 19, and the decision to parent becomes even more fraught. As a result, infertility issues are increasing, in women and men, as couples delay childbearing. Couples are having fewer children than they say they want.

Looking at the other side of the fertility coin, teen pregnancies and childbearing have fallen drastically in the US. Teen childbearing rates have fallen since 1991, when there were 61.8 births per 1000 teens. In 2020, the rate was 15.3. Cross that item off the culture war list. 

China had a long-term decline in adolescent childbearing (and marriage) in the late 20th Century but has seen a recent rebound in both in some rural provinces. The reasons for this rebound include the gender imbalance (more males in each age cohort than females due to the One-Child Policy), resulting in an imbalance in the marriage market and in males resorting to various strategies to land a bride as early as possible, including paying a bride price and finding younger brides. Rural girls are at greater risk for early marriage due to lower education levels, lack of opportunity and persistent traditional culture and gender norms.

Foregoing early childbearing leads to reduced overall childbearing – many women simply don’t catch up and have the number of children they want. The percent of women in the US age 30-34 who are childless rose from 26% in 2006 to 33% in 2018. Looking at US women age 40-44, in 1980, 90% were mothers; in 2006, 80% were mothers and in 2018, 86% were mothers. 

The New York Times on June 18, 2021 published a front-page story by Sabrina Tavernise and three others about women in the US delaying motherhood. Some of the above factors were discussed. Delaying childbearing was found more pronounced in areas with good economic prospects for women. Women there have more incentive to wait.

But the Times left out a few things. 

There was no mention of men. Are men delaying fatherhood like women are? Is taking two to tango a 20thCentury phenomenon not worthy of discussion in today’s climate? I remember an unmarried woman with no children in her 30s in a rural community saying to me a few years ago when I asked her about her romantic prospects, “there are no eligible men.” There were men in this community, it seemed as many men as women, but none measured up to her standards. She moved afield to find a mate. 

If we look at delayed motherhood, we must perforce look at the entire mating system including fatherhood – couples meeting, mating, sex, contraception, abortion, childbirth and child rearing. 

Are men and women in the US partnering or marrying at less rates? Yes. For all US men and women ages 18-34, in 2004, 33% had no steady romantic partner, whereas in 2016, it was 45%.

There are similar figures for adults under age 35 who are not living with a spouse or partner: in 2007 it was 56% and in 2017 it rose to 61%. In many instances, women are not, and cannot, rely on a male for support, hence they make their own career. In China, one report states that 15 million more adults lived alone in 2021 than in 2018. They are termed ‘empty nest youth’.

How about sexual activity? Quite a male/female difference. For men age 18-24 in 2000-2, 19% reported no sexual activity for the preceding year. In 2016-8, it rose to 31% of males. 

For women of the same ages in the same time periods, the rate rose from 15% to 19%. Quite a difference in reported sexual activity with far more males than females reporting none. 

Accurate figures in China are harder to come by. One survey in China found that during Covid, 53% of men and 30% of women had fewer sexual partners during Covid, and 40% of males and 32% of females reported less sexual activity. A similar gender gap as the US. 

What is going on with men and women and the mating system? 

Sex is down, pregnancies (intended and unintended) are down, abortions are down, and childbearing is down. Declining pregnancies can be attributed to less sex and better contraception.  Surveys indicate that couples are contracepting more and using better methods, including LARCS, Long-Acting Reversible Contraception. In China, contraception is harder to come by for adolescents but freely available to adults, including the long-acting methods. 

Are some sex differences at play here? The figure of men having less sex than women begs for an explanation. Are men fearful of approaching women, of dating, of initiating sex? Are women choosing more rigorously? Are more men not making the cut? Hence women having more sex with a smaller pool of eligible males?

Here we see individual choices ending up collectively driving governments batty. We have individual choices in two totally disparate countries, US and China, leading to the same end result. What is the commonality, if any? As women advance economically and are more educated, are males perceived to be (or are) in decline? Are women pickier? 

What are governments to make of this? Is it their business when and how many offspring its citizens have (or how much sex they have)? And what, if anything, can they do about it?

It is a valid function of governments to enable its citizens to have the offspring they want, i.e., to be able to reproduce, and to have those offspring survive and in turn reproduce. To be able to reproduce means maintaining the essential reproductive biology, i.e., fertility, including preventing environmental damage to reproductive organs for starters. Other damage to fertility comes from age, lifestyle, i.e., drinking and obesity, and STIs. Is infertility on the rise? Declining sperm counts have been in the news, though a recent report counters this. No matter the cause, shouldn’t governments be subsidizing fertility treatments for the married and unmarried if they want its citizens to have more children? China prohibits single women from using infertility services.

Then there are social, economic and cultural factors that relate to mating, sexual activity, pregnancy, abortion, childbearing, childrearing decisions. Each would take a separate volume to discuss and are of vital importance. These factors are what are now called intersectionality but have been reproductive factors since time immemorial and determine individual reproductive strategies, each of which takes place in a certain environment. In the days before modern medicine (and still in too many countries), childbirth was a major killer of women. The rates and risk were (and are) determined by such factors as race, geography, poverty, education, family unit, in addition to childbirth services and medical care. 

To the extent lower childbearing is a decision subject to outside influence, what are governments’ responses? Last month in China, the government adopted a three-child policy, now permitting married couples to have three. The likely effect? Near zero, just like the adoption of the two-child policy was five years ago. No mention of a right of unmarried women to have three children, not that many would, because non-marital childbearing is a rarity in China, unlike the US and much of the rest of the Western world – it is about 40% in the US and 42% in the EU and 55% in Scandinavia. It is well over 50% in much of Latin America. Many or most are in non-marital consensual unions/partnerships. The rate is under 1% in India. The only constant is that birthrates are declining in all these countries whether the parents are married or unmarried. So, put aside subsidizing marriage as a “solution” to the declining birthrate issue. 

Likewise subsidizing childbirth. Various EU countries have tried a variety of approaches including subsidizing childcare, tax credits, parental leave etc. and the effect is marginal, though not nil. Germany had an uptick after expanding access to affordable childcare and providing parental leave but not a major one. The uptick may be one of timing to take advantage of the benefits not an uptick in total number of children. China has a two-week paid parental leave for fathers though few take it. A government purchasing its future citizens is, generally speaking, money wasted.

How about free education? The expense of educating children is often cited as a deterrent (as well as unpaid student loans). About 24 countries around the world provide free (or nearly free) university education – many are in the EU, which has stubbornly declining birth rates. Others include Malaysia (at 2.0 births per woman and falling), Brazil (1.7 and falling) and Kenya (3.5 and falling). 

To solve the government’s fiscal issues, some are raising the age of retirement (easier for office workers than laborers) and increasing taxes on a reduced workforce (few or none dare reduce pension benefits). 

Then we get to the nub. What has all this to do with women’s and men’s individual choices about childbearing? And really, do, or should rather, governments have say?

Look what happens when governments intrude. In China, the One Child Policy led to a gender imbalance. Its policy against Muslim childbearing is akin to genocide. In Romania in the 1980s, the ban on birth control and abortion resulted in a generation of women rendered infertile by botched abortions. Government fines on the childless is the next frontier. If a government can prohibit childbearing, then can’t it require it? China and used to prohibit pre-marital sex, as did most US states. Can states require procreative sex? What is the difference in terms of asserted government powers? Is the Handmaid’s Tale coming?

In the US, states are adopting the Romania strategy and are falling over each other to prohibit abortion, — see Mississippi and Texas – itching to overturn Roe v. Wade. And then overturning Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized birth control. We see this push at the time the census shows a declining white population. We saw this in the mid-19th Century with white Protestants fighting back against immigrant Irish Catholics with the Know-Nothing Party to criminalize birth control and abortion so as to prevent the white Protestant women from using them. The Party also pushed to deny Irish the right to vote – the laws aiming to limit minority voting turnout and against immigration are nothing new. Tribal tensions and animosity are alive and well. 

What are women and men seeing when they think (consciously or subconsciously) about having children? In biology, there is the concept of reproductive strategy where each individual chooses, consciously or subconsciously, the timing and number of offspring to give them the best chance of survival and having offspring of their own. This includes choosing a mate. In many parts of the world, that means marriage. In much of the West, it doesn’t. The number of singles is on the rise in China. The sex ratio imbalance in China, that there are more men than women, is also a factor. Males have to compete more to attract a mate. Women can be choosier. What are they looking for: good genes, an equal partner, a provider, an equal helpmate in parenting – and … an apartment – the latest form of dowry. One commentator in China said, “housing prices are still the best sterilization tool.” Long work hours are a deterrent to men taking on more housework and childcare (the Times recently had an article on unmarried men in China choosing vasectomies). Long work hours for women and lack of affordable child care are also a deterrent to motherhood, as the Times also pointed out. The gender imbalance is alive and well—look at women being penalized more in COVID than men.  What in the US we call “intersectionality” is profoundly important to “solving” the problem – gender, discrimination, economic and social factors, all weigh in on individual lives and choices.

What we see are individual reproductive strategies at odds with national childbearing goals. 

Pennsylvania Ballet a Disgrace

The Pennsylvania Ballet announced their upcoming digital season a few days ago. The season is dedicated to their founder, Barbara Weisberger, who died in December. One might have thought that the company would feature ballets choreographed by women in her honor.

Nope. Not one.

Eleven choreographers. All male.

Men 11 – Women 0.

What were they thinking? Clearly they weren’t thinking.

What a lost opportunity to salute their female founder. What a kick in the face to women creators in ballet.

What are the women (and the good men) on the company’s board thinking? Are they going to let the male director get away with this?

Time for a reckoning.