In November 2021, we released Welcome to Gilead, an original report that exposes how politicians across the world are justifying the restriction of women’s reproductive rights because of fears of population decline.
The report identifies a toxic mix of nationalism, economic anxiety, sexism, racism and contempt for human rights which can combine to drive measures such as abortion bans, restrictions on contraception access and political pressure on women to have more children. You can read the full report here and a summary of its findings and recommendations here.
Through Gilead Watch, we’ll provide updates on relevant developments, including the ways in which governments are using coercive methods to advance their pronatal agendas, and how those policies are being promoted by other politicians, influencers and organisations. We’ll also report on positive developments where they happen.
DEFEND WOMEN’S RIGHTS FROM PRONaTAL GOVERNMENTS
Panic over population decline is driving abuses such as restrictions on contraception access, abortion bans and hostile propaganda targeting childfree people. Call on your political representative to speak out against these violations!
Afghanistan already has one of the highest population growth rates in the world and profound development challenges, including half of its people facing food insecurity. Since coming back into power in August 2021, the Taliban has been systematically removing women’s rights. This includes, but is not limited to, ending higher education for girls, forcing women out of their jobs, banning women from certain public spaces and restricting their ability to leave their homes.
- March 2023: Senior UN official in Kabul describes the country as “the most repressive country in the world for women’s rights”. United Nations, 9 March 2023
- February 2023: Taliban fighters reportedly restrict the sale of contraception in some parts of Afghanistan, claiming it to be a western conspiracy to control the Muslim population. This does not appear to be government policy, however. The Guardian, 17 February 2023
Although infamous for its historical policies forcing people to have small families, China is now showing hints of tipping into the other extreme. With its leaders fearing the economic effects of an ageing society, they are urging Chinese people – especially women – to have more children, and measures which restrict or complicate access to family planning services are beginning to emerge.
For full background, read the China chapter of Welcome to Gilead
- November 2022: New Women’s Rights and Protections Law states that “Women should respect and obey national laws, respect social morals, professional ethics and family values.” Fortune 2 November 2022
- September 2022: Amid longstanding issues of poor sexual and reproductive education, a provider of family planning in China is reportedly asked by a government official “Why are you still talking about contraception now that we are encouraging childbirth?” Worldcrunch 7 September 2022
- August 2022: Goverenment policy to reduce the number of abortions is linked with population concerns. Washington Post 17 August 2022
- April 2022: State media report calls from Communist Party officials to oppose “radical feminism” and to criminalise abortion in order to boost the birth rate The Diplomat 23 April 2022
- February 2022: Campaign launched to deter women and teens from getting an abortion, South China Morning Post, 11 February 2022
- December 2021: Reduced availability of vasectomies, Bloomberg, 16 December 2022
- December 2021: Chinese government website instructs Communist Party members there is “no excuse” for not getting married and having two or more children. Message deleted following backlash. The Guardian, 10 December 2021
- September 2021: Government announces plan to reduce abortions, New York Times, 27 September 2022
- April 2021: Feminist group promoting the choice to remain unmarried or be childfree censored online China Digital Times, 16 April 2021
Hungarian politicians like Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have actively stoked the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, which holds that white Christian populations are threatened by the higher birth rates and migration of Muslims and other minority groups. In response, Hungary has shut its border to refugees and has actively promoted larger families among its white, Christian, heterosexual population.
For full background, read the Hungary chapter of Welcome to Gilead
- November 2022: Hungary’s government assumes the roles of secretariat for the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a network of 36 “pro-life” governments . The Hungarian ambassador to the US spoke of its commitment to “protect traditional family values”. He noted that the Hungarian constitution states that “foetal life shall be subject to protection from the moment of conception” and that Hungary allocates 6% of its GDP for pro-family support, including tax exemption benefits to women with four or more children. ADF International 17 November 2022.
- September 2022: Hungarian government introduces policy of making women listen to “foetal vital signs” before having an abortion. A far-right politician describes this as “the first pro-life move since the regulation of abortion in 1956”. ABC News, 13 September 2022
- August 2022: Government study concludes that having too many educated women is a threat to the Hungarian birth rate, as graduates are less likely to marry and have children. The report also expresses concern that “feminine traits” may be encouraged by university education, leading to a weakening of “sexual equality”. BBC, 22 August 2022
- May 2022: Hungary hosts CPAC, the US Conservative Political Action Conference. In his address to the conference, Prime Minister Viktor Orban again endorses the racist “Great Replacement” theory, stating Europe is committing suicide by allowing immigration. A CPAC speaker proposes banning abortion as a solution to population problems and immigration. Vice, 19 May 2022
- May 2022: Hungarian politican Tamás László calls for more policies to increse the birth rate including further promotion of marriage and to fight the ‘LGBTQ-lobby’. He also proposes that the government should follow US conservatives and consider revising abortion legislation ‘to make sure that all conceived children are actually born’. Budapost, 14 May 2022
- September 2021: Hungary hosts Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit at which political leaders pledge support for “pro-family” policies and opposition to immigration, Balkan Insight, 23 September 2021
- June 2021: Government is trying to erase LGBTQ identities, casting queer families as “illegitimate, non-procreative entities”, Vox, 28 June 2021
Iran has oscillated between encouraging and discouraging population growth, largely driven by religious, economic, and geopolitical concerns. For the past ten years, the country’s regime has been ardently pro-natalist. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei seeks to double Iran’s population by 2050 in order to restore its “dynamism, development and youthful nature”.
For full background, read the Iran chapter of Welcome to Gilead
- April 2023: The state-controlled Fars News agency claims Iran is facing a demographic “black hole” and targets parents having only one child. An article claims that “tendency to isolation, depression, weakness in communicating with peers, paying too much attention to computer and solitary games, fear or hatred of being in social groups are among the characteristics of being an only child.” Jerusalem Post 22 May 2023
- December 2022: The latest figures show Iran’s birth and fertility rates continue to reduce, despite the restrictions introduced by the regime in the last few years. In response, according to reports, President Ebrahim Raisi “considered promoting the culture of marriage and reducing divorce and helping to solve the problem of infertility as some of the effective factors in increasing the population, which should be the priority of attention and action of all institutions”. Tehran Times, 12 December 2022.
- September 2022: Government’s “carrot and stick” approach to boosting birth rate extends to preferential treatment for parents, such as professional advancement in academic institutions, moving up the waiting list to buy a car. Further restrictions on reproductive rights include reported checks on women undergoing gynaecological surgery with the effect of making them infertile and men requiring to use fake documents to obtain vasectomies. Los Angeles Times, 14 September 2022
- August 2022: Reports of even more extreme difficulties in obtaining contraceptive supplies for women, illegal abortions due to the state ban, and “morality patrols” Iranwire 10 August 2022
- June 2022: contraceptives banned from public display. A government document leaked on social media orders pharmacies to place contraceptives on rear shelves, out of sight of the front window. Iranwire 29 June 2022
- June 2022: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini tells a group of students “It is unacceptable that the lifestyle of the upper classes of society has been adopted by different classes, and that flashy weddings and not having children have become common.” Los Angeles Times, 14 September 2022
- May 2022: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei makes renewed call for action to boost population, Iran International, 18 May 2022
- May 2022: Foetal screening tests (which can lead to abortions) restricted, France 24, 11 May 2022
- January 2021: Government forbids any form of contraception in nomadic areas, Iran International, 21 January 2022
- November 2021: AIDS and reproductive health specialists speak out against restrictions, Middle East Eye, 5 December 2022
- November 2021: Restrictive “Rejuvenation of the population and support of the family” bill signed into law by Iranian president Radio Free Europe, 18 November 2021
- September 2021: United Nations human rights bodies criticise Iranian abortion ban and restrictions intended to boost birth rate, United Nations, 16 September 2021
- June 2021: Iran’s state hospitals and clinics no longer provide vasectomy services or contraceptives, The Guardian, 15 June 2021
Italy has one of the lowest fertility rates (a measure of family size) in Europe, and while its population has been relatively stable thanks principally to net migration, political concern has been expressed about it for many years. Although abortion rights are protected in law, women face a number of obstacles in accessing it, including high levels of conscientious objection to performing the procedure by medical practitioners. With the election of the Brothers of Italy party to government in September 2022, conservative social values, hostility to immigration and demographic concerns threaten to lead to further restrictions.
- May 2023: Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida tells conference on Italy’s birth rate that concern regarding it “is probably linked to the defence of that (sense of) belonging which many people are attached to … to what is the Italian culture, to our language family, to our way of life.” Ansa.it 11 May 2023
- April 2023: Government Minister claims the country risks “ethnic replacement” due to its low birth rate and the level of immigration. The comments from Francesco Lollobrigida of the Brothers of Italy Party, have sparked strong condemnation from other Italian politicians. MSN/The Telegraph 19 April 2023
- December 2022: Amid reports of increasing difficulties accessing abortion, anti-abortion politician Eugenia Roccella is appointed Minister for Family, Natality and Equal Opportunities. Reuters, 22 December 2022
- September 2022: Brothers of Italy party wins power (in coalition) in Italy. It has explicitly linked abortion to declining birth rate, and proposed linking of social welfare payments and motherhood. The Economist, September 2022; The Atlantic, 23 September 2022;
- August 2022: Abortion provision limited in Marche region of Italy, where right wing Brothers of Italy party holds power. Local BoI leader states: “The Italian population is decreasing. I’m not saying foreigners shouldn’t have children but we need to create the conditions for Italians to reproduce.” The Guardian, 22 August 2022
Driven by nationalism and the strong influence of the Catholic Church, Poland’s ruling party has taken tremendous steps to increase the birth rate. Politicians like the minister of education are quick to put the blame for population decline on women, who they believe must prioritise motherhood, which “God called on them to do”.
For full background, read the Poland chapter of Welcome to Gilead
- January 2023: Women in Poland reported to be afraid to get pregnant as they are concerned they might not be able to get an abortion if complications arise. Euronews 27 January 2023.
- November 2022: Chairman of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party atributes low birth rate to “cultural resistance” to having children among some sections of society, and young women drinking too much alcohol Notes from Poland 6 November 2022
- October 2022: Opinion poll in Poland shows narrow majority (52%) think abortion ban has made women less likely to want to have children – among women, the figure is 67% Notes from Poland
- August 2022: One in five young polls do not want to have children, according to a national poll The First News 19 August 2022
- February 2022: Poland ranked worst country in Europe for contraception access Notes from Poland 10 February 2022
- January 2022: More than 1,000 women and numerous human rights organisations have contested Poland’s draconian abortion ban in front of the European Court of Human Rights, Amnesty International, 26 January 2022
- December 2021: Government to launch new demographic plan based on “births, not migration”, Notes from Poland, 28 November 2021
- November 2021: Government considers limits on divorce to increase birth rate, and introduction of pregnancy, Newsweek 20 November 2021
Nationalism, geopolitical interests, and social conservatism have led President Putin to declare that Russia’s declining population is its biggest problem. Incentives to raise the birth rate have failed, and the government is turning to more coercive measures in an attempt to reverse its demographic trends.
For full background, read the Russia chapter of Welcome to Gilead
- April 2023: Russia is prominent among the group of 22 nations blocking agreement on Comprehensive Sexuality Education at the UN’s Commission on Population and Development. United Nations, 14 April 2023.
- October 2022: Bizarre Russian government TV advertisement intended to deter people from emigrating attacks perceived Western values and lifestyle by targeting gays, vegetarians, antiracism and the childfree. Scottish Daily Express, 7 October 2022
- September 2022: Russian parliamentarians propose law to ban “childfree information” for children, Meduza, 7 September 2022
- August 2022: Russia revives Mother Heroine award, originally introduced in the Soviet era, for women who have ten children or more. President Putin reportedly spoke about the need for “drastic” measures to address Russia’s birth rate. Washington Post, 17 August 2022
- July 2022: Russian parliamentarians propose law banning “gay propaganda” as detrimental to family values and posing a “demographic threat”. The bill’s explanatory note specifically mentions the threat of “childfree” life choices. Meduza, 22 July 2022
- September 2021: Russia announces plan to boost the birth rate and “strengthen traditional family values” that aims to halve the number of abortions by 2025, partly by making pregnant women undergo counselling, RFE/RL, 22 September 2021
- September 2021: Russian official proposes that LGBTI+, “radical feminist” and childfree groups be labelled extremist, Moscow Times, 20 September 2021
Under President Erdoğan’s rule, the country has embraced population growth as a goal to further its economic and nationalistic interests. He tells people that “at least three children are necessary in each family, because our population risks ageing”, and implores the Turkish diaspora to have at least five children.
For full background, read the Turkey chapter of Welcome to Gilead
February 2023: the EPF European Contraception Policy Atlas 2023 reports that contraception consultations have become less accessible and the government website detailing contraceptive information completely disappeared in the last year. Contraception Policy Atlas Europe, 8 February 2023
October 2022: President Erdogan tells male politician that his wife’s “career is to give birth to children. The number [of children] should be increased … Children are very important. Look, the PKK [families] have 5, 10, 15 children,” The PKK is a militant organisation from the country’s Kurdish minority Rudaw, 20 October 2022
September 2021: Turkey withdraws from Istanbul Convention against violence towards women, Equal Times, 1 September 2021
February 2020: Erdoğan urges deputies of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to have at least three children, duvaR.english, 20 February 2020
March 2017: President Erdoğan calls on Turkish people living in the EU to have five children, Hurriyet Daily News, 17 March 2017
Though the US population continues to grow, a number of conservative lawmakers and political influencers have joined in the population panic. Some worry about the economic implications of declining birth rates and don’t want to turn to immigration as a solution, while many others are clearly motivated by social conservatism and nationalism. For example, former Vice President Pence joined other notable world pro-natalists at the 2021 Budapest Demographic Summit, where he stated that “plummeting birthrates” are a “crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilisation itself”.
For full background, read the USA chapter of Welcome to Gilead
- February 2023: The Congressional Budget Office projects that the 2022 abortion ban will have little effect on the birth rate, assuming further restrictions aren’t introduced. HuffPost 17 February 2023
- January 2023: Research shows significant minority of US citizens subscribe in some way to the ‘Great Replacement’ theory that immigrants from different cultures are intentionally trying to replace white Christians. Among Republicans and evangelical Christians, that becomes a majority at 55% and 51% respectively. A majority of Americans who most trust conservative media outlets (70%) and Fox News (56%) among television news sources believe “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background”. Public Religion Research Institute 17 January 2023.
- Roe v Wade overturned by Supreme Court. CNN 24 June 2022
- May 2022: The US Conservative Political Action Conference takes place in Hungary. During the event, the CPAC chair proposes banning abortion as a solution to population concerns and the “Great Replacement” (the racist belief that white, Christian culture is being intentionally “outbred” by Muslims and people of colour). He states ““If you say there is a population problem in a country, but you’re killing millions of your own people through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, some of that problem is solved,” Vice, 19 May 2022
- March 2022: Many US states are passing or trying to pass abortion restrictions in anticipation of Roe v Wade being overturned later this year, New York Times, 7 March 2022
- March 2022: Coalition of US anti-abortion influencers call for end to abortion in a ‘Declaration for a New American Future’. The declaration links population “control” with eugenics and forced abortion, and identifies falling US fertility rates as a consequence of the policy. Signatories include senior figures in C-Fam and the Population Research institute, whose are featured in the Welcome to Gilead report. Lifenews.com 28 March 2022.
- January 2022: For a third time, the Supreme Court rejects a request by abortion providers to intervene in the ongoing legal challenge against Texas’ restrictive abortion law, France 24, 20 January 2022
- January 2022 Right-wing US commentator Tucker Carlson produces Fox documentary praising Hungary’s pronatal policies and advancing Great Replacement Theory ideas Vox, 29 January 2022
INFLUENCERS AND ORGANISATIONS
A growing number of non-governmental organisations and religious institutions have been influencing governments to adopt pronatal, anti-choice, and often anti-LGBT agendas. Some have infiltrated governments while others have been working behind the scenes, mobilising an international network of allies. The Vatican, for example, has used its global reach and permanent observer UN status to promote large families and deny sexual and reproductive healthcare around the world.
BACKGROUND and RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
May 2023: National Conservatism conference held in UK, in which Conservative MP talks of “the greatest threat to Western society” being a low birth rate, an issue raised by some other speakers. An address was also given by JD Vance, a US politician who has criticised the childfree and describes himself as “pro-life”. The Guardian, 15 May 2023 (JD Vance background, The Guardian, 26 July 2021)
April 2023: A concerted push at two key UN meetings – the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Population and Development – against Comprehensive Sexuality Education is led by, among others, the Holy See and the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam). C-Fam, 30 March 2023; C-Fam, 15 April 2023
September 2022: Pope Francis again talks of concerns about the impact of a low birth rate, stating ““Today having children is a matter, I would say, of patriotism, also to take the country forward.” Catholic News Agency 12 September 2022
August 2022: Catholic foundation which has opposed abortion and divorce runs poster campaign in Poland on the low birth rate, asking “where are these children?”, France 24, 10 August 2022
May 2022: Pope Francis addresses “General State of Births” meeting in Italy, organized by the Natality Foundation and promoted by the Family Forum, stating that ““Fewer children are being born and this means impoverishing everyone’s future.” Vatican News 12 May 2022
April 2022: French far right candidate Marine Le Pen enters final round of French election. Le Pen opposes extension of abortion rights, subscribes to ‘Great Replacement’ theories and proposes €100,000 grant to couple who have a third child. Le Monde 8 April 2022
April 2022: US Catholic website carries item titled “Once and for all, overpopulation is a myth” written by Ruth Institute, a US-based “pro-family” organisation hostile to the “sexual revolution” and associated with anti-LGBTQI+ propaganda. National Catholic Register, 1 April 2022
January 2022: French populist politician Eric Zemmour, known for his anti-Muslim and anti-feminist rhetoric, proposes €10,000 baby bonus in rural areas, GetToText, 31 January 2022
January 2022: European far-right leaders attend meeting in Madrid at which opposition to immigration and concern about low birth rates are reaffirmed, Euractive 31 January 2022
January 2022: Catholic Church in Burkina Faso opposes government family planning campaign to reduce family size Crux 25 January 2022
January 2022: Pope Francis calls childfree people ‘selfish’, CNN, 5 January 2022
September 2021: European Parliamentary Forum report identifies sources of hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for anti-reproductive rights activity in Europe, EPF, 6 September 2021
Have you come across any other news about threats to reproductive and women’s rights driven by attempts to boost population growth? Perhaps you’ve seen an article written in a different language? You can share it with us by emailing email@example.com with the subject line ‘Gilead Watch’.