By Their Fruits (and Their Names) You Shall Know Them

Sometimes a name really is revealing.

The United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, is one organization whose name says a great deal about its true concern. It was, well, born during the overpopulation panic codified in the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” in the late 1960s, but before the widespread abuses of population control became public. Like the abortion- and contraception-pushing Population Services International (1970), and the older eugenics-based Population Council, which was started by the Rockefellers in 1952, the UNFPA’s original concern was not with development, health, or women’s empowerment, but with reversing the unchecked growth of world population.

The population control industry went through what might now be called a “rebranding” in the 1990s. There was a series of conferences hosted by the United Nations and its partners in Rio de Janiero (1992), Vienna (1993), Cairo (1994), and Beijing (1995), that recast population control in terms of “sustainable development” (Rio), “human rights” (Vienna), “reproductive health” (Cairo) and “women’s and ‘girl-child’ equality” (Beijing). We are not convinced that it was a coincidence that these moves followed the declassification of NSSM-200, the Nixon Administration’s national security memorandum saying that it was in the United States’ security interests to suppress the populations of poor countries in order to have access to their natural resources. Also trickling out in the news were reports of China’s widespread abuses of coercive population control.

Overpopulation panic had many ripple effects, including the reshaping of US foreign policy into making population control a priority.

And it is still a top priority of US foreign policy. The declassified NSSM-200 document is still published on the USAID web site to this day, and it is beyond obvious that its recommendations to use NGOs to implement population control in order to avoid charges of “imperialism” were implemented. The abuses that followed the embrace of the depopulation mindset are also well known. 1974, the year NSSM-200 was written and classified, was not coincidentally the year of the first UN World Population Conference in Bucharest.

The irony of the UN’s 1995 conference focusing on the rights of women and girls being held in Beijing was particularly demonic: China’s one-child policy was already leading to forced abortion and sterilization of women, and to girls being systematically killed in the womb since parents—forced to have one child—chose to have boys due to cultural norms. This ongoing crime against humanity has led to gendercide on a massive scale, and a huge imbalance between boys and girls in China, even as the UNFPA and others for whom “population” is still the primary concern continue to celebrate China’s population policies. Last year the one-child policy became the two-child policy, yet it is still coercive and still celebrated by the elite as a triumph of “reproductive health” and “sustainable development.”

This is why every Christian and women’s rights activist should celebrate the Trump Administration’s decision this week to remove funding from the UNFPA. Though the UNFPA still insists in carefully worded statements that it doesn’t promote abortion, it does pass tens of millions annually to abortion providers like Marie Stopes International, and it still refuses to condemn China’s coercive policies even as it continues its own “sexual and reproductive health” practices in China.

Of the many things wrong with the utterly destructive abortion-as-women’s-health-and-rights movement is that it has corrupted practically the entire international aid and development industry. It is clear that most of this work began as a just response to extreme poverty and disaster relief in the developing world. It is also absolutely true that women have been treated as second class citizens – and worse – in much of the world, and in many places still are treated unjustly in a systematic way.

There is so much for people of good will to agree upon, and so much to be done. Yet the opportunity for consensus is dashed when the lie that the murder of babies in the womb is declared a “human right” or a matter of healthcare, and an entire industry is reshaped to propagate this lie. The Trump Administration, in another decision worth celebrating, reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy soon after taking office. So when it is reported that the funds originally slated for UNFPA will go to USAID instead, our concerns are somewhat mitigated, though not completely erased.

What happens to an industry like the multi-billion dollar “aid and development” industry when it internalizes the idea that the killing of innocents and the suppression of population are a matter of “health” and “rights?” Think about that. Over several decades, the legitimate work of mobilizing large amounts of resources to help those in desperate situations slowly became about reducing fertility, to the point where today even a great deal of the most laudable work has population control strings attached.

It is good that funding has been cut off from UNFPA and that the newly strengthened Mexico City Policy is set up to cut off those NGOs who perform or promote abortion. But after decades of population control as a priority, this laudable policy is just a start. Greater progress will be made when the anthropology is fixed—that is, when the truth about the human person is more thoroughly integrated into the priorities, practices, and especially people, who work in USAID and the web of organizations devoted to aid and development.

There is an insightful new documentary from Acton Media called “Poverty, Inc.”, which lays bare the clear failure of the aid and development industry to bring true development to those who need it most. The way the industry is now structured, the incentives are to build and join well-funded NGOs, very little of whose massive budgets “trickle down” to the poor. They are built to perpetuate themselves, which requires the continuation of poverty, rather than its alleviation. Even if you grant that those involved have good intentions, few in the industry seem to want to talk about where the money ends up, and who really benefits.

It’s the anthropology, stupid. The reason we oppose the UNFPA and other “population” concerned entities is that they depersonalize billions of persons, seeing them as a problem to be reduced, rather than as individuals possessing innate dignity, made in the image of God. No rebranding can hide their priorities, and using women’s legitimate health and justice concerns as cover to eliminate the poor is why so many do not trust the UNFPA and the industry it helps to lead.

By all means, let’s support development: authentic, integral human development, as the Church calls it. But let’s also not get so enamored with the United Nations and the elite philanthropy industry that we set aside what is authentically Catholic and Christian in our approach to development. That is, we cannot set aside the Gospel because we cannot set aside Jesus Christ. He is what people really need. That He, along with all relevant Church teaching, were left out of the debate at the recent “Biological Extinction” conference held by the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences is a great scandal, and could have terrible consequences for those who look to the Catholic Church to be the voice of the voiceless. It featured well known population control advocates, including the discredited Paul Ehrlich, who later expressed his great pleasure that everyone at the conference, including the president of the Population Council, agreed that birth control was the key to alleviating “biological extinction.”

They see “population” – a threat to the world. The Catholic Church sees persons – made in the image of God, each with potential to build communities and change the world for the better in just societies based on the law of nature and nature’s God. These views are irreconcilable, and the Church must not be afraid to say so.

About Fr. Shenan J. Boquet

Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing


  1. Drew Anderson on April 8, 2017 at 4:58 PM

    I’ve read articles indicating that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has acted as a conduit for contraceptives to give them to other NGOs. I’ve read articles where CRS denies these allegations . What is the truth? I want to believe that CRS’s “hands” are clean, but I find it disconcerting that 60% of their budget comes from USAID.

    • Timothy Brennan on April 9, 2017 at 2:53 PM

      I am worried that the recent progressive Catholic Church movement, under Pope Francis, has developed at least two new dimensions partially hidden from each other; that ratifies CRS’ duplicitous acceptance or use of the NPO’s vehicle which sponsors abortion and contraceptives: while another nods in placation in the name of “compassion” and aquiessance to the realities of the world; which then to forget the first reality of the sanctity of human life created in the image of God?! Not my hope for our Church.

  2. Loretta Hoffman on April 8, 2017 at 5:33 PM

    I hope that Fr. Shenan Boquet of Human Life International will send a copy of this article to Pope Francis who obviously could use some more education on this topic.

  3. James Alsop on April 9, 2017 at 9:01 PM

    By Melanie Williams (Apr 8, 2017)
    Father Anthony Gramlich, MIC, the rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, leads the Marians’ ministry to women and men struggling with the emotional and spiritual pain of abortion. We spoke with him about Pope Francis’ decision to permanently extend the Jubilee Year of Mercy grant for all priests to be able to absolve the grave sin of abortion.

    What impact do you think this will have?
    Oftentimes canon law regarding abortion is misinterpreted. Previously, in order for the sin of abortion to only be absolvable by a bishop, the person who had had an abortion or performed one must have been more than 16 years old, known the applicable canon law, had full knowledge of what they were doing, and freely chose it at the time of the abortion. My experience is that most people have never read canon law, and 99 percent of people who have had abortions were coerced or pressured in some way or another into having the abortion, which meant that they do not need to go to Confession to a bishop for forgiveness from God. Up until now, local bishops could give the priests in their dioceses dispensation to forgive all abortions — no matter the circumstances of the abortion. Now, the Pope has given that dispensation to all priests. This is a very merciful thing the Holy Father has done. This is not to downplay the gravity of abortion — which is the taking of a human life — but mercy needs to be readily available for those who are repentant and grieving.

    What message do you think this sends to post-abortive parents?
    This sends a tremendous message. A lot of people who were post-abortive did not even know of this canon, so when the news came out about the Pope extending the dispensation, a lot of people came to me with questions. Many post-abortive men and women feel that they are condemned by God and by the Church, calling abortion the “unforgiveable sin.” That’s not true. What must never get lost is the fact there is mercy for everyone who is repentant. A message of mercy and welcoming is huge for those who are post-abortive because it shatters the lie they may be believing, which is they can’t be forgiven. Abortion is forgivable because Jesus died for all sins, and He forgave all sins by His Blood on the Cross. There is not one sin that Christ excluded from that redemption. I have met people that beat themselves up for years because of their abortion and don’t go to Church anymore. To let them know that they don’t have to beat themselves up, that they can be forgiven, that there is mercy — that is life-changing.

    Does this mean men and women forgiven before the Jubilee Year have not been forgiven and need to go to Confession again?
    No, people forgiven in the past do not need to go to Confession again. If they wanted to re-confess the sin of abortion they could, to make sure it was validly forgiven, but I do not think that people need to worry too much about it. The Pope is heading in the right direction with mercy.

    Is this grace only for those who have had abortions or also for those who pressured others into having one, or the doctors and nurses who have performed abortions and are repentant and grieving?
    This is for anyone who has been involved in procuring an abortion — directly or indirectly. There is mercy and healing for everyone.
    Copy from marian web site

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