Why Do So Many “Pro-Choice” Groups Support Forced Abortion?


When they founded NARAL in the 1960s, reformed abortionist Bernard Nathanson and his colleague Larry Lader dreamed up the label “pro-choice.”1 Of all the slogans they produced, it has turned out to be the biggest lie of all. From its beginning, leading elements of the so-called “pro-choice” movement have vocally supported forced abortion and contraception ― for everyone but wealthier white women.

As far back as the 1950s, dozens of leading eugenicists publicly recommended forced abortion, sterilization and contraception for non-white and poor populations. These included playwright Robert Ardrey, ecologist Garrett Hardin,2 psychologist Wayne Bartz, and Edgar Chasteen, who recommended mandatory contraception in his popular book The Case for Compulsory Birth Control. 3

Many were particularly concerned that Catholics were having bigger families than Protestants. Population Reference Bureau sociologist Elmer Pendell claimed, “The Catholics are promulgating a breeding program to gain political control in the United States.” In his 1951 book entitled Population on the Loose, he laid out a detailed 19-point eugenics law which would reward childbearing by those with better genetic pedigrees and severely limit and punish it among the lower and poorer classes.4

U.S. Support for Forced Abortion

As the foundation of the modern “pro-choice” movement was laid in the 1960s, the mortar holding all of its ideas together was the belief that mandatory measures would be required in order to control the childbearing of lesser classes for the good of the human race and for the environment.

The most notorious pusher of mandatory population control measures was Paul Ehrlich. In his shabby 1968 book The Population Bomb, he recommended the establishment of a huge Federal Department of Population and Environment (DPE), which would have the legal power to dictate how many children couples could have.5

Two years later, in his more detailed book Ecoscience, he wrote, “It has been concluded that mandatory population control laws, even those requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under our existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently compelling to endanger the society. Many consider the situation already serious enough to justify some forms of compulsion.” His recommended measures included mandatory abortion and sterilization, adding sterilizing agents to water supplies or staple foods, and the establishment of an armed international force with the power to enforce these measures. All of this was meant to lead to what Ehrlich called a “Planetary Regime.”6 In 2013, Ehrlich claimed that “nobody has the right to as many children as they want.”

Apparently, “reproductive rights” go only one way.

woman scared frightened

It should be alarming (but apparently isn’t) even to “pro-choice” people that the co-author of Ehrlich’s book was President Barack Obama’s “Science Czar,” John Holdren.

Perhaps the most influential person to express support of forced population control measures was Population Council President Bernard Berelson, who in 1969 drew up a detailed program which included adding sterilizing agents to the water supplies of the United States, compulsory sterilization of all men with three or more children, and mandatory abortion for all illegitimate pregnancies.7 He was joined by Alan F. Guttmacher, former Medical Director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who asserted, “Each country will have to decide its own form of coercion and determine when and how it should be employed. At present, the means available are compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion. Perhaps someday a way of enforcing compulsory birth control will be feasible.”8

Unfortunately, those with extreme ideas rapidly rose to positions of power in the feverish days of belief in the “population bomb.” As one example, two of the recommendations of the 1969 White House Conference on Hunger were “(1) mandatory abortion for any unmarried girl found to be within the first three months of pregnancy, and (2) mandatory sterilization of any such girl giving birth out of wedlock for a second time.”9

Inevitably, the push for forced population control measures found their way into official United States foreign policy. This led to NSSM-200, “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests,” which was published by the United States National Security Council in 1974. NSSM-200’s new population control strategy aimed to inspire “increased motivation for smaller family size” in developing nations by any means possible. NSSM-200 said:

Mandatory programs may be needed and…we should be considering these possibilities now.…Will we be forced to make choices as to whom we can reasonably assist, and if so, should population efforts be a criterion for such assistance? Is the U.S. prepared to accept food rationing to help people who can’t/won’t control their population growth?…Are mandatory population control measures appropriate for the U.S. and/or for others?10

NSSM-200 has never been superseded or modified. Therefore, it remains official United States population control policy.

government power, america, three branches

Support for Forced Abortion in China

As a wave of pro-life laws sweep the states of the nation, many inconsistencies in pro-abortion thinking are becoming glaringly evident.

Perhaps the most vivid example is the fact that many “pro-choice” leaders bitterly denounce pro-life legislators for purportedly “dictating to women how they can control their own bodies.” But many of the same people either wholeheartedly applaud China’s forced‑abortion and forced‑sterilization program or remain studiously silent about it. Perhaps this is because some of these people are not “pro-choice” at all, except when it comes to middle-class and upper-class white women. In fact, some of them hold up China’s population control program as a model for the entire world to follow.

Ted Turner’s Better World Society has presented its “Envision a Better World” award to Wang Wei, the head of the China Family Planning Association.11 According to the website of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the CFPA is a “full” member of IPPF, and boasts that its employees “not only provide information, education and services in reproductive health, but also promote rights awareness.” These are the foot soldiers who track and display women’s menstrual cycles, watch like hawks to make certain that women take their birth control pills, and control the mechanism that identifies and punishes families who deviate from the program. Since it essentially runs the Chinese forced abortion program, the International Planned Parenthood Federation has praised its “extraordinary success,” and says that it “is carried out in a very responsible way.”12

Many other “pro-choice” and environmental groups are enthusiastic about China’s policies, praise them, and go so far as to recommend that they be applied all over the world.

Friends of the Earth published a guide entitled Progress as if Survival Mattered, which urged governments to “embrace coercion” to “curb breeding.”13 Molly Yard, former President of the National Organization for Women, was foremost in lauding the Chinese program, calling it “among the most intelligent in the world,” and referring to forced abortion as “the only responsible policy they can have.”14 Sarah Epstein, a board member of the Population Institute, claimed that “the Chinese system is both compassionate and fair.”15

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America,16 the WorldWatch Institute,17 Zero Population Growth (renamed Population Connection),18 and many, many other “pro-choice” groups have supported the Chinese program, but none is more effusive in its praise than the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA. Its first Executive Director, Rafael Salas, said, “Each country has its view of what is free, a free choice. If you refer to the case of China, I am very sure that the Chinese themselves will say that within their cultural norms, they are not at all coercive.”19 He was followed by Nafis Sadik, who referred to herself as “China’s old friend,” and said that China “is to be congratulated on its successful [population control] programs.”20 She in turn was followed by Thoraya Obaid, who said, “China, having adopted practical measures in accordance with her current situation, has scored remarkable achievements in population control.”21

Young Asian woman serious face

In fact, it is very difficult indeed to find a “pro-choice” group that has not praised or directly supported the Chinese forced abortion program in some manner. There are a few, however, who are brave enough to voice their true opinions and describe their vision for an ideal world. One of these is Pentti Linkola of Finland, a popular speaker among environmentalists and “pro-choicers.” He believes that all cars should be confiscated, that development and use of all forms of technology must be discouraged, and that a two-child family be a norm enforced worldwide by an armed “Green Police.” In a breathtaking inversion of reality, Linkola said, “Those who hate life try to pull more people on board and drown everybody.  Those who love and respect life use axes to chop off the extra hands hanging on the gunwale….Our only hope lies in strong central government and uncompromising control of the individual citizen.”22

We have only to compare our own lives twenty years ago with what they are like now to see how much of Linkola’s frightening vision has become reality.

Final Thoughts

Given the pro-abortion movement’s consistent support of forced abortion, we should be questioning whether it actually supports women’s choice.

Is the pro-abortion movement about “reproductive freedom”?

+ Endnotes

[1] Nathanson wrote:

I remember laughing when we made those slogans up. We were looking for some sexy, catchy slogans to capture public opinion. They were very cynical slogans then, just as all of these slogans today are very, very cynical. In 1968 I met Lawrence Lader. Lader had just finished a book called Abortion, and in it had made the audacious demand that abortion should be legalized throughout the country….Lader and I were perfect for each other. We sat down and plotted out the organization now known as NARAL. With Betty Friedan, we set up this organization and began working on the strategy”

Reformed abortionist Bernard Nathanson, M.D., quoted in “‘Pro‑Choice’ Co‑Founder Rips Abortion Industry.” Whistleblower Magazine (WorldNetDaily), December 20, 2002.

[2] In June of 1992, the ubiquitous Garrett Hardin (a member of the American Eugenics Society who himself has four children) said in Omni Magazine, “I give the Chinese credit for officially recognizing that they have a problem and for having the nerve to propose the single‑child program….They have failed, however, by not making this directive universal throughout the country. The one‑child policy is only enforced in congested urban areas.”

[3] “Public Law Number ―: Reversible Fertility Immunization.” From Edgar R. Chasteen. The Case for Compulsory Birth Control (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice‑Hall), 1971.

[4] The detailed proposed eugenics law is laid out in Elmer Pendell. Population on the Loose (New York City: Wilfred Funk, Inc.), 1951. Chapter 14, entitled “Aw! Gordon! Let ‘Em Get Married!,” pages 332 to 338.

[5] Zero Population Growth (ZPG) founder Paul Ehrlich. The Population Bomb (New York City: Ballantine Publishers), 1968. Quotations from the book:

  • The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s the world will undergo famine ― hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate….We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail….We can no longer afford merely to treat the symptoms of the cancer of population growth; the cancer itself must be cut out. Population control is the only answer (Prologue).
  • A minimum of three and a half million people will starve to death this year [1968], mostly children. But this is a mere handful compared to the numbers that will be starving in a decade or so. And it is now too late to take action to save many of those people (page 17).
  • Our first step must be to immediately establish and advertise drastic policies designed to bring our own population size under control. We must define a goal of a stable optimum population size for the United States…and move rapidly toward that goal….We also are going to have to adopt some very tough foreign policy positions relative to population control. How do we go about it? Many of my colleagues feel that some sort of compulsory birth regulation would be necessary to achieve such [population] control. One plan often mentioned involves the addition of temporary sterilants to the water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired population size. Those of you who are appalled at such a suggestion can rest easy. The option isn’t even open to us, thanks to the criminal inadequacy of biomedical research in this area (pages 135‑136).
  • A Federal Department of Population and Environment (DPE) should be set up with power to take whatever steps are necessary to establish a reasonable population size in the United States and to put an end to the steady deterioration of our environment. The DPE would be given ample funds to support research in the areas of population control and environmental quality. In the first area it would promote intensive investigation of new techniques of birth control, possibly leading to the development of mass sterilizing agents such as were discussed above (page 138).

[6] Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich and John Holdren. Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company), 1970. For a list of quotations from this book, e-mail Brian Clowes at bclowes@hli.org.

[7] Bernard Berelson. “Beyond Family Planning.” Studies in Family Planning (publication of the Population Council), February 1969, pages 1 to 16.

[8] Alan F. Guttmacher, M.D., former Medical Director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). Medical World News, June 6, 1969.

[9] 1969 White House Conference on Hunger (WHCH) panel on “Pregnant and Nursing Women and Infants,” headed by Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Alan Guttmacher and Dr. Charles U. Lowe of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s National Institutes of Health (NIH).

[10] National Security Council Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200, or “The Kissinger Report”). Part Two, “Policy Recommendations,” I, “Introduction ‑ A U.S. Global Population Strategy,” F, “Development of World‑Wide Political and Popular Commitment to Population Stabilization and Its Associated Improvement of Individual Quality of Life.” April 24, 1974.

[11] Ted Turner’s Better World Society (BWS) demonstrated its wholehearted support of China’s forced‑abortion program when it presented its 1988 “Envision a Better World” Award to the head of the China Family Planning Association, Wang Wei. Attending the lavish banquet were, among other stars, “New Age” guru Shirley MacLaine, Margot Kidder, Turner, Carl Sagan, Robin Chandler Duke, Jean‑Michel Cousteau, and “good Catholic” Phil Donahue (“Honors and Accolades: Third Annual Awards Dinner a Smashing Success.” Better World Letter, Volume 4, Number 4).

[12] The IPPF enthused, “China is the most extraordinary success. Irrespective of media speculation about that [population control] program, on the whole this is carried out in a very responsible way” (International Planned Parenthood Federation [IPPF]. Family Planning World, Volume 2, Number 2, March/April 1992).

[13] “We should set a goal of reducing population to a level that the planet’s resources can sustain indefinitely at a decent standard of living ― probably less than two billion. Americans should take the lead in adopting policies that will bring reduced population. Ultimately, those policies may have to embrace coercion by governments to curb breeding” (Friends of the Earth. Progress as if Survival Mattered: A Handbook for a Conserver Society [Hugh Nash, editor], San Francisco, 1977, page 13).

[14] Molly Yard, former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), has said:

  • “I consider the Chinese government’s [population control] policy among the most intelligent in the world….It is a policy limited to the heavily overpopulated areas, and it is an attempt to feed the people of China. I find it very intelligent” (April 7, 1989 press conference).
  • “China’s population is so enormous that if they didn’t control it, they wouldn’t be able to feed their people. The Chinese government doesn’t coerce people. They use education. It’s very clear when you’re there. You can’t miss it. Even if you can’t read the language, you can’t miss it” (Mary Meehan. “Women as Guinea Pigs.” National Catholic Register, April 30, 1989, page 4).
  • “What is moral about denying family planning funds to China, which is what the United States has done, because the Chinese have a policy of allowing abortions and encouraging a one‑child family? What is moral about insisting that our point of view should be adopted by the Chinese when the only responsible policy they can have is to control family planning?” (Debra J. Saunders, Los Angeles Daily News. “NOW’s Shrillness Becomes Embarrassment to Feminism.” August 7, 1989, page D4).

[15] Sarah G. Epstein, a member of the advisory board of the Population Institute, wrote:

I have twice been to China and have studied China’s birth policy in cities and rural areas. Only about 20 percent of Chinese families choose to be one‑child families. As such, they have certain privileges. No one prevents the others from having two or more children. Indeed, those who choose one child are counseled not to have a sterilization until the child is 10 or 12 years old in case something happens to the only child (or in case they change their minds)….The Chinese system is both compassionate and fair. For example, if an oldest child is handicapped, the family can have a second child with all the privileges of an only child. If both parents are only children, the same thing. If the parents belong to minority groups (5 percent of the population), they can have more than one child, with all the benefits of an only child….Let us work out a rational population policy for our own country and respect policies of other countries that are dealing humanely with the critical need to slow population growth.

Published letter to The New York Times entitled “China Has Humane and Fair Birth Policy.” September 15, 1988, page A34.

[16] Dr. Alan F. Guttmacher, former President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated more than thirty years ago: “Each country will have to decide its own form of coercion and determine when and how it should be employed. At present, the means available are compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion. Perhaps someday a way of enforcing compulsory birth control will be feasible” (Medical World News, June 6, 1969, page 11).

In the mid‑1980s, a Planned Parenthood panel said, “[We recommend] compulsory abortion of out‑of‑wedlock pregnancies….payments to encourage abortions…and compulsory sterilization for those who have had two children….Coercion [in population programs] may become necessary. Such force may be required in areas where the pressure is the greatest, possibly in India and China” (as described in Richard D. Glasow, Ph.D. “Ideology Compels Fervid PPFA Abortion Advocacy.” National Right to Life News, March 28, 1985, page 5).

[17] Lester R. Brown, President of the Worldwatch Institute, stated in the May 8, 1985 New York Times, “The main difference between China and other densely populated developing countries…may be that the Chinese have had the foresight to make projections of their population and resources and the courage to translate their findings into policy.”

[18] Zero Population Growth (ZPG) founder Paul Ehrlich in National Geographic Magazine. On page 922 of the December 1988 issue (the one with the flashy full‑holograph cover), Ehrlich praised China’s coercive population‑control program as “remarkably vigorous and effective” and applauded China “as a leader in a grand experiment in the management of population and natural resources.”

[19] Rafael Salas, Executive Director of UNFPA, said:

Each country has its view of what is free, a free choice. If you refer to the case of China, I am very sure that the Chinese themselves will say that within their cultural norms, they are not at all coercive. Maybe from Western standards, these might not be totally acceptable, but then each country must determine that for themselves.

April 1986 quote of Rafael Salas, former Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “An Uncompromising Position: China, the UNFPA and U.S. Population Policy.” Undated Zero Population Growth Backgrounder.

[20] Sadik said:

I am China’s old friend….China has made an indelible mark in the global population community. It is to be congratulated on its successful programs….I feel a great sense of pride that UNFPA made the wise decision to resist external pressures and continue its fruitful cooperation with China….I am confident that the cooperation between UNFPA and China will not only continue, but will also be further strengthened in the future….UNFPA and the Chinese Government are together developing the Fifth Country Program, which will continue the reproductive health and family planning activities and will address new issues.

Excerpts from remarks by Nafis Sadik, former Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), during her acceptance of the People’s Republic of China’s “Population Prize Award.”  “Joining China, Girl Scouts Honor Former UNFPA Chief Sadik.” Friday Fax (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute [C‑FAM]), August 16, 2002 (Volume 5, Number 34).

Also see: State Family Planning Commission of China. “Population Prize Award Ceremony, Speech by Nafis Sadik,” January 12, 2002, and Steve Mosher. “UN Population Controllers Support Forced Abortion, Lose US Funding.” Population Research Institute Weekly Briefing, August 2, 2002 (Volume 4, Number 18).

[21] Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper. Quoted in “UN Agency Still Praises China’s Coercive Population Control Programs.” Friday FAX (C‑FAM [Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute], August 24, 2001 [Volume 4, Number 36]).

[22] Finnish eco‑extremist Pentti Linkola on the “earth as lifeboat” analogy, quoted in Cletus Nelson. “Extinguish Humans, Save the World: Pentti Linkola and Ecology’s Forgotten History.” EYE Magazine, November/December 1999.

Note: Linkola once said that another world war would be “a happy occasion for the planet.” He is a fisherman, amateur biologist, advocate of mandatory abortion and involuntary sterilization, and adversary of Amnesty International, the Vatican, and third‑world economic aid. Linkola is a fan of eugenics, and he would deny “genetically unfit” parents the right to bear children and would enforce a strict two‑child limit on the rest. The two primary occupations would be fishing and organic farming. The state would openly discourage technological research, and all cars would be confiscated so that roads could be cleared for additional forest growth. Individual rights would be abolished in favor of the “rights of the earth,” with an armed “Green Police” enforcing the new regime.

Brian Clowes, PhD

Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.


  1. Mary K. Maley on October 9, 2020 at 5:54 PM

    Eye-opening facts. Thank you for exposing them.

Leave a Comment