WASHINGTON, D.C. – The controversy over Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that reaffirmed Catholic teaching on contraception 50 years ago, cannot be understood apart from the context of a well-funded advocacy network for population control after the Second World War.
The network includes big names in grantmaking like the Ford Foundation and John D. Rockefeller III. One scholar has been writing about this network for decades.
“The campaign to persuade Catholics, leaders and the lay public, that traditional views of sexuality, abortion, and marriage were antiquated was extensive and conducted on many fronts,” Arizona State University history professor Donald Critchlow told CNA.
“Groups such as Catholics for Choice were encouraged through philanthropic grants, but the more general campaign was conducted around sexual education.”
Critchlow is the author of the 1999 Oxford University Press book Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America.
Together with his talk at the Catholic University of America’s April 2018 conference “The Legacy of Dissent from Humanae Vitae,” his work helps place Humanae Vitae in the political and policy context of its time.
“In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, leaders in philanthropic foundations, politics, and business joined together to undertake a campaign to control the rates of population growth. They concluded that future wars, famine, and other social ills could be prevented through a reduction in the rate of population growth,” Critchlow told CNA. “This neo-Malthusian agenda was joined by activists seeking reproductive rights for women and environmentalists seeking environmental justice.”
This took part in an environment of sexual revolution, even before the invention of the birth control pill.
“American sexual mores were already changing in the 1960s,” Critchlow continued. “Changes in sexual mores and sexual behavior cannot be attributed to one single cause. There should be little doubt, however, that elite opinion encouraged changes in sexual mores and behavior in the name of ‘progress,’ reproductive justice, and population control.”
The history professor classified the postwar era as “one of the most massive efforts of social engineering in human history.”
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