Editor’s note: The following is an essay by Washington D.C. journalist and world traveller Donald A. Collins from Marilyn Hempel’s recently released book, Facing the Population Challenge: Wisdom from the Elders (Blue Planet United, 2014). The book brings together the responses of fifteen giants in the field of human population and development, who were asked how they would advise an assemblage of the world’s leaders on the future of humanity and the biosphere. “My advice is simple,” writes Collins. “Insure the human rights of all women by providing free of charge all reproductive services, as only by so doing can the deadly population bulge be slowed and brought into balance with the rest of nature so that human life on our planet can be sustained.”
by Donald A. Collins
I recall some of the pioneers on whose shoulders our leaders should be standing but sadly are not! It is too bad current world leaders have forgotten the ardor of their betters, who in the 1960’s and early 70’s understood population issues, and were committed to solving core problems, rather than tinkering at the edges. Now it is too late to do so without much pain.
My advice is simple. Insure the human rights of all women by providing free of charge all reproductive services, as only by so doing can the deadly population bulge be slowed and brought into balance with the rest of nature so that human life on our planet can be sustained.
That advice comes as the result of a long career in family planning. In September 1965, at age 34, armed only with a liberal arts BA and an MBA, I was hired as a program officer by a foundation group in Pittsburgh, Pa, whose major interests included family planning, then a rather arcane subject which had few devotees or non-profit entities to do the work. India’s population was under 500 million, the United States under 200 million, total world population was 3.3 billion vs only 2 billion people in the world when I was born in 1931.
Now world humans number over 7 billion en route to a projected 9 or 11 billion by 2100, while most world leaders still whine about the need for endless growth, which a few prescient observers have dubbed ‘the behavior of cancer cells’. Defining “growth” has often been focused on JOBS, which the Sunday September 8, 2013 CBS 60 Minutes segment clearly showed are not coming back in any great numbers to the U.S. after this recession, due to automation and cheaper labor elsewhere.
Ignoring population growth by U.S. and other world leaders was not always so, as the late Lawrence Lader opined in his classic 1971 book, Breeding Ourselves to Death. The book recounted a history of strong support from a bipartisan cross-section of Americans including a past and present American President, both convinced about the dangers of world population expansion beginning to burgeon wildly.
One of my principal bosses at my new 1965 job was an immensely rich, retiringly shy, but forcefully committed population/family planning partisan named Cordelia Scaife May, whose Mellon forebearers had left her one of America’s wealthiest women. (Her wonderful charitable legacy was briefly covered in a July 25, 2013 LA Times article.) At her urging, the several charitable entities that she influenced sought ways to extend family planning services to all women in the U.S. and around the world. There were few non-profit foundations then actively involved in providing such services, although the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s network of affiliates around the world included its U.S. affiliate Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). PPFA was then, as now, certainly the leading U.S. family planning service provider. PPFA had been founded by Margaret Sanger. Cordelia May, “Cordy” as she was known, had come to know Sanger through her mother and was greatly influenced by her.
Early in my tenure at being a philantropoid (vs being a philanthropist—one who actually has the money), my workaday boss, the chief foundation manager, showed me a funny plastic item. “Do you know what that is?” I didn’t. “It’s an inter-uterine device and you are going on the board of National Planned Parenthood”. Oops, talk about a naif in training.
I spent the next seven years on that PPFA board, meeting a who’s who of family planning pioneers of that era: Bill Draper Sr, Hugh Moore, Alan and Leonore Guttmacher, Fred Jaffe, Bernie Bartelson, Frank Notestein, Paul Todd, Stewart Mott, Rei Ravenholt, Malcolm Potts, Julia Henderson, Al Moran, Bud Harkavy, Elton Kessel, Tim Black, Phil Harvey, George Denniston, and many more far too little lauded people who came forward to help facilitate more reproductive services for all women. There are so many more whose advice and counsel were so generously and freely given to me that I apologize for not having the space to bless them all.
My first international family planning meeting in Santiago, Chile in 1966, convened by International Planned Parenthood, was attended by many of those named above, plus Dr. M. C. Chang, the co-developer with Gregory Pincus, of the famous birth control pill approved by the FDA in 1960. I asked Dr. Chang how did they know how much progesterone to put in their initial Pill, to which he replied, “We really didn’t know exactly”. Over the years, of course, doses were minimized and one could rightly argue that The Pill was by far the most important invention of the last century. When combined with other methods, it brings the world the potential to be the greatest solution possible to save our plundered planet.
A major place to invest charitable funds for family planning in those early years was the Population Counsel (PC), founded in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller III. PC was willing, but only with approval from a sovereign government, to fund contraceptive services in foreign countries. A major initial effort in IUD distribution in Taiwan got Cordy’s approval and had proved very successful by the time I joined the Pittsburgh charitable staff.
Cordy subsequently toured Asia with PC President Frank Notestein, gaining first-hand knowledge of conditions on the ground, which helped inspire later more daring philanthropy. To her, the numerous weighty formal studies of population trends and methods had by then already proved the obvious: the real work was to provide specific birth control services as rapidly and widely as possible. Those services included providing safe, early if possible, abortions. Of course abortions were not available in the U.S. on demand until the historic Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision of January 23, 1973. We now know that this ruling triggered a full-scale attack on family planning led by the Roman Catholic Church, which has proved to be one of the most dangerous and effective attacks on basic human rights mounted in the 20th Century, and continuing today.
Well before the passage of Roe v Wade, there were states that could do abortions and I was dispatched to find abortion funding service opportunities, which were provided by all too few around the nation. When New York State passed its abortion on demand law in July, 1971, the CEO of NYC’s PPFA affiliate, Alfred Moran, took up the cudgel and quickly established substantial services, again aided substantially with Cordy’s money. Her funds also created a revolving loan fund at PPFA to set up abortion clinics at any PP affiliate which wished to do so.
My own extensive tour of South America with an official of IPPF-Western Hemisphere in the late 1960’s was where I observed women in hospital wards dead from septic abortions. This sealed my fervent commitment to fostering safe services.
In 1971, Dr. Ravenholt, then the head of the U.S. government Office of Population (1965 to 1979) asked me if I could get my trustees to grant $50,000 to start an early abortion non-governmental organization (NGO) to work overseas. He hoped once begun he could get sustaining support from USAID. Senator Helm’s amendment in 1973 stopped that source of money in its tracks. However, International Pregnancy Advisory Services, now called IPAS, was already underway with an office and small staff. I got elected Chairman and President only because I was connected to its startup money.
Fortunately, my boss, Cordy, continued to support this fledgling startup and over time gave IPAS over $1.5 million ($12 million in today’s dollars). Without her resolve, IPAS would likely not be here today. It took my chief fund-raising colleague on the IPAS board, Dr. Leonard Laufe, a distinguished Pittsburgh OB/GYN, and I many years to gain enough additional support from brave donors to bring IPAS forward. Celebrating 40 years of effective training and service this year, IPAS now enjoys major support from a growing number of large private donors, but still the Helms Amendment keeps our government from being involved.
Another hugely successful abortion services provider, UK headquartered Marie Stopes International, was started by Dr. Tim Black and Philip Harvey in the mid 1970’s. They also started Population Services International (PSI) another major family planning commodity provider funded early by my then employer.
As former USAID Administrator, Duff Gillespie, writes, “As director of USAID’s Office of Population from 1965 to 1979, Dr. Reimert T. Ravenholt created a family planning juggernaut that still provokes both praise and disdain. Ravenholt was a remarkable leader, full of perplexing contradictions. He dazzled people with his brilliance one moment and shocked them with his myopic ethnocentrism the next. He could be strategically wise and tactically reckless. Ravenholt’s controversial reputation masks his many contributions, which are still evident 20 years after he was forced from his leadership of USAID’s population program.”
One of Dr. Ravenholt’s many creations was International Fertility Research Programme (IFRP), under the founding leadership of Elton Kessel, MD, MPH, in 1971, again with critical startup money from Cordy’s trusts which allowed IFRP to become independent of the University of North Carolina where it originally functioned, much to the delight of Senator Jesse Helms who sought its departure. Again, as a possible funding representative, I was asked to join its initial board where I served until about 2004. Now known as FHI360 (formerly Family Health International or FHI) and operating with a wide development and family planning mandate, its staff numbers thousands and its total yearly revenues approach $800 million.
FHI’s second President, Dr. D. Malcolm Potts, now Bixby Professor of Population and Family Planning at UC Berkeley, sent a proposal in 1985 to USAID and obtained its first major grants to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Then, a few years ago, at UC Berkeley, along with his wife, Dr. Martha Campbell, Potts helped found Venture Strategies, which assists a growing number of developing nations to better cope with the fatalities to mothers associated with postpartum bleeding.
While in Pittsburgh, my charitable fund employers approved my recommendations for start-up funding for a number of other family planning entities including Population Services International, Guttmacher Institute, Population Institute, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Population Dynamics, and others who have gone on to make the family planning movement stronger and more widely effective.
At present, as founder and President of International Services Assistance Fund, I and my colleagues, which include Dr. Jack Lippes, Dr. Stephen Mumford and Dr. Elton Kessel, are seeking FDA approval to market a inexpensive permanent method of female contraception, known as QS (invented by distinguished Chilean MD, Dr. Jaime Zipper) using a now well established standard protocol. QS has been provided by over 1,900 practitioners in over 50 countries to over 175,000 women, some for over 30 years, with no reports of deaths or major complications.
Thus, as noted initially, my message to world leaders is very simple. Leaders! You must use your full influence to work to insure basic human rights for all the world’s women. Those rights must include the absolute right to decide when and under what circumstances they choose to bear children. That right can only be achieved with the full availability of safe, free or very inexpensive, modern contraception, including abortion. With over 40 million abortions occurring yearly world wide, we can only assume that contraceptive failure will continue. Thus, providing safe, preferably early—on demand if needed—services must accompany any family planning program to be effective and in keeping with offering women their full human rights.
As we now know, unless such programs are urgently initiated, a sustainable and humane habitation of our planet will continue to deteriorate. Failing to provide family planning, we can with certainty expect the growing disruptions presently visited on so many countries to spread globally as the 21st Century unfolds. Constant articles about various human disasters in the press seem to make no impression. And so the future remains cloudy.
Donald A. Collins is a former U.S. Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist. He is now a free-lance writer living in Washington, DC. He spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and IPAS.
Mr. Collins holds a BA from Yale University and an MBA from New York University. He served with the U.S. Navy from 1953 to 1956. Subsequent to the U.S. Navy, Collins entered the commercial banking business in NYC. Thereafter, he became CEO of a Pittsburgh based small business investment company. In 1965, he became Chief Administrative Officer of a Pittsburgh charitable foundation, which focused on community development, plus serving as a program officer of two other charitable entities with broad domestic and international mandates. In this connection, for 10 years, Collins helped develop a number of charitable programs concerned with forming public policy and service-based actions in the population and environment fields, including serving on the original boards of Advocates for Youth (then Center for Population Options), Alan Guttmacher Institute, International Projects Assistance Services, Family Health International (now FHI360) and others.
In 1976, Collins moved west and formed his own firms, Donald A. Collins Associates and International Services Assistance Fund, through which he engages in consulting activities for both for-profit and non-profit entities. His clients include several private foundations, for-profit corporations as well as individuals who seek advice on policy, program, organizational and operational management.
His primary interests remain in the fields of family planning and immigration reform. As an active volunteer, he encourages the use of a major new method of non-surgical female sterilization known as quinacrine sterilization (QS) for which he seeks advocates and funders. The same is true for immigration reform where he served for years on the board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), now serving as Co-Chair of its National Advisory Board.
Don also contributes OP ED pieces and letters to editors on these issues to newspapers, journals and blog sites. His latest book is From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013. It is available through Amazon.com
His 1976 marriage to Joan F. Kraus Collins ended with her death in 1993.
In November 1994 he married Sarah Gamble Epstein (the daughter of Dr. Clarence Gamble who founded Pathfinder International). Together they have been pursuing the task of seeking FDA approval for QS and other family planning work. They are still indefatigable travellers. Their most recent trip was to Patagonia and to the Iguassu Falls, seeing 275 separate waterfalls.
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