The valiant exhumation of long-buried highest-level U.S. population policy documents

By R. T. Ravenholt, M.D. | March 1996
Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Editor’s note: This powerful statement by Dr. Rei Ravenholt, the highest ranking American in the population field for 14 crucial years, is timely today. It relates to Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s unique revelation in his seminal work of the anti-democratic and anti-American machinations of the Roman Catholic Church as they sought to deny access to effective means of fertility control in America and around the world.

(Photo by Milo Miloezger on Unsplash)

Stephen Mumford’s valiant exhumation of long-buried highest-level U.S. population policy documents – now presented in his new book, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF NSSM 200, provides a unique revelation of the virulent anti-American machinations of the Roman Catholic Church during this half century, as it asserted papal infallibility and strove to aggrandize the Vati­can Empire by denying poor people and nations access to effective means of fertility control.

The title of Mumford’s book is drawn from White House shorthand standing for “National Security Study Memorandum.” NSSM 200 was the definitive interagency study of world population growth and its implica­tions for United States and global security, requested by President Nixon.

Dr. Mumford’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in this coun­try’s survival and wellbeing, and in the global issues of religious zealotry and genocidal conflict, poverty and hunger, population and environment, war and peace. Many readers will be saddened, as I am, by what might have been:

  • Had Paul VI, accepted the recommendation of the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control in 1966 that the Church should change its position on birth control.
  • Had President Nixon implemented the recommendations of the Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth and America’s Future in 1972; had he vetoed the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act in 1973; and had he survived long enough in the Presidency to receive and implement the recommendations of the NSSM 200 study he com­missioned in 1974.
  • Had our presidential elections in ’76, ’80, ’84, and ’88 yielded presi­dents with outstanding population vision and courage, rather than a trio of Vatican sycophants – Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush – all of whom pandered to the Vatican and the American Catholic bishops while degrading U.S. population leadership and programs for improved fertility control at home and abroad.
  • Had John Paul I survived in the Vatican long enough to have imple­mented his vision and determination that the Roman Catholic Church should support birth control.

Indeed the human condition of this world would have been vastly improved during the last several decades had Vatican forces helped rather than hindered progress toward universal availability of the most effective and desired means of fertility control. Throughout this millennium, while growing forces of scientific inquiry and intellectual freedom struggled mightily to overcome the tenacious grasp of general ignorance and reli­gious dogmatism to create an earthly Eden, the Roman Catholic Church remained the foremost obstacle to attainment of that goal as it strove for survival and aggrandizement of its medieval power. Since collapse of total­itarian Communism, Vatican opposition to universal birth control and its cor­rosive manipulation of American democratic processes have posed the prin­cipal threat to the continued survival and wellbeing of this great nation.

At mid-century, Paul Blanshard in AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND CATHOLIC POWER warned of the on-going danger to this republic posed by a foreign religious power in our midst asserting papal infallibility and seeking to ex­ercise religious authority over this nation’s democratic institutions and gov­ernmental decisions. Now Mumford’s THE LIFE AND DEATH OF NSSM 200 makes it ominously evident that what Blanshard warned could happen if this nation relaxed its vigilance, has happened! Furthermore, the principal deterrent to a possible takeover of this democracy by a fanatic adversarial power – a free and vigilant press – no longer exists with the requisite cour­age and strength to protect this country from the destructive machinations of the Vatican and its American minions. The inability of U.S. print and broadcast media to defend this nation against the palpably treasonous ac­tivities of the American Catholic bishops, as detailed in their November 20, 1975 PASTORAL PLAN FOR PRO-LIFE ACTIVITIES, is amply demonstrated by the heretofore virtual total lack of publication and condemnation of the many blatant anti-American activities documented in Mumford’s book.

The current situation is reminiscent of Nazi Germany during the 1930s, when all potential leaders against Hitler were effectively muzzled. What was tyrannically possible then – in a relatively primitive technologi­cal era – is even more possible now that all relevant data for a tyrannical enterprise can so easily be assembled, manipulated and disseminated by computer.

The statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on November 25, 1959, following the Draper Committee recommendation that the United States “should apply its resources to assist the LDCs with their rapidly growing population problems,” remains their policy:

“United States Catholics believe that the promotion of artificial birth control is a morally, humanly, psychologically, and politi­cally disastrous approach to the population problem. … They will not support any public assistance, either at home or abroad, to promote artificial birth prevention, abortion, or steril­ization, whether through direct aid or by means of international organizations.”

But with the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960 and with the rapid technological and programmatic progress toward universal availabil­ity of effective means of fertility control achieved during the administra­tions of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, moderating fac­tions within the Catholic church were in the ascendency. Indeed, as we launched USAID’s population program during the latter 1960s and early 1970s, many of our key staff and valued colleagues were liberal Catholics who fully shared our common belief that extension of effective means of fertility control world-wide was this nation’s most important developmental mission.

(Photo by Tejj on Unsplash)

We were a small band of true believers working mightily to implement a common fertility control vision of what must be done to overcome pov­erty, hunger, ignorance and conflict throughout the world. And during the early 1970s fertility control progress was so rapid that we were optimistic that the bulk of essential international family planning assistance needed for resolution of the world population crisis could be accomplished by the end of the twenthieth century. In 1973, a confluence of favorable events crested our optimism:

  • In January came the Supreme Court decision on Roe vs Wade, legaliz­ing abortion in the United States and giving many family planning workers an illusory sense of definitive victory in the long and bitter struggle for abortion rights against fanatical Vatican and U.S. Catholic Bishops’ opposition.
  • In April came the fruits of a research project we had launched two years earlier with Battelle Institute to develop simplified non-electrical suction equipment for uterine aspiration. We quickly purchased 1000 “Men­strual Regulation Kits” (for $8.50 ea) and distributed them for clinical testing by the International Fertility Research Program. Within weeks, clinical reports from IFRP enabled us to order 10,000 additional MR Kits; and we organized a Menstrual Regulation Conference to be held at the University of Hawaii that December, to which we invited 300 se­lected obstetricians, mainly from the LDCs, to whom we gave a plenti­ful supply of MR Kits on that occasion – thus achieving global distribu­tion of this new and durably effective technology within the year of its invention.
  • In June, by contract with USAID, the Johns Hopkins University in Bal­timore hosted a gathering of 143 chairmen of Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology from throughout Latin America for two weeks’ inten­sive orientation and training in the latest technologies for control of fertility, including laparoscopic tubal ligation and Menstrual Regulation Kits. This confer­ence, with follow-on conferences, consultant visits, and provision of equipment and supplies, seeded these breakthrough technologies most quickly and powerfully in Latin America, where they have subsequently contributed greatly to the remarkable decrease in unwanted fertility in Mexico, Bra­zil and elsewhere.
  • In 1973 we made rapid progress with the creation of the World Fertility Survey we had originated in 1971, and which during the following de­cade became “the largest international social science research project ever undertaken.” This finally gave indisputable evidence that roughly half of the women of reproductive age in the less developed world did not want additional children.
  • In September, at a conference of Asian family planning leaders in Lahore, Pakistan, I learned authoritively from the representative of the Peoples Republic of China, Minister of Health Li Shiu Chen, that the crude birth rate of the PRC was then approximately 25 and plummeting in response to the strong family planning program implemented there beginning with the Fourth Five Year Plan in 1970; consistent with USAID’s Family Planning Strategy, defined and published in 1968; demonstrating that where there is a will there is a way to achieve rapid, nation-wide reduction in fertility with the technology at hand despite abject poverty and great population size.
(Photo by Pedro Marroquin on Unsplash)

In retrospect, 1973 was the peak year for USAID’s full-bore population program capability, and we drove with utmost speed to extend fertility con­trol services throughout the less developed world. The Office of Population then included all designated population officers in AID/W, enabling us to work directly with USAID’s Country Missions on design, implementation, sup­port and measurement of population projects and programs. Our ear­marked population budget that year of $125 million was $25 million more than in 1972. We then had a staff of 110 able, experienced and dedicated population personnel in USAID Washington, DC, and about 50 population officers with the USAID Country Missions. Key improvements had been made in fertility control technology and a full set of cooperating institutions had been created and funded. This enabled us to implement powerful new initiatives with re­markable speed, and we expected to move with even greater strength dur­ing ensuing years. But, alas, it was not to be. Action begets reaction; and our cascade of successes provoked such intense counter measures by Cath­olic hierarchy adversaries of fertility control that we were soon struggling to maintain the program:

  • The first serious blow to the population program was passage of the Helms (anti-abortion) Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act in De­cember 1973, which abruptly ended AID’s freedom to support abortion services. Although general availability of effective contraceptives greatly diminishes the need for abortion, access to a hindsight means of fertility control is an indispensable element of all sound population control pro­grams. It is known that John Sullivan of Congressman Clement Zablocki’s staff and other Catholic zealots were leaders in the prepara­tion and enactment of the Helm’s Amendment – which has subse­quently coerced millions of women in the LDCs to bear children they did not want, could not care for, and many died for.
  • The second blow to AID’s population program followed President Rich­ard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and thereupon the retirement of Ad­ministrator John Hannah – the best administrator AID had during my 14 years with the agency. He was succeeded by Administrator Daniel Par­ker, whose Catholic deputy, John H. Murphy, soon created a task force for the purpose of reorganizing and thereby decapitating the Office of Popula­tion. But this action was abandoned after six months when committee chairmen Senator Hubert Humphrey, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Con­gressman Otto Passman all registered strong support for me and the program.
  • The third blow to our population program was the death of General William Draper, Chairman of the Population Crisis Committee, December 26, 1974 – whose unfailing population vision, utter dedication to program needs, indefatigable energy, and warm friendship had inspired and strengthened us throughout. No one has ever fully replaced him.
  • The fourth blow to the program was the cuts in AID’s population bud­get – to $112 million in 1974 and $103 million in 1975; dictated by Congressman Otto Passman when we refused to slush several million dollars to one of his constituents; sharply curtailing our capacity during several years to seize opportunities for expansion of family planning in many countries, especially in Africa. Doubtless the stated adversarial actions of Congressman Zablocki, then Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and some other Catholic legisla­tors contributed to these untimely cuts in population budgets and pro­grams.
  • The fifth blow to the program – ultimately the most harmful – was the approval by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in November 1975, of their PASTORAL PLAN FOR PRO-LIFE ACTIVITIES. This detailed blue­print – presented in Mumford’s book – guided the tax-free Catholic Church in its organization of political action bodies in all 435 U.S. Congres­sional Districts and in its mobilization of national, state and local politi­cal support for the Vatican agenda. Implementation of the overall plan contributed decisively to the election of three U.S. presidents – Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush – all of whom supported the Vatican opposition to international extension of contraception and abortion. Likewise the recent Republican/Religious Right takeover of the Senate and House is in accord with the Catholic Bishops’ political action plan.

Catholic hierarchical machinations relative to the election and administration of President Jimmy Carter – which I recall from agonizing personal experience – typ­ify the political activities of the Catholic Church.

Following a meeting of Presidential Candidate Jimmy Carter and his campaign staff with 15 Catholic bishops at the Mayflower Hotel in Wash­ington on August 31, 1976, on which occasion the bishops pressed Car­ter to de-emphasize federal support for family planning in exchange for Catholic Church support of his candidacy, President-Elect Carter pro­ceeded to place the two federal departments with family planning re­sponsibilities under Catholic control: Joseph Califano became Secretary of HEW, and the first one to whom President-Elect Carter offered the USAID Administrator position was Father Theodore Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame University. When Father Hesburgh declined that appoint­ment it was given to John J. Gilligan, a Notre Dame graduate and former governor of Ohio. Also, John Sullivan, a longtime adversary of AID’s fam­ily planning program, moved from Congressman Zablocki’s staff into AID during the Presidential transition and was given a key role in selecting Carter’s political appointees, including Sander Levin, defeated Demo­cratic candidate for Governor of Michigan. Not a Catholic but an oppor­tunistic lawyer without prior family planning experience, Levin rapidly grasped and degraded AID’s population program. Appointed Assistant Administra­tor for Population and Humanitarian Assistance, he immediately com­menced reorganizing the Office of Population and sidelining and dispers­ing key staff while appointing “special assistants” to administrate population projects and programs, and he distributed much of the population budget to four geo­graphic bureaus instead of to the Office of Population.

On the afternoon of September 28, 1978 – within hours of the assas­sination of Pope John Paul I in the Vatican – Levin summoned me to his office in the State Department and again requested that I vacate my GS18 position as Director of the Office of Population. And when I replied that I chose to remain, he said he would “destroy” me!

Such was my reward for 14 years of outstanding civil service along the Potomac; during which time we had built (from scratch) a mighty global enterprise – the Agency’s most effective program. With the help of attor­neys, costing me $100 per hour, I battled a “stacked deck” of Catholic interests and government lawyers for two years – seeking Merit System protection – until having expended $57,000, I could afford no more. Seeing no light at the end of the Vatican-controlled USAID population tunnel, I then moved to the Centers for Disease Control and resumed epidemiological interests interrupted 15 years earlier.

Although it is not inappropriate for Catholic and other religious leaders to exhort adherents and others to not use contraceptives and other means of birth control, it is surely unacceptable to the majority of Ameri­cans that any religious minority dictate what means of fertility control may be used by persons of other faiths – by denying them access to valuable products of scientific research through covert political deals and dirty tricks.

Many elected and appointed officials have been cowed by the power of the Catholic Church, and even family planning leaders have remained unacceptably mute. The current code of silence with respect to identifying the main adversary of reproductive freedom – the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church – is fomenting a world disaster analogous to that which would have ensued if during this century world political leaders had failed to identify the USSR and Communism as the main adversaries of democratic political freedom.

The Vatican’s machinations, obstructions, and degradation of family planning programs has not been limited to the United States. As docu­mented by Mumford in the oral history with Milton Siegel (25 year veteran Deputy Director of the World Health Organization), representatives from Ireland, Belgium and Italy worked vigorously during 1946-47 on behalf of the Vatican, even before WHO was formally born, to expunge family plan­ning from the accepted agenda of WHO. When Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director General of WHO, vigorously objected to the Vatican dictate of “no family planning,” the Vatican forces threatened to block creation of a unified World Health Organization; and thus succeeded in their objec­tive of no family planning by WHO. It was the failure of WHO to provide support for family planning during the 1960s that led to creation of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).

Likewise, the Vatican acted to delete family planning from the agenda of UNICEF. The mechanism was a $100 million grant made in 1984 by Italy to UNICEF for the Expanded Program of Immunization – with the stricture that UNICEF not support family planning activities during the 10 years duration of the grant.

As emphasized by Mumford in his NSSM 200 book, it is essential that many secular encroachments of the Vatican be rescinded: especially, the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, a practice begun by President Reagan, which clearly violates Constitutional proscription of reli­gious dictation of governmental processes; as does also the “Non-member State Permanent Observer Status” of the Vatican at the United Nations.

More than 90% of fecund Catholic couples in America practice birth control – at least part of the time – despite Vatican prohibition, and the laws and practices in America should reflect that fact rather than the obso­lete and incredibly arrogant and destructive demands of the Vatican.

For fourteen years, Dr. Rei Ravenholt directed successful U.S. efforts to help third-world countries curb their rampant population growth, only to watch the programme be systematically dismantled. In a 1991 report, “How Catholics Seized Control of U.S. Family Planning Programs,” Dr. Ravenholt details how Catholic bishops and Catholic presidential appointees planned – and largely achieved – the sabotage of U.S. family planning programmes.

The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Paperback Publisher: Center for Research on Population and Security (October 1996)
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (February 6, 2015)
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