Birth of 6 billionth baby brings mixed messages

October 10, 1999|By Barbara Becker

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will announce that the 6 billionth baby has been born in this world. As a pregnant American woman, I'm getting mixed messages about how I should feel about contributing another human being to this planet.

Some would have me believe that how many children a woman should have is an issue only for women in developing countries, who are viewed as reproducing in unprecedented numbers. But I don't buy that. Americans, along with the other 1 billion wealthiest people on the planet, help consume 80 percent of the resources.

Five years ago, I spent time working in rural villages in Bangladesh. I would be hard-pressed to persuade any Bangladeshi woman to plan for a smaller family when the infant mortality rate runs at 75 per 1,000 live births (10 times the rate in the United States).

Throwing contraceptives at people in an attempt to persuade them to have smaller families is only a Band-Aid solution.

Instead of focusing on birth control, we should seek to improve the quality of individuals' lives. The best strategy to reduce the birth rate is to provide maternal and child health care, raise literacy levels, create jobs for women and improve their social and political status. High-quality reproductive-health programs also are important, because they result in better health for women and fewer unintended pregnancies.

Stonewalling by some conservatives over abortion has contributed to the blocking of the $1.6 billion that our government owes the United Nations in unpaid dues. Conservatives in Congress are holding our U.N. dues hostage by linking this money with a provision to prevent U.S. funds from going to family-planning organizations that take any part in public discussion of abortion.

The population issue should never be "us" vs. "them." Every act of sex should be consensual, every pregnancy should be wanted, and every child should be desired. If these criteria aren't being met, there's a problem, but it isn't a population problem. It's a problem of human rights.

Barbara Becker is deputy director of communications at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York. This article was prepared for the Progressive Media Project.

Pub Date: 10/10/99

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