The International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region stands in solidarity with activists for racial justice in the United States and throughout the world.
The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and so many more victims of police brutality in the United States, are the result of state-sanctioned violence and systematized racial inequality that permeates every aspect of our society, including reproductive health. You can see in the eyes of a pregnant woman in Austin who was shot in the stomach while protesting at police headquarters. You can see it in the eyes of the woman fearing for her child’s life every time he walks out the front door.
These oppressive forces have generated pain, outrage, and frustration throughout our nation’s history, yet we have found hope in the images of countless activists marching in cities both big and small; in the voices crying out for an end to the senseless murders of and violence against Black bodies.
Make no mistake about it: this is a global fight for racial justice that requires each and every one of us to take action. This weekend, we also saw an uprising in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, where hundreds of demonstrators converged to protest crimes committed by police against Black Brazilians. A week ago a Black youth was killed by police at his home in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, while respecting the social distancing measures with his family. We see the effects of structural racism in the United States and our region day-in and day-out and know we all have a role to play in demanding racial justice, having difficult conversations, and putting pressure on our leaders to act.
Everyone has the right to live in peace and free of violence. Everyone has the right to be treated with humanity and equal dignity. This is the time for change.
Our heart goes out to the family of George Floyd and the countless others in our nation whose loved ones have died at the hands of the forces that claimed to protect them.
The End of Babies?
By Alexander Sanger
In its November 17, 2019 edition, The New York Times published a two-page Opinion Essay by Anna Louie Sussman entitled, “The End of Babies”. The gist is that Modern Capitalism is inimical to reproduction: economic, social and environmental factors, and moral ones too, are hostile to having babies. The article compares capitalism and its effects in low-fertility Denmark and China. Late Capitalism, she argues, “has become hostile to reproduction”. The system in such countries, where basic needs are met and there is seemingly limitless freedom, may make children an afterthought or an unwelcome intrusion in a life that offers rewards of a different kind – career, hobbies, holidays. Women often defer childbearing or finally realize they actually want children at an age where they are forced to turn to assisted reproduction.
The story did not look at fertility rates in non-capitalist countries, like Russia or North Korea, where fertility is equally low, or lower.
Nor did the word “biology” appear. There are two paragraphs on men and male attitudes and behaviors, including that one in five men in Denmark and the U.S. will not become a parent. The rest deals with the female experience, including her own, and female advocates for reproductive justice.
I went back to Ms. Sussman’s article when Dr. Sarah E. Hill’s book, How the Pill Changes Everything, arrived on my desk last week. The book examines declining birthrates but from a biological angle. The word, “biology” appears throughout. As do the words “men” and “males”.
The default position, indeed, the primary focus of our work at International Planned Parenthood, is rightly on women and girls, and providing them sexual and reproductive health services and advocacy for reproductive justice. We are a proudly feminist organization. Yet, as my grandmother said 75 years ago when IPPF was founded in Bombay, India, “We won’t get anywhere without the men.” Women, who want children by means other than assisted reproduction, won’t get anywhere without the men either. As Ms. Sussman noted, “Reproduction is the ultimate nod to interdependence. We depend on at least two people to make us possible.”
So, with all the focus in her article on the social, economic, educational, urbanization etc. factors and their effects on female fertility, might human biology and men have something to do with the declining birthrate? Might our Darwinian mating system, which has evolved since the time any life appeared on the planet, not be working? If not, why not? The answer might lie in changes to our biology, not just in the changes in the socio-economic system, or systems. Dr. Hill focuses on this and raises the issue of whether the Pill’s mere existence affects fertility in ways beyond its obvious contraceptive effects.
I wrote in Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century of hormonal contraception’s effect on the Major Histocompatibility Complex. There is evidence, I wrote, about the interference of the Pill with the normal mechanism of sexual selection as reflected in MHC preference. This preference leads males and females to choose mates with differing MHCs, thus leading to a better chance of a successful pregnancy and of their offspring having a better genetic quality and chance of survival. Hormonal contraception, I wrote, appears to interfere with a female’s mating preferences by leading them to choose males with a similar, not dissimilar, MHCs. This can lead to difficulties in getting and keeping pregnant and in healthy progeny. Furthermore, hormonal contraception also interferes with a male’s mating preferences. Males avoid mating with females who are on hormonal contraception, whether they consciously know it or not. Thus, the Pill interferes with natural mate choice and hence successful reproduction by both males and females. I wrote that more study was needed, but that women and men needed to be aware of these possible unintended consequences of hormonal contraception.
Dr. Hill brings this research up to date, which confirms what I wrote 15 years ago. Dr. Hill states that hormonal contraception affects … ta da…a woman’s hormones and that, in turn, affects everything, including their mate choices, the chances of a successful long-term relationship and the chances of becoming pregnant and having healthy offspring. Women seem to prefer different types of men when on and off the Pill. A woman’s natural hormones, unaffected by the Pill, may guide women to men who have healthy compatible genes. Hormonal contraception, however, may guide women to men who have less compatible genes, thereby making it more difficult to get pregnant and have healthy children. Dr. Hill warns, correctly, that the science has not proved this conclusively and that any conclusions are speculative.
Ms. Sussman does state in her article that, “Chemicals and pollutants seep into our bodies, disrupting our endocrine systems,” but she is not referring to hormonal contraception and its effects on mate choice. She also does not mention the multiple studies surrounding declining sperm count in males and reduced sperm quality.
Dr. Hill points out that the Pill has also been seen to reduce the sex drive of some women. Certainly, celibacy was not one of the intended consequences of this method of contraception. But also, the Pill may make men less interested in having sex with women on the Pill and thus less likely to be chosen as a mate. The Pill appears to reduce the boost in attractiveness that comes with a pre-ovulatory estrogen surge. Hence, the mating system is at risk of being thrown out of whack.
Dr. Hill argues that the pill, by changing women’s biology, has the ability to have cascading effects on everyone and everything a woman encounters, including potential male mates. And when you multiply this type of an effect by the many millions of women around the world on hormonal contraception, the pill changes the world. (At IPPF, hormonal contraception constitutes about 45% of the methods we distribute: Injectables at 11%, Oral Contraceptives at 11% and Implants at 23%. In addition, some IUDs we distribute contain hormones.)
There is no doubt that the mating system is more than biological. With women achieving more, thanks to contraception, men are achieving relatively less. Men, as an economic matter, are thus less attractive as mates. The mating market is thus bifurcated into two markets – the dating-sex market and the marriage market. The Pill enables the former and has a depressing effect on the latter. In the U.S., for the first time in history, single women out number married women. Hence more single motherhood (and sometimes fatherhood), delayed motherhood and assisted reproduction. The fertility rate of single women is about half that of married women, hence the low overall fertility rate, and, in some countries, a declining population. How much do biology and the hormonal effects of the Pill on women and men contribute to this quandary and this outcome? As Dr. Hill says, this is still undetermined but not outside the realm of biological possibility.
Reproduction is too often seen by commentators as a rational lifestyle choice affected only by socio-economic factors. It is far, far more that. The Unknown Unknowns, to borrow a phrase, are staggering.
Clyde W. Ford wrongly lumps my grandmother, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, with far-right immigration opponents.
Her version of eugenics was far different from that described by Ford. It sought to address the manner in which heredity and other biological factors, as well as environmental and cultural ones, affect human health, intelligence and opportunity. My grandmother hoped to locate birth control in a larger program of preventive social medicine to improve the condition of all people.
She spoke out against immigration acts and other measures that promoted racial or ethnic stereotypes. She worked for more than 50 years to provide reproductive autonomy to poor women, including women of color, because she saw it as an essential tool of individual liberation and social justice, not of social control.
The writer chairs the International Planned Parenthood Council.
With thanks to Ellen Chesler — she and I spend too much time rebutting these falsehoods.
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation announced its 2019 grants in The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Orchestra Commissioning Program for Emerging Female Composers.
These grants fund commissions for emerging female composers at selected orchestras nationwide.
The 2019 recipients are:
- Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas, TX – Composer Angelica Negron
- Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia, PA – Composer Xi Wang
The 2019 awards are part of a series of annual awards for female composers that the Foundation has made since 2013. Past grants have been made to, among others, the New York Philharmonic for Ashley Fure, Los Angeles Philharmonic for Natacha Diels and Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Amy Beth Kirsten. The Foundation also funds awards to emerging female composers through the Earshot Program, a partnership of the League of American Orchestras, the American Composers Orchestra, American Composers Forum and New Music USA, as well as awards to composers via the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and National Sawdust.
The Foundation has made numerous grants to support commissions for female composers, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female playwrights and choreographers in the fields of theater, opera, and ballet. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation announced its 2019 grants in The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Ballet Commissioning Program for Emerging Female Choreographers.
These grants fund commissions for emerging female choreographers at selected ballet companies nationwide.
The 2019 recipients are:
- Boston Ballet, Boston, MA – for Choreographer Lauren Flower
- Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle, WA – for Choreographer Eva Stone
- Ballet West, Salt Lake City, UT – for Choreographer Jennifer Archibald
These grants are in addition to grants previously awarded in 2019 to New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater for their new ballets by emerging female choreographers. The 2019 awards are part of a series of annual awards for female choreographers that the Foundation has made since 2013, including to New York City Ballet for Lauren Lovett and Gianna Reisen, Dance Theater of Harlem for Claudia Schreier and Atlanta Ballet for Gemma Bond.
The Foundation has made numerous grants to support commissions for emerging female choreographers, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female playwrights and composers in the fields of theater, symphonic music and opera. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation announced its 2019 grants in The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Ballet Schools’ Training Program for Female Student Choreographers.
These grants fund the training of female student choreographers at selected ballet schools nationwide.
The 2019 recipients are:
- Boston Ballet School, Boston, MA — Student Choreographic Project for the 2019/2020 Academic Year
- Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle, WA – New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance
In past years, the Foundation has supported the schools of both Boston and Pacific Northwest Ballets for their programs to encourage, mentor and train emerging female choreographers among their students. The Foundation has also supported, and continues to support, a similar program at the School of American Ballet in New York City. The Foundation also supports commissions for female choreographers via Dance USA and at the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center, the Joyce Theater Ballet Festival and the Vail Dance Festival.
The Foundation has made numerous grants to support commissions for female choreographers, focusing its grant-making on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female playwrights and composers in the fields of theater, symphonic music and opera. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Announced 2019 grants For Its Women Playwrights Commissioning Program.
The 2019 recipients are:
Atlantic Theater, New York, NY – Playwright Sanaz Toossi
New York Theater Workshop, New York, NY – Playwright Mfoniso Udofia
Primary Stages, New York, NY – Playwright Sarah Mantell
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New York, NY – Playwright Stacey Rose
The Public Theater, New York, NY – Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza
The Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, PA – Playwright Mary Tuomanen
Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago, IL – Playwright Masi Asare
The 2019 awards are the seventh in a series of annual awards for female playwrights that the foundation has made since 2013. Past recipients include: The Public Theater for Patricia lone Lloyd for Eve’s Song, Soho Rep for Jackie Sibblies Drury for Fairview and Culture Project for Staceyann Chin for MotherStruck!
The Foundation has made over 50 grants to support commissions for emerging female playwrights, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation makes similar awards to emerging female composers and choreographers in the fields of opera, symphonic music and ballet. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.
For the last two years, our partner, APROFA, has been working hard to officially register the abortion pill. The pill is actually two medications called Mifepristone and Misoprostol that safely end pregnancy when taken together. Access to it reduces barriers for many women and healthcare professionals, especially because it is non-invasive and can be done at home. The Chilean Government has finally approved APROFA’s application to register the abortion pill.
While abortion is only currently legal in certain circumstances in Chile, this win brings us a step closer in the fight for global reproductive rights.
APROFA will begin distributing the combination pill in early 2020.
Fred Sai, though diminutive in size, was a giant at International Planned Parenthood Federation and globally for women’s rights and health.
We met far too infrequently, most memorably at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, where Fred was the chair, and at an IPPF meeting in New Delhi in 2002 where Fred gave a rousing speech to the delegates. He had experience chairing various international conferences, experience which stood him in good stead in the contentious plenary meetings in Cairo, where there was sharp dissent to making women and women’s rights the center of family planning programs and development. After days of a small but contentious band of opponents having their say, Fred Sai declared, “Consensus has been reached” and banged his gavel, signaling the adoption of the Program of Action. It was a historic moment for women’s rights.
I had the honor to nominate him for Lasker Award but unfortunately the Lasker Committee did not see the giant that the rest of the world saw.
I was honored when Fred presented to me the IPPF Individual Volunteer Award in 2011. I will never forget his eloquence, dedication and passion for our great cause.
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