This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis's Views on Not Breeding Like Rabbits

With Pope Francis's arrival here in the US, there are a lot of stories on the news. In particular, CNN has been playing a nicely done biography of the Pope, hosted by Chris Cuomo. This program brought  up the tweet from the Pope this past January that Catholics (well, everyone, really) should not breed like rabbits, but should rather practice "responsible parenthood." The National Catholic Reporter had this to report:
Moments earlier, Francis had signaled his approach to the vexed birth control issue when, with equally quotable verve, he said the contraception ban "does not mean that the Christian must make children in series."
He noted that during a parish visit some months ago, he even "rebuked" a woman who was pregnant again after having seven children, all delivered by Caesarean section. "But do you want to leave seven orphans?" Francis told her. "That is to tempt God!"
The idea of responsible parenthood is a bit vague, but to me it recalls Malthus, who firmly believed in what he called "moral restraint"--that no man (and, yes, of course, he was a sexist back there in the late 18th century) should get married until he knows that he can afford to raise all of the children that God will then provide. This naturally assumed abstinence before marriage and no birth control (which was very primitive in those days) during marriage.

But Malthus was right in the sense that the motivation to avoid children is the key to responsible parenthood. Back in the early 1980s I received a grant from the US Office of Population Affairs to analyze data from a fertility awareness clinic ("Responsible Parenthood of San Diego") at one of the Catholic parishes here in San Diego. The director of the clinic contacted me about this, and what we found was that this enhanced method of the rhythm method--relying on close scrutiny of temperatures and a lot of self-control--had a failure rate of 13.2 pregnancies per 100 woman years of exposure to intercourse. I published the results in the Journal of Biosocial Science where I noted that among highly motivated couples (and that's the key!!) the method "is not quite as effective as the pill or IUD, but it is as effective as barrier methods such as the condom, diaphragm, or spermicidal foams or jellies." Maybe that was too effective--the local diocese closed down the program a long time ago...

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