• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

John Holdren

Despite the claims of some media watchdogs, President Obama’s science czar contended in a textbook he co-authored that involuntary birth-control measures, including forced sterilization, may be necessary and morally acceptable under certain conditions, such as widespread famine brought about by “climate change.”

John Holdren argued in the 1970s college textbook obtained by WND, “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment,” that, “Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying.”

The book, last revised in a 1977 edition, was co-authored with Malthusian population alarmist Paul R. Ehrlich and Ehrlich’s wife, Anne.

The authors also advocated abortion as an acceptable form of population control and proposed that the best survival strategy for a pregnant woman is to abort her baby.

“When performed today under appropriate medical circumstances by a qualified physician … abortion is much safer than a full-term pregnancy,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote.

To support the argument, the authors noted the death rate in the U.S. for legal abortion in the first trimester was then less than two in 100,000, increasing to 12 per 100,000 in the second-trimester, “still only half the maternal death rate for childbirth.”

“Ecoscience,” the once popular college textbook, now has become rare, with the only copy currently available on Amazon.com offered for $250.

The scarcity of the politically explosive text is reminiscent of the controversial anti-war book John Kerry co-authored in 1971 with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a volume that reached price heights during the Democratic senator’s 2004 presidential run and is even today selling on Amazon.com in the rare hardcover edition for $199.

Instead of publishing a new edition now that Holdren has risen to the position of White House science czar, Holdren and his White House supporters have tried to distance him from the views expressed in the book, arguing it is now more than three decades old.

Moreover, a statement released by the White House argued that while the textbook discussed compulsory methods of population control, including forced abortion and sterilization, the Ehrlichs and Holdren never advocated involuntary birth control but preferred milder, voluntary population control measures.

In a Sept. 9 item by Media Matters asserting Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity falsely claimed Holdren advocated compulsory population control, the left-leaning media watchdog insisted Holdren merely “discusses ‘compulsory control of family size’ including abortion and sterilization as a possible consequence for countries whose expanding birth rates are not curbed by ‘milder methods.’”

Media Matters refers to the St. Petersburg Times’ fact-check website, Politifact.com, which addressed similar claims in July by Fox News host Glenn Beck, who said Holdren’s textbook proposed forced abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population.

“We think a thorough reading shows that these ideas were presented as approaches that had been discussed,” Politifact.com wrote. “They were posed as suggestions or proposals. In fact, the authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control. Clearly, nowhere in the book do the authors advocate forced abortions.”

A close reading of “Ecoscience,” however, shows the authors clearly stated their acceptance of abortion as an effective population-control technique.

“An abortion is clearly preferable to adding one more child to an overburdened family or an overburdened society, where the chances that it will realize its potential are slight,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs argued on page 760 of the 1977 edition of “Ecoscience.”

“There is little question that legalized abortion can contribute to a reduction in birth rates,” the authors wrote on page 761. “Liberalization of abortion policies in those countries where it is still largely or entirely illegal is therefore justifiable both on humanitarian and health grounds and as an aid to population control.”

Moreover, Holdren and the Ehrlichs indicate that should population growth continue uncontrolled, the consequences of “global warming,” including widespread famine, may make compulsory population control measures necessary.

Holdren and the Ehrlichs concede compulsory population control measures if implemented to prevent disasters resulting from uncontrolled population growth will be distasteful to those with moral objections.

Arguing that voluntary measures of family planning and birth control might not be enough, Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote on page 783 that compulsory birth control methods would need to be implemented when “massive famines, political unrest, or ecological disasters make their initiation imperative.”

In further defining this “disaster exception” in which compulsory methods, including forced abortions and sterilization, might become acceptable, if not necessary, Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote on the same page: “In such emergencies, whatever measures are economically and technologically expedient will be likeliest to be imposed, regardless of their political or social acceptability.”

And again, continuing on the same page, the authors wrote of compulsory population control measures: “Policies that may seem totally unacceptable today to the majority of people at large or to their national leaders may be seen as very much the lesser of evils only a few years from now.”

On page 784, the authors conclude the section by commenting: “Given the family-size aspirations of people, additional measures beyond family planning will unquestionably be required in order to halt the population explosion – quite possible in many DCs [developed countries] as well as LDCs [less developed countries].”

In a section of the textbook on pages 786-789 devoted to considering “involuntary fertility control,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs discuss a variety of methodologies, including: an effort in the 1960s to vasectomize all fathers of three or more children in India; an effort in China to sterilize mothers after their third child; the development of a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin and removed when pregnancy is desired; the government issuance of a license entitling a woman to a given number of children; and adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods.

While in the next sentence, the authors are careful to say a “far better choice” would be to control population by the “milder methods of influencing family size,” they also insist in the same sentence that efforts should be redoubled “to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time.”

In the last sentence of the section on “involuntary fertility control,” the authors make clear even the most radical methods discussed in the section are morally acceptable to them under the right conditions of population emergency.

“If effective action is taken against population growth,” the authors note, “perhaps the need for the more extreme involuntary or repressive measures can be averted in most countries.”

“Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying,” the authors concluded. “As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control.”

Among the crises resulting from overpopulation that Holdren and the Ehrlichs saw as justifying government-imposed involuntary fertility control measures were “ecological collapses of various kinds, large-scale crop failures due to ecological stress or changes in climate and leading to mass famine; severe resource shortages, which could lead either to crop failures or to problems or both; epidemic diseases; wars over diminishing resources; perhaps even thermo-nuclear war.”

“The list of possibilities is long, and over-population enhances the probability that any one of them will occur,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote on page 796. “Population control may be no panacea, but without it there is no way to win.”

Holdren’s office argues his current views do not reflect his past views, citing a recent paper in Science magazine in January 2008 entitled “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being,” Fox News reported.

Among factors jeopardizing “sustainable development,” Holdren included, “Continuing population growth, which, while not the sole cause of the shortfalls listed, makes the remedy of all of them more difficult.”

To support this point, Holdren footnoted Ehrlich’s 1968 book “The Population Bomb,” reinforcing the conclusion that Holdren’s population thinking was still rooted in the Malthusian concerns that led him to co-author the 1970s textbook with Ehrlich and Ehrlich’s wife.


  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.