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Backers of Planned Parenthood Should Check Chinese Example

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Those who insist that Planned Parenthood deserves its sacred claim on federal support ought to consult Chinese demographers about the long-term impact of governmental policies that officially discourage procreation. At a time of soaring budget deficits, catastrophic national debt and a sputtering recovery it makes no sense to invest $300,000,000 of taxpayer money on a private organization committed to slowing population growth and, inevitably, exacerbating each of these economic problems.

The fierce debate over continued support for Planned Parenthood comes at the precise moment that leading analysts of the world’s second largest economy have concluded that China’s long-standing “one child policy” threatens the prospect of continued prosperity. As the New York Times reported (April 6, 2011) “economists contend that China’s low birthrate, once an economic advantage, is now destined to clip the nation’s economic growth.”

The problem involves the declining number of able-bodied workers and the rapidly swelling ranks of elderly dependents. The Times concluded that “by 2040, projections show that the median age of Chinese will be higher than that of Americans, but Chinese will enjoy just one-third of the per capita income, adjusted for the cost of living. Experts say that will make China the first major country to grow old before it is fully economically developed.”

Wang Feng, who heads the Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, directly cited the destructive impact of the “one-child policy” that rigorously imposes “family planning,” fertility limits and even forced abortions on nearly all Chinese households. “There are tremendous demographic crises pending, unprecedented in Chinese demography,” he declared. “Very few people are arguing for this policy any more.”

Among other things, restrictions on child-bearing encouraged startling levels of abortion for the purposes of sex-selection, with many parents terminating their female babies so they could legally welcome a son, prized in traditional Chinese culture. In 2009, The British Medical Journal studied the situation and found that Chinese mothers bore 119 boys for every 100 girls, one of the world’s most dangerously skewed sex ratios. In 2005, population statistics showed 32 million more males under age 20 than females, a disparity that has almost certainly worsened in recent years and threatens to become a source of dire social problems.

Most seriously, the low Chinese birth rate (estimated at 1.5 per woman, well below the replacement rate of 1.8) means more and more elderly and unproductive citizens supported by ever fewer workers in the prime of life. Wang Feng warns that the share of China’s population above age 65 will double in 20 years. Arthur Kroeber, of the Beijing-based economic research firm Dragonomics told the Times that “inevitably, the shift in the dependency ratio means that the economic growth rate is going to go down.”

Americans, with one of the highest birth rates in the developed world, have so far avoided this damaging and dangerous syndrome – providing the US with a key economic advantage in future competition against China, Japan, the European Union and other potential rivals. The current situation, with governments around the world openly worried about falling fertility rates (and Russia, among other nations, offering lavish economic incentives for couples to do their “patriotic duty” and to procreate) makes it hard to defend expenditure of public funds to support organizations that discourage child-bearing. Compounding the irony is the fact that the government currently borrows some 40% of what it spends. In other words, advocates of public funding for Planned Parenthood want to borrow more money in order to insure lower populations among the future generations who will be responsible for paying those funds back—so bigger burdens will fall on fewer people.

Defenders of Planned Parenthood insist that the operation has been unfairly targeted by anti-abortion activists since federal law already prohibits the direct use of government funds to finance abortions. Nevertheless, the organization (which receives 70% of its funding from private donations and client fees) remains the leading abortion provider in the United States. And while Planned Parenthood has never imposed or endorsed an immoral abomination like China’s ruthlessly enforced one-child policy, no one can deny that its founding purposes involved curbing population growth, or that its leaders consistently emphasized the desirability of fewer children and smaller families.

Americans must remain free to choose those small households if they wish, or to opt for the more prolific families that would help secure the future of Social Security and Medicare and to drive an expanding economy. But federal intrusion to discourage bringing children into the world or to reduce fertility makes no sense whatever and represents a classic case of the government investing (borrowed) public funds in order to undermine its own long-term interests. At a time when hard-pressed Americans long for the robust growth that will create much needed jobs, our politicians and policy makers should consult the frightening Chinese example to see why a growing economy requires a growing population.

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