Critique of Population Matters’ report ‘Welcome to Gilead’

Recently in Feminist Fightback we discussed the Population Matters report: ‘Welcome to Gilead – Pronatalism and the threat to reproductive rights’ The report looked at pronatalist policies of different countries including Russia, Hungary, China, the United States and Poland, describing how governments are curbing access to abortion, contraception and other reproductive services in a bid to boost the fertility of their nations and increase the population. Whilst we  agree that right wing nationalism and growing authoritarianism is having a detrimental effect on reproductive rights, Population Matters argues against this from a worrying standpoint, one based on a ‘need’ to have smaller populations, which has inextricable links to white supremacist ecofacism. It makes select use of feminist arguments for negative purposes, using bodily autonomy as an argument for reproductive health services such as abortion and contraception, whilst  failing to acknowledge that real reproductive choice must also include the right to have children – something that has often been denied black, brown and/or working-class women.

We must be extremely cautious about the arguments put forward by organisations such as Population Matters which, in insisting that a reduced population is essential to tackle climate change and resource scarcity, ignores the fact that the real problem is the wastefulness of capitalism and the unequal distribution of resources. We see these older eugenicist arguments appearing once again in some sections of the climate movement, at times cohering into ecofascism. Whilst we agree that the denial of reproductive rights in pro-natalist policies is ultimately about an attack on women’s bodily autonomy, so are anti-natalist polices – from the limit on child benefit after two children in the UK, to the lack of paid maternity leave in the US, to the encouragement to not have children promoted by some climate activists. The misogyny embedded in both is the same and is a bed fellow to the anti-gay rights, anti-trans, and anti-migrant agendas of right-wing governments.

In Feminist Fightback we don’t speak of abortion rights, we talk about reproductive justice and bodily autonomy – the right to have children as well as not have them, and the right to full control over our own bodies. In the coming year we plan to research the rise in misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic politics across the globe, thinking about how all of these reactionary agendas come together in far right nationalism and populism. It is not a coincidence that the anti- abortion and anti-trans movements are happening at the same time. And it is bizarre that  transexclusionary feminists  fail to recognise the contradiction of supporting bodily autonomy when it comes to abortion but not when it comes to trans people.

As we reel from the decision last week by the US courts to overturn 50 years of Roe vs Wade, thereby allowing states to restrict the access to abortion, these concerns loom ever larger on the horizon, The fightback for abortion rights must also entail a wider struggle for comprehensive reproductive rights – free health care and child care, social housing and state support for parents, as well as free contraception and abortion on demand.