Birth Control for Others

Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times Book Review:

Kristof600The first large-scale scientific test of family planning took place in Khanna, India, beginning in the early 1950s. Backed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers asked 8,000 villagers how often they had sex, whether they wanted to conceive and the details of the women’s menstrual cycles. The researchers met the villagers monthly and provided contraceptives, while closely monitoring another group that was given no contraceptives. After five years, the women given contraceptives had a higher birth rate than those who hadn’t received any assistance.

That initiative was an early warning that population policy can be very difficult to get right. In “Fatal Misconception,” Matthew Connelly, an associate professor of history at Columbia University, carefully assembles a century’s worth of mistakes, arrogance, racism, sexism and incompetence in what the jacket copy calls a “withering critique” of “a humanitarian movement gone terribly awry.”

Efforts to control population have long been ferociously controversial, and the United States under George W. Bush refuses to provide a penny of funding for the United Nations Population Fund because of its supposed (but in fact nonexistent) links to forced abortion in China.

More here.