Reproductive Health and Environmentalism on Earth Day


Earth-Day_WebpageToday is Earth Day. Environmentalists, clinicians and scientists are marking the day around the world in different ways. Earth Day began in 1970, before Roe v. Wade and in a time before “going green” and protecting the planet was a widely promoted idea.  Population control was a popular solution, widely promoted on a global scale for decades.  Here in the United States and throughout the Global South, contraception was widely promoted and in some cases coerced upon poor women, people of color, immigrant women, people with disabilities, and people whose sexual expression was not respected. Like with coopting land use and responding to natural disasters, governments and institutions do not enforce family planning policies equitably to all people. State-sanctioned sterilization was common practice back when Earth Day was founded, and popular environmentalists proposed adding sterilization agents into the water supply. The communities most affected by these harmful ideologies still face coercion towards long-acting, reversible contraception (LARC) and other means to restrict reproductive freedom.

Betsy Hartmann, advocate, professor, and writer on the controversial topic of population control, wrote in depth about the myth of population control as an effective and just solution to climate change in her book, “Reproductive Rights and Wrongs.” She acknowledges that the relationship between population and the environment is complex.  Hartmann states, “High population density can have both positive and negative environmental impacts depending on the context. Instead of lumping all people into the term ‘population,’ one must always ask which people are harming the environment and why. Focusing on women’s fertility diverts our attention from the role of industrial agriculture, extractive industries, luxury consumption, and militarism in causing environmental degradation[1].”

Now that the scientific community has consensus that climate change is real, advocates are working on ways to respond. Environmentalism should not require the sacrifice of reproductive choice and autonomy.  Many believe that population control is an idea of the past, but the harmful consequences of this popular belief are still alive in communities around the world. RHAP works to ensure patients have access to quality, non-judgmental contraception counseling so that everyone can make their own decisions about their family and their future.  On this Earth Day, we are reminded that we must learn from our past mistakes and work together to ensure a more healthy and just world for the future.


[1] Hartmann, Betsy. September 15, 2011. “Population Alarmism is Dangerous” in Sustainability Forum: The Population and Sustainability Debate at the Carnegie Council“.

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