Coercion and population policies, Part 3 – More babies for the nation

PM’s Alistair Currie looks at a disturbing rise in restrictions on women’s rights due to coercive population growth policies that put pressure on women to have larger families.

By Alistair Currie

Last year, the policy of the Chinese government to force women in its Muslim Uyghur minority to be sterilised, have abortions, or get fitted with intrauterine devices, was a chilling reminder of how the threat of coercive and eugenics-inspired population control policies has not gone away.

However, there is another, and more widespread and insidious threat to women’s rights emerging today: the overlap between a deeply conservative ‘family values’ agenda, and government policies intended to increase national populations.

In the most disturbing example of a coercive population growth policy, last year, Iran blocked public hospitals and clinics from providing contraception and performing vasectomies in an attempt to boost birth rates. Meanwhile, many populist, nationalist and/or far-right governments are pursuing domestic pro-natalist policies, encouraging or pressuring women to have larger families. The trend is strong in countries with authoritarian systems, or leaders with authoritarian tendencies, including China, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Belarus and Poland.

In many countries concerned about the economic effects of a very low birth rate, financial incentives for larger families are used, without any coercive element or other agenda. However, significant increases in births have not yet followed in places like China and Poland, and this is where more sinister motivations can come in.

A common central theme in European pro-birth policies and rhetoric is a reactionary and often religiously driven promotion of the traditional nuclear family, which in practice pushes women back into the kitchen and bedroom. Financial benefits for having children are often limited to those who are married or heterosexual, for instance.

Frequently in harness with this is a disturbing ethnic nationalism. Many East European populists subscribe to the idea of the ‘great replacement’ of white European Christians by other cultures and ethnicities. Poland’s Prime Minister has said his government: “want[s] to reshape Europe and re-Christianise it”. Hungary’s Victor Orban has put it as simply: “We want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.” Disentangling population growth and nationalistic goals from policies intended to limit women’s freedom is not straightforward, but the shared agenda is evident, not least on the critical battleground for abortion rights. In 2018, one Hungarian minister declared that its population would be double if abortion had not been legal. Meanwhile, the pushback on abortion freedom in Russia forms part of the government’s demographic agenda. Vladimir Putin has said: “Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on how many of us there are … it depends on how many children are born in Russian families”.

Few places exemplify this more than Poland, where a toxic alliance of conservative and religiously driven ‘family values’, concern over depopulation, and hostility to immigrants drives policies on family. In January 2021, it effectively introduced a total ban on abortion.

This nationalistic neo-eugenicist agenda is not restricted to nominally Christian countries, however. Turkey’s President Erdogan has accused Western powers of wanting to suppress the Turkish population through birth control, whilst also calling for members of the Turkish diaspora to have families of five or more. Abortion is technically legal in Turkey, but is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

There’s no room for complacency regarding potential abuses in pursuit of reduced population growth, but if the international community in the 2020s focuses on the history of population control rather than the Handmaid’s Tale future threatened (and in some respects, already here) of the nationalistic pro-natal agenda, critical gains in women’s reproductive rights and freedom stand to be lost.


This article was originally published in issue 38 of the Population Matters magazine.

Read more about coercion in population policies in TOP’s series (part 1 and part 2).

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5 thoughts on “Coercion and population policies, Part 3 – More babies for the nation

  1. The reason those Central European nations have such policies is to avoid formal immigration (which occurs but not in the public eye), while promoting ‘white Christian conservative family values’ that caters to ageing electorates; they are more financial carrot than legislative stick and probably have negligible effect on population in the long run e.g. parents simply bring forward plans for children to get the money or tax breaks…..

    More importantly, it’s about trying to rebuild their now inverted and hollowed out population pyramids with increasing numbers of retirees and/or pensioners at the top vs. declining working age populations due to ageing and emigration (worst, polls show a majority of youth want to emigrate, not wanting to remain in illiberal monocultural conservative nations in economic and democratic decline).

    The issue these nations face apart from ageing and low fertility leading to a ‘demographic death spiral’, are how to support state budgets without significant numbers of taxpayers, i.e. with only limited temporary churn over of net financial contributors, and native youth or working age departing while more and more pensioners accumulate?

    Many of the youth and working age cohorts understand that the ‘financial’ can, used to attract ageing voters e.g. pension bonuses and/or low taxes, is being kicked down the road for electoral purposes, but they will be responsible for picking up the tab, cleaning up the mess and expecting fewer benefits or support; backgrounded by legislative moves making children not just legally, but more financially responsible for retired parents that suggests budgetary issues ahead…..

  2. What the short-sightedness of many governments don’t see is that an aging population is a proportionate transition to a smaller scale and more manageable population and economy which is beneficial for human livelihoods and the environment in the long-term.

    Financial benefits that would otherwise go to having more children could instead contribute to supporting the elderly population.

    In the case of ethnic nationalism, instead of promoting more children, and taking away women and family rights, governments should promote employment opportunities, education, tolerance and compassion, and strengthen dialogue with the national origins of migrants, particularly if the reason for migration is political, economical or social instability. Having an authoritarian approach is not going to help a government and its people co-exist harmoniously.

    1. Yes indeed. For sustainability reasons, populations around the world will need to be significantly reduced over the long-term. We need to start having more robust discussions of why that is necessary, how it could be possible, how to deal with the challenges, and how we might indeed come out better in the long run.

    2. Disagree and there is no correlation between lower or reduced populations and improved society, well being and environment; simply an unsupported PR construct masquerading as a ‘solution’ so that fossil fuels can avoid responsiblities and regulation on environment……

      As population pyramids become more like upright heavy pointed arrows (more older citizens) with a slim shaft (fewer working age) to support for a healthy future, that requires sufficient working age taxpayers to support, through better health and longevity, more pensioners and services like health care which older demographics depend upon.

      Wait some time and one will see the impact of reduced tax income on budgets when no NOM net overseas migration, with increased outgoings for pensions etc.. However, governments can always cut state services, pensions and increase taxes, but not popular with voters….. Like nations with no immigration but with an ageing population have not just issues with tax income for budgets but are approaching a ‘demographic death spiral’ and leaving following generations to rebuild.

      1. So you are saying that overpopulation has no impact on the environment whatsoever? Is the increase in demand for freshwater, food, resources and space not causing deforestation and increased pollution (chemical, plastic, noise, light, etc), and subsequently affecting biodiversity and ecosystems? Bear in mind that humans are not the only creatures on this planet, but we share this space with millions of other species of flora and fauna, and that they deserve their space too.

        A smaller population is also easier to manage. It’s like a classroom of children; smaller classes are easier to manage, while larger classes are a lot more difficult with potential for more conflicts and a lot more difficult to keep everyone happy.

        We, as humans, are so engrossed in the long-established, but flawed, economic system that runs our world. Rather than increasing the human population as a “solution”, we should instead fix the economic system to one that closes the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Perhaps a reallocation of funds could assist with countries experiencing an aging population. Perhaps some of the money spent on space exploration could instead go towards humanitarian and environmental issues rather than looking for a new planet. How can we look after a new planet if we can’t even look after our own? After all, the economy is artificial, made by humans and can be manipulated by humans, whereas the environment is all we have – once it’s gone, it’s hard to get back.

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