Slowing Population Growth Humanely: LARCs Reduce Abortions, Poverty –and Up Savings

Harte, Mary Ellen | May 22, 2018 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

uterine armor by +mara | flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Though both population growth and consumption have been identified as the two main factors fueling most of our global problems, far more attention has been focused on solving consumption, especially of energy, than attaining sustainable population levels humanely via, initially, slowing population growth. Doing so within the country of highest consumers, the United States, would set a positive model for developed countries, and our planet. Similarly, doing so within its largest state economy (and fifth largest economy in the world), California, would set a positive model for the rest of the nation to follow.

How? Prevent unintended pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies comprise roughly half of all human pregnancies worldwide, and roughly 45 percent of all U.S. pregnancies, resulting in a significant number of births.

The relatively recent development of cost-effective LARCs (Longterm Active Reversible Contraceptives in the form of implants and intrauterine devices) makes this goal far more possible. LARCs can last three or more years with negligible maintenance, and are over 10 times more effective than standard contraceptives, a 2012 New England Journal of Medicine study shows. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2009 recommended LARCs for most U.S. women as a first line defense against unintended pregnancies. The Center for Disease Control now promotes LARCs to prevent unintended pregnancies.

Conversely, the Trump administration is pushing abstinence-only teen pregnancy programs, not even mentioning contraception in its recent family planning guidance document, and showing no signs of renewing federal contraceptive funding via Title X clinics –the latter of which, if absent, will seriously impact California family planning. Title X funding is a major pipeline for supplying contraceptives to low income families in California via the Family Pact Program, which services over 1 million people annually.

Yet, a 2014 Guttmacher Institute demographic analysis shows that the main driver behind dramatically declining teen pregnancy rates over recent decades is more and better contraceptive use. Abstinence-only education has been shown to be useless in preventing pregnancy and may even worsen the problem among adolescents, whose developing brains often make flawed decisions. When unintended pregnancies decrease, so do abortions, a 2016 Guttmacher policy analysis shows.

Congressional Republicans keep pushing to limit family planning providers specifically to low income  women –precisely the demographic group, between 20 and 40 years of age,  most vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies, a 2016 National Institute of Health demographic analysis shows. Limiting access to family planning runs counter to Republican opposition of abortion. A 2017 Guttmacher Institute demographic analysis shows that when women have greater access to effective contraceptives, both unplanned pregnancies and abortions decrease. LARCs could be the winning tool to resolve this mismatch between position and policy.

A 2014 Brookings Institute report on childhood poverty proposed marketing LARCs specifically to low income women. Escaping poverty is challenging. An unplanned birth is likely to keep a poor woman in lifelong poverty, as she expends scarce resources on child rearing instead of self-improvement. Tragically, poverty can cut women’s average lifespans up to 20 years or more, a 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association study shows. Thus, inadequate access to contraceptives can deprive women of decades of life.

The resulting increase in poverty increases economic burdens on communities. Poverty is a big problem in California, with roughly one in seven persons living in poverty. It affects us all, including businesses, which need customers. Already stressed budgets at every level of government must address yet more costs associated with expanding public programs to serve low income populations. With already unsustainable human growth on this planet, extra births further worsens the problems of yet more unsustainable consumption, pollution, and climate change, which, a recent Los Angeles Times article noted, will seriously impact California agriculture.

It’s time to cut U.S. costs and losses, both human and economic. U.S. family planning yields seven saved dollars for every dollar spent, a 2014 Guttmacher Institute analysis shows.  A 2007 National Health Institute study showed how California saved over 1.5 billion dollars from a single year of averting unplanned pregnancies. The Colorado state government reports that easy access to LARCs results in annual savings of several millions of taxpayer dollars. Investing in easy access to LARCs, especially for poor women, offers Republicans many wins: economic savings, eliminating most abortions, and growing prosperity. The choice is theirs: Trump and the GOP have the opportunity to create an incredible legacy of progress, or hypocrisy.

The Republican dominated federal government, however, is unlikely to supply Democrat-dominated California the funding needed to promote LARCs to those women who need them most, supply the LARCs, and train the personnel needed to implant them. Yet, the sheer economic savings makes it a pragmatic investment for California, as well as the rest of the world, the 2018 Guttmacher-Lancet Commission Report notes. Convincing California’s state government and private entities to invest in creating this profitable model of slowing population growth could bring about a cascading shift in how the United States, and the rest of the world views attaining sustainable population levels humanely.

Mary Ellen (Mel) Harte Ph.D. is a biologist who writes on climate change and population issues. She co-authored the free downloadable book, Cool the Earth, Save the Economy, at Cool the Earth, and produced the weekday “Climate Change Report,” 90-second audio newscasts, as well as the Climate Change Reports blog.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to

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  • Arnold Byron

    I agree. The largest problem facing humanity is overpopulation. Climate change/global warming and over consumption are consequences of overpopulation. You are right to bring attention to ways of preventing pregnancies. Contraception must be made the key priority in any population control effort. Please let me use population control as synonymous with birth control. It is incredulous that humanity recognizes the need for population control then leaves it up to women to take contraception measures. Where are the men?
    Let me tell you my ideas on how population control should work. The goal is to reduce the population by half or more, over two or more generations. The method employed is contraception, both short term and long term.
    Population control will not work unless there is a global agency with the power to determine when two people will allowed to raise one child to adulthood to decrease the population and when two people will be allowed to raise two children to adulthood to maintain the population. Humanity began hundreds of thousands of years ago with a few humans on an overabundant Earth: a veritable Garden of Eden. There has been no need for population restrictions until the population began to outgrow the overabundance. This is where we are today; and if we are to survive we must be willing to impose severe restrictions onto ourselves.
    If in a time of population reduction when two people have one child the man will be required to have a vasectomy and the woman would be required to have a long term contraceptive such as an IUD. They will raise that one child to adulthood and not have another. If the woman should become pregnant a second time she will carry that pregnancy to term and give the child to a childless couple to raise to adulthood. The childless couple would raise only one child to adulthood. During times of population maintenance the same rules would apply after the couple has had two children and after the childless couple has accepted two children. The maximum number of children that either couple will raise to adulthood will be two children. The foregoing is neat and tidy, but things happen. The reality is that couples divorce, children and adults die of accidents and disease. There will have to be a whole new set of laws and societal rules promulgated to deal with the contingencies. But laws can be written and judges can make rulings. Things can be made to work if everyone is intent on making things work.
    I have an article on this MAHB blogsite. It is titled A Plan for the Nations — Step 3. Take a look at it and see where I am coming from. I would appreciate your cmoments.

    • melharte

      If we were simply robots, your plan might have a chance. But current politics, ethics, and civil liberties make it socially and politically inaccessible. We need accessible solutions that can be implemented relatively quickly.

  • melharte

    Thanks, Rob, for the news on the campaign.

    Re US immigration limits: the issue has become so emotionally charged, and US demographics are changing so fast in terms of ethnic makeup, that I suspect trying to have a political conversation about it, much less effect any significant legislative changes, will not happen soon enough to significantly dent accelerating, population-propagated problems in the US and worldwide.

    Another note to consider: the US helped create its own massive hispanic immigration influx, via under-investment in family planning in Latin America over the past several decades. If the US had invested the same financial resources it did for “ideologically correct” regime change in Latin America in family planning there instead, we might not be experiencing the immigration influx we see today. As it is, our efforts resulted in the Latin American propagation of government corruption, social disruption and surging, under-served populations that are driving that river of humanity towards us today. Meantime, our overseas investments in family planning have worsened under the current administration.

    • Rob Harding

      Thanks Mel. Indeed, there have been many past mistakes and indefensible mistakes continue under the current administration.

      Against the headwinds of emotionally-charged immaturity as well as ecological illiteracy, I and others are trying. I encourage others to join us, especially people with ecocentric values. Much of the ongoing immigration influx in the U.S. is congressionally-approved (i.e. legal) and aggressively sought after by the predatory class of economic elites. We can choose a different path, which a majority of Americans want (though the reasons for this support certainly vary, as do people’s appetite for proper enforcement).

      There is little about the status quo of Ponzi demography via mass immigration that is humane or judicious.

      With human-induced environmental disruptions such as habitat loss and degradation being the most common threat to declining populations of nonhuman species, where are other species going when their homes are degraded or destroyed? They’re going extinct!

  • Rob Harding

    I agree with you, Mel. Preventing unintended pregnancies is vitally important, and I wholeheartedly support your suggested investments in easy access to LARCs and the widespread adoption of comprehensive sexuality education. My sincere hope is that the active campaign seeking to establish a United Nations Framework Convention on Population Growth helps effect these changes.

    More info on that campaign here, which I hope you and others will join:

    I wonder, can this also be an opportunity to consider sensible U.S. immigration limits? Though it was surely unintentional, it comes across as unnecessarily partisan to leave out the primary driver of U.S. population growth — immigration — when contemplating the eventual goal of a sustainable population size in the U.S. and elsewhere.