Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Like Rabbits

Yesterday was President’s Day, so in honor of that I will write about something that relates to one positive thing our President has done: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. I will even give our President the benefit of my (large doubts): I believe that he pushes for the program because he honestly thinks that it is the right thing to do, and not just because he is engaging in cynical political calculus.

The program is up for renewal and expansion, but the fights over it are just starting:

‘Conservatives Angry at Changes in AIDS Funding

Religious anti-abortion groups are angry over proposed changes in the Bush administration's global AIDS relief program, which has reportedly provided lifesaving medicine to 1.4 million people worldwide...

...On Friday, Bush will begin a weeklong tour in Africa, pressing for a new five-year commitment of $30 billion. Concerned Women for America, along with other conservative religious groups, such as the Family Research Council and the Population Research Institute, are encouraging Bush to veto the bill in its current form.

"It would be better if President Bush had never proposed PEPFAR, than to have $50 billion hijacked by abortion-promoting, chastity-mocking, anti-people groups," said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute...'

The Population Research Institute has also been in the news lately for another issue: the “demographic winter”; the idea that declining birth rates will lead to depopulation and societal collapse. This has been the latest argument of groups that go beyond opposing abortion rights and argue for the elimination of contraception access, groups such as The Population Research Institute.

An article in the latest issue of The Nation, ‘Missing: The “Right” Babies,’ goes over this phenomenon:

‘…Mosher, president of the Catholic anticontraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe's future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes "a decline that Europe hasn't experienced since the Black Death." The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right "profamily" activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It's called the "demographic winter," a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, "Western Civilization" is laying itself down to die…’

This is all less about a slavish following of scripture and more about xenophobia. These arguments have been going on for some time and are becoming heard in the corridors of power:

‘…At the national level, in 2004 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered a "baby bonus" of about $1,000 to parents who had a second child…’


‘…The racial preferences behind Berlusconi's "baby bonus" came into embarrassing relief when immigrant parents were accidentally sent checks for their offspring and then asked to return the money: the Italian government hadn't meant to promote those births…’

The general fear is hordes of Muslims taking over the world. And it isn’t limited to ‘Christian’ nations. From the Jerusalem Post:

‘…It may be true that the world is becoming overpopulated, although some countries in Europe are encountering the opposite problem of aging populations with insufficient young people, and that is what is happening in Jewish communities as well. Everywhere except in Israel, the Jewish population is diminishing, with the result that we are not even reproducing ourselves. Committed Jews should be concerned about the depletion of the Jewish population, especially in light of the fact that a third of the world Jewish population was exterminated in the Holocaust. Rather than making up for that loss we seem to be adding to it, especially when we take into account those Jews lost to us through assimilation and intermarriage.
The proposal of the Rabbinical Assembly teshuva, therefore, is that Jewish couples who can have children and do not suffer from specific physical, mental or other problems preventing it should add one more child or even more to the two required by Halacha, a "mitzva child," to replenish the Jewish world and assure future Jewish existence…’

Hannah Farber at the Jspot comments:

‘What strikes me about these two attempts to affect the way we make the most intimate, important decisions of our lives is that they are both based in fear and sorrow…

…Since I began working in the Jewish community, I’ve heard this advice again and again, and it never fails to get my ovaries in a twist, not least because of the implied (or explicit) criticism of professional women (never of professional men) who postpone childrearing to accommodate their career goals. I say: if the rabbis are so committed to making this a communal issue, the rabbis should raise the children. In fact, given their comfortable salaries and high communal status, they have no excuse: they should be adopting and converting children by the dozen. Given the impressive recent developments in medicine that prolong human life, I wouldn’t excuse any rabbi under sixty from performing this mitzvah. Wouldn’t that make a fine statement of commitment to the Jewish future?...’