Most See Rising Population Danger : Majority in U.S. Poll for Third World Family Planning Aid

Times Staff Writer

A majority of Americans believe that mounting populations in poor nations of the Third World are threats to their jobs, to U.S. security and to the world environment and that support for family planning in developing countries is therefore justified, according to survey results announced Sunday.

Because of population growth in the poor nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Americans “believe it is in the national interest to provide financial support for birth control programs in such countries . . . whether or not abortion is legal there,” said a summary of the survey.

The study, based on a telephone poll of a nationwide cross section of 1,250 adults, was conducted in May by Lou Harris & Associates Inc. for the Population Crisis Committee and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Both organizations have opposed the Reagan Administration’s ban on U.S. support for international family planning programs that permit or endorse abortion.

Included among major findings of the study:


--Food shortages and famines will intensify, 91% of the sample said, if population growth continues unabated in poor countries.

More Crises Expected

--Unless population growth is slowed, 86% of those interviewed fear that illegal immigration will increase; that there will be more international crises and that the global environment will worsen.

--More U.S. jobs will be exported to overpopulated nations where workers are forced to accept low pay, in the opinion of 69%.


--Continuation of current growth trends will turn more farm land into desert, 57% said.

--Sixty percent said that the United States should give family planning aid to developing countries, even if they permit legal abortions.

Humphrey Taylor, president of the Harris organization, said that he sees the poll results as a signal to presidential and congressional candidates “that Republican and Democratic voters alike support funding for family planning programs in developing countries, even when these countries provide abortion.”

Alerts Political Leaders


Similarly, Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood, called on political leaders to “heed this message and enact public policies in synch with the views of the American public.”

Sharon Camp, vice president of the Population Crisis Committee, called the findings “good news for any candidate running on a platform that includes support for U.S. family planning programs at home and abroad.” Camp cautioned, however, that population control takes time and can be achieved only gradually. Even with diligent effort, she said, it will be impossible to keep the world population, now about 5 billion people, from doubling over the next 40 years.

“Unless there is a crash program,” she said, “the likely scenario is at least a tripling of the world’s population, with growth continuing beyond the next century.”

At present, Camp said, the family planning budget for the Third World is about $1.5 billion a year, not counting another $1 billion China is spending on its massive program. She estimated that $7 billion a year in worldwide spending will be required to stabilize world population, a step that would involve cooperation by 70% of fertile couples. Most industrial nations and some advanced East Asian countries, notably South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, have reached this level, but contraceptive use is below 30% in most developing countries and is below 10% in Africa, Camp said.


U.S. Cuts Funds

A third of the funding for family planning activities in the Third World comes from developed nations. In the early 1970s, the United States provided about 20% of funds for this purpose. But in 1973, Congress outlawed the use of foreign aid funds for abortions or abortion research. Further moves to reduce overseas population-control funding began early in the Reagan Administration, when the Office of Management and Budget slashed the $346 million requested by former President Jimmy Carter for programs administered by the Agency for International Development in fiscal 1982 by nearly a third.

In 1984, reversing a policy position adopted a decade earlier at the first World Population Conference, the U.S. delegation at the second conference in Mexico City called for more emphasis on economic progress as a “natural mechanism” to slow population growth. It was announced that, while U.S. support for international family planning services would not be reduced, the United States would end aid to groups that “perform or actively promote abortion.”