Fifty years ago today, on March 27, 1972, the Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth and the American Future issued a massive report calling for the United States to achieve zero population growth. The Commission’s report included a comprehensive set of recommendations for changes in federal, state, and local government policy to put the hand of government and the private sector heavily on the side of reducing the number of children conceived and born in the United States. Under these recommendations, scarcely any topic touching on family relations and the human right to life was unaffected.
President Richard M. Nixon requested the report in 1969 and Congress authorized the creation of the 24-member Commission in March 1970. Among other recommendations, the Commission called for the legalization of abortion through the second trimester of pregnancy, public funding of abortion and abortion-providing organizations, universal private insurance coverage of abortion, and distribution of anti-population propaganda to teenagers. These policies represented a sharp departure from centuries of U.S. law safeguarding human life and the family unit. The report proved to be highly influential. Less than a year after its release, the Supreme Court issued its opinions effectively legalizing abortion until birth on the barest of economic or health grounds. The majority opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun openly asserted that “population growth, pollution, poverty, and racial overtones tend to complicate and not to simplify . . . one’s thinking and conclusions about abortion.”
More important in terms of its long-term impact, the Rockefeller Commission report posed, and continues to pose, a profound shift in the relationship between government and people. At the outset, the report relies on decidedly bleak conclusions about human prospects, the opportunities for economic growth and technological invention. It establishes as normative a relationship in which government is not merely an expression of the choices of a free people, but an overseer dedicated to its own designs for and limits on the populace, an overseer unbound by any duty to respect the sanctity of human life or the sanctuary of the family and other private institutions.
In the half century since the Rockefeller Commission report was released, the lives of 63.5 million unborn children have been taken in abortion facilities erected in the United States in the wake of the errors of Roe. Parental rights over their children, and their health and safety, have been eroded to the point that in a number of states abortions can be procured by or foisted on minor children without parental knowledge or consent. These policies and practices have been abetted by a series of public health alarms, beginning with population and environmental concerns and proceeding now through diverse panics induced by pandemics and climate change. In each of these declared emergencies, legitimate matters of the common good and public concern have been translated into government policies and mandates designed to truncate parents’ rights and subject them to the will of the state. The People’s Republic of China is only the most draconian of nations that have taken this route of top-down control through its brutal child limitation policies enforced by family planning cadres and forced abortion up to birth.
Vice Chairman of the Rockefeller Commission Graciela Olivarez issued a dissenting statement warning of this threat for our own country: “The poor cry out for justice and equality and we respond with legalized abortion. […] I believe that, in a society that permits the life of even one individual (born or unborn) to be dependent on whether that life is ‘wanted’ or not, all its citizens stand in danger.”
Have added our names to this statement on the golden anniversary of the dross of the Rockefeller Commission to declare that it is time for a new direction. We equally reject the core policies on respect for human life promoted by the Rockefeller Commission and the apocalyptic tone and content of its warnings about a bleak and heartless human future. We hold that the history of humanity, though troubled by conflict, poverty, war and disease, demonstrates that progress is possible in every area of human endeavor. We likewise hold that it is essential that public policy reject extreme notions that put every group and individual in society in endless competition with each other for limited goods, and that inevitably lead to declining standards of living. We embrace the worth of every human life and call for positive policies that put supreme value on the sanctity of life and the preservation of institutions that safeguard it.
Specifically, we support and urge:
Our message is that the historical impact of these policies, the toll of pessimism and savage competition, is enormous and accelerating. It can and must be reversed. Today, on March 27, 2022, we unite in a plea to our fellow Americans to change course, to celebrate life, and to honor the principle that each and every member of the human family is endowed by the Creator with unalienable rights, including the right to life.