In promoting its political agenda, one of the world’s largest philanthropic agencies has made itself the biggest single financial contributor to a self-described Roman Catholic group dedicated to vigorously fighting the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and birth control.
For more than 20 years, the Ford Foundation and Catholics For A Free Choice (CFFC) have forged a strong political and financial alliance that sacrifices the lives of the unborn to a discredited view of international economic development.
Founded in 1973, CFFC has been led since 1982 by Frances Kissling, a feminist who has actively promoted abortion for more than three decades. Before joining CFFC’s board in 1979, Kissling opened an abortion clinic in New York in 1970, and in 1976, founded the National Abortion Federation, an association of abortion clinics.
Kissling, who grew up in a working-class Roman Catholic family and left her convent at the age of 20, revealed her feelings about the church to Mother Jones Magazine in 1989: “I spent 20 years looking for a government that I could overthrow without being thrown in jail. I finally found one in the Catholic Church.”
CFFC’s uncompromising support for abortion directly opposes the ancient position of the Catholic Church -- and all of Christendom. The Roman Catholic Church’s catechism states that the embryo “must be treated from conception as a person…must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.”
Catholic opposition to abortion is uncompromising. “The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life,” the catechism states.
Nevertheless, Kissling advances her agenda with Ford’s support. One campaign involves promoting abortion and contraception in Latin America. (CFFC has offices in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Mexico.) Another campaign seeks to downgrade the Vatican’s status at the United Nations from that of a permanent observer to that of a non-governmental organization, which cannot vote or block United Nations decisions.
CFFC even hopes to force Roman Catholic hospitals to offer abortion and contraception; Ford helped fund a briefing paper detailing how mergers with Roman Catholic hospitals could threaten the availability of such services.
Ford supports CFFC more than any other group does. The foundation provided more than $2 million of the $8 million in grants CFFC received between 1980 and 1994, including a two-year grant for $775,000 in 1994. Since that time, the proportion of Ford’s support for CFFC dramatically increased. Between 1996 and 2000, CFFC raised $10 million, with $4.4 million coming from Ford grants.
Funding from such agencies as Ford keeps CFFC alive, as the group’s income records for 1993 demonstrate. That year, CFFC declared $1,530,636 in total income. Of that total, $1,501,412 came from various foundation grants. Only $29,224 came from other sources, and $17,876 was interest from cash accounts and savings.
Grant funding becomes pivotal for CFFC in light of decreasing revenue from subscriptions to the group’s magazine, Conscience. Subscription income fell from $3,427 in 1989 to $1,542 in 1993.
Ford supports a wide variety of CFFC projects. In 1982, the foundation gave CFFC $19,560 to study what the Foundation Grant Index (FGI) called, “effects of religious upbringing and religious attitudes on (the) decision to have (an) abortion.”
Two years later, a Ford grant of $25,000 created a “fellowship program in journalism and moral theology dealing with…contraception and abortion.”
In 1991, Ford issued a $300,000 grant good for two-and-a-half years. As part of that grant, $150,000 went for “family planning and reproductive health programs in developing countries,” and $50,000 went for “education on reproductive health and rights in Latin America,” as reported by the FGI.
Ford’s concern with “reproductive health” extends far beyond CFFC. In 1993, Ford approved $22 million in grants to various organizations promoting population control, especially in poor countries.
But here are the critical questions: Among the endeavors it could support, why does Ford direct such resources toward “family planning” (that is, abortion) and what role does CFFC play in Ford’s efforts?
A bit of history will help. The roots of Ford’s interest extend to the first decade following World War II. Secular organizations began worrying about the possibility that unchecked population growth in poor countries would stifle economic development and increase competition for natural resources, thereby accelerating international tensions. (Others -- including Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger -- were outspoken racist eugenicists.)
That concern revived interest in the theories of the 18th century English economist, Thomas Malthus. Malthus believed that since population tends to increase faster than the food supply, nations must control their birth rates to avoid worldwide disaster.
Malthus viewed famine and war not only as inevitable consequences of overpopulation, but even as necessary means to limit growth if nations refused to do so. In Malthus’ economy, such tragedies reduce the number of poor people, who tend to have more children than they can afford, thus making overall conditions worse.
Agricultural improvements in the 19th century refuted Malthus’ assertions. Nevertheless, various postwar books and articles began addressing such issues as environmental protection and international peace in Malthusian terms. A bestseller from 1948, Road to Survival, even cast Japanese imperialism as the result of a costly pursuit of resources stemming from Japan’s refusal to control its birth rate.
The author, William Vogt, argued that growing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union would be reduced, and war avoided, if both nations pursued aggressive birth control policies: “If the United States had spent $2 billion developing…a contraceptive instead of the atomic bomb, it would have contributed far more to our national security.”
In 1952, Ford helped found the Population Council, designed to create an international network to promote population control. Ford made its first grant of $600,000 to the council in 1954 and followed with grants of $1 million in 1957 and $1.4 million in 1959.
But standing in the way of this Malthusian approach to world progress and harmony is the Catholic Church. John M. Swomley, professor emeritus of social ethics at the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, expresses the prevailing attitude toward Malthus and Catholicism in a 1997 article for Christian Ethics Today. That article criticized the Reagan administration’s decision to remove financial support for international “family planning” programs, including the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, after consultations with the Vatican. Swomley wrote:
The consequences are enormous. The editor of the National Catholic Reporter, in an editorial in the June 19, 1992, issue, said, “I feel the church is causing great harm to the planet, making millions suffer unnecessarily...Among today’s 5.2 billion, as many as one-fifth, mostly children, are undernourished. About 1 million die from hunger or hunger-related causes yearly.”
Moreover, those hunger-related problems have led to massive economic migrations which, in turn, have led to population wars such as those in Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, and in India where “nine or ten million refugees from East Pakistan were driven out.”
CFFC, therefore, provides a useful counterweight to the Vatican’s position in public debate. Joseph O’Rourke, a former Jesuit and president of CFFC, told the conservative National Catholic Register in 1984, “CFFC really was just kept alive for years because the mainline pro-choice movement wanted a Catholic vote.”
But does CFFC embrace a neo-Malthusian perspective? Barbara Crossette, writing for Conscience, provides the answer in an article that otherwise criticizes the arbitrary brutality of Chinese population control:
(I)n human terms…enough diverging numbers…can be linked to the social benefits of China's sharply reduced population growth and India's slower progress. Infant mortality in China, according to United Nations figures, is 36.5 deaths in every 1,000 births. In India, there are 64.7 deaths per 1,000 births. Life expectancy in China now stands at 71 years; in India it is 64.
Large numbers in a poor country put great strain on a family's resources as well as a nation's. In India, nearly a quarter of the population is undernourished, with nearly half the children under five already underweight and undersized. In China, United Nations figures show a national malnutrition rate of nine percent, with about 10 percent of children underweight and 17 percent undersized.
Support for neo-Malthusian ideology gives the lie to CFFC’s advocacy of “free choice.” After all, if choice were the ultimate criterion, the way a woman exercises that choice, through abortion, adoption or child-rearing, would be secondary. Not so, wrote Marjorie Reilly Maguire, one of CFFC’s founders, to the liberal National Catholic Reporter in 1995:
Various personal experiences with CFFC have led me to believe that its agenda is no longer simply to defend the legality of a woman’s abortion choice…I now see CFFC’s agenda as the promotion of abortion, the defense of every abortion decision as a good, moral choice and the related agenda persuading society to cast off any moral constraints about sexual behavior. I don’t think this is a Catholic or pro-woman agenda….
It seems that the only acceptable “choice” for CFFC and its backers is one that reinforces a particular theory of population control – a discredited theory that some of the world’s wealthiest foundations still hold to be in vogue in an era of zero population growth – at the expense of the unborn. That they do so in the name of the Roman Catholic Church is sacriligious. Yet the Ford Foundation continues to pour the funds into CFFC, because CFFC renders Ford an invaluable service: a war by proxy with the Pope and his church.