As Our Population Grows, So Does the Need for Real Leadership

It’s Time to Get the Government Back to Work for Reproductive Rights

Because of the shutdown, the Census Bureau isn’t updating population estimates (photo credit: U.S. Census Bureau).

Every year about this time, the U.S. Census Bureau announces how many people are living in the United States.

That hasn’t happened yet — thanks to Trump and the government shutdown — but it isn’t hard to imagine where we’re headed. The Census Bureau estimated this past year that the U.S. population grows every 18 seconds, with a new birth every eight seconds.

As our population grows and reckless development accelerates, we’re rapidly squeezing out wildlife across the country. And the cost of this runaway growth, from bulldozed habitats and polluted waterways to a worsening climate crisis, is more than endangered species can afford.

Wild plants and animals are going extinct at rates 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural background rate due to habitat loss, pollution, climate change and other human-caused problems.

Meanwhile, the United States boasts the highest rate of unintended pregnancies in the developed world. 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and Trump’s policies will only make the problem worse.

But as the new Congress reconvenes, there’s some small reason for hope.

First, the newly elected members in the House can reach a budget agreement that will get the government, including the Census Bureau, back to work. Once that happens, Congress can start to invest in reproductive health and equality.

Congress can also increase U.S. funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights, and finally dismantle the Draconian “global gag rule” that denies funding to clinics that provide or even discuss legal abortion.

(Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association/Flickr.)

It can safeguard this year’s appropriations bill from harmful riders that block access to reproductive health services and work to increase funding, access and affordability for contraception and reproductive health care domestically and internationally to ensure that everyone can choose if and when they want to have children.

And there’s hope that they’ll rein in the Trump administration’s favors to polluters, uphold endangered species protections and embrace the shift to renewable energy.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy.

Trump stands in the way of reproductive freedom, and not just through his orchestrated shutdown.

Since his first day in office two years ago, his administration has chipped away at funding and access to reproductive health care at every turn. He has appointed officials with dangerous beliefs, who proposed cuts to family planning programs, supported abstinence-only education and limited access to contraception. The administration has made it easier for employers to deny contraceptive coverage and increased restrictions on Title X clinics.

The Trump administration’s approach to reproductive rights has been just as regressive as its approach to environmental protection. While health care has been under attack, the administration has also taken steps to roll back protections for wildlife, clean air and water and the climate, which all face increased pressure with a growing population.

But it isn’t just the United States. Worldwide, we add 227,000 people to the planet every day. More than 200 million women worldwide want to use modern contraception but are unable to do so. As human population has skyrocketed, wildlife populations have plummeted.

The United Nations predicts that there will be nearly 10 billion people on the planet by the time we ring in the year 2050. For wildlife seeing their habitat disappear, increasingly scarce freshwater resources and communities facing climate disasters, that doesn’t leave much cause for celebration.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This new year, and new Congress, is an opportunity to turn a corner toward protecting basic rights, families and the planet. All it takes is leadership, and the voice of the people urging them to do what’s right.

Stephanie Feldstein is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity.