As 80 million new people poured into the world last year -- the equivalent of another Mexico -- traditional United States policy to help slow the rate of growth began to show the effects of heavy and increasing attack from the far right. Greatly encouraged is the loose coalition of anti-abortion, ``right to life'' groups which see more and more success for their campaign of trying to stop US dollars from helping family planning abroad.
``We sense that we have begun to turn the corner,'' says James Kappus, vice-president of the American Life Lobby and editor of its new weekly newspaper, ALL News.
``From Ronald Reagan we have the strongest support from any president ever,'' Mr. Kappus said by telephone from Stafford, Va.
``The President addressed the rally we had in Washington Jan. 22, which attracted more than 70,000 people. The [controversial anti-abortion] film, `The Silent Scream,' is pulling in audiences and motivating people against abortion.''
The latest encouragement Mr. Kappus sees is the decision by the Reagan administration to withhold $10 million from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) for this fiscal year in protest against UN funds that go to China.
The Agency for International Development (AID) announced March 30 it would provide only $36 million to the UNFPA instead of the scheduled $46 million.
AID officials who declined to be identified confirm that the move was taken because an internal AID review had shown that China, which receives $10 million year from the UNFPA, gave the appearance of condoning ``coerced abortion and infanticide.''
Involved here is a collision of moral views, perspectives of the world, and perceptions of the future.
Anti-abortionists see an overwhelming moral need to stop abortion, infanticide, and other forms of population control everywhere. They take a religious position that abortion is murder, whether they be Roman Catholics or Protestant evangelicals or fundamentalists.
Pro-family-planning groups, now ruefully acknowledging a string of setbacks dating from the time of the second UN conference on population in Mexico City last August, say slowing world population growth is vital for increased dignity, opportunity, and safety of the individual.
Other setbacks acknowledged by pro-family-planning groups include a Reagan administration decision late last year to eliminate the annual US contribution of $17 million to the private International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) which supports voluntary family planning in more than 100 countries.
The decision, in line with a policy announced by the US at the Mexico City conference, was made because IPPF affiliates in India and nine other countries where abortion is legal spend a total of $200,000 on research and counseling connected with abortion.
The IPPF thinks other countries have the right to say whether abortion is legal or not. It doesn't approve of coerced abortion or infanticide, and doesn't want US funds spent to promote them.
It also argues that no UNFPA funds, and certainly no US funds, are spent in China for either practice.
The UNFPA has shown AID its books, and indeed, AID officials acknowledged in interviews that the UNFPA is ``not directly involved'' in abortion activities.
``But our position is,'' said a senior AID official by phone from Washington, ``that the UNFPA may be indirectly involved.
The UNFPA helps with publicity -- but government billboards saying families should have only one child provide a milieu in which coercion takes place -- and coercion is practiced, as reported in the Washington Post, by US academic Steven Mosher, by author Pranay Gupte, and other visitors to China.''
``They [the anti-abortion groups] are making significant inroads,'' commented Werner Fornos, president of the pro-family-planning Population Institute, by telephone from Washington.
The current battleground is the US Congress.
Far-right groups were delighted at the success of an amendment offered by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee March 28.
The amendment, approved 13 to 3, would ban any US family-planning assistance to any country which permits ``officially or in practice'' infanticide and coercive abortion, and to any organization which supports such activities ``either directly or indirectly.''
Says Mr. Fornos, ``Senate liberals on the committee thought they were voting against abortion and infanticide. Actually the language, if it ever became law, would ban US family-planning assistance to India and to West African countries as well. . . .''
Fornos's organization and the other major pro-family-planning group, the Population Crisis Committee in Washington, are relying on majority Democrats in the House to try to halt the right-to-life momentum.
On Tuesday the House Foreign Affairs Committee took an entirely different tack to its Senate counterpart.
It voted 23 to 12 to increase the US family-planning aid budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 to $320 million. The budget for this fiscal year is $290 million.
The House committee also specifically earmarked 16 percent of the $320 million for the UNFPA, in direct contrast to the reductions just announced by AID ($46 million trimmed to $36 million). The 16 percent for UNFPA translates to $51.2 million.
A recent Columbia University study in New York showed that 127 countries, including 94 percent of world population, officially support voluntary family planning.
The third world today contains some 3.6 billion people, of a global population of 4.6 billion. By the year 2000, the UNFPA says, the third world alone will have 4.6 billion people, and by 2025 as many as 7 billion.
All have come to the conclusion in the last decade that voluntary family planning is an essential part of their development. And all look to traditional US policy for leadership, contraceptives, and money.