For more on population control, see John Holdren
The Population Council is a nonprofit founded in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller III to address supposed world overpopulation. The council conducts demographic research and analysis to support and promote the global use of artificial birth control and abortion; biomedical research to discover and develop new contraceptive drugs and technologies; and demographic analysis in support of population control experiments, policies, and programs in underdeveloped countries.
The Population Council grew from a conference convened by Rockefeller which was attended by “population activists,” the director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and several well-known eugenicists, among others. Lamenting that “modern civilization had reduced the operation of natural selection by saving more ‘weak’ lives and enabling them to reproduce,” resulting in “a downward trend in…genetic quality,” the conferees agreed that an organization needed to be created that would be devoted to the “reduction of fertility.” Rockefeller formally launched the council with a personal grant of $100,000 and served as the organization’s first president. American Eugenics Society (AES) members Frederick Osborn and Frank Notestein were chosen as the council’s next two presidents. Early donors to the council included the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation, but the U.S. and foreign governments would become the council’s biggest financial backers.
The Population Council has been responsible for the development of several controversial contraceptives and abortifacients used throughout the world. In 1962, for instance, the council had been warned by its own research doctors about the acute adverse side effects of the original models of the intrauterine device (IUD). Nonetheless, the council collaborated with the Ford Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) on large-scale IUD programs throughout the 1960s in India, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Reported side effects included severe pain, protracted bleeding, pelvic inflammatory disease, and perforated uteruses.
The original French manufacturer of the RU-486 abortifacient pill donated the rights to manufacture and market the drug in the U.S. to the Population Council in 1994. The council then transferred the rights in exchange for undisclosed royalties to Danco, which The Washington Post has called a “secretive and obscure” company in the Cayman Islands. Now called Mifeprex, RU-486 was responsible for about 40 percent of the nearly 900,000 abortions performed in the U.S. in 2016.
The council was also responsible for the development of the hormonal contraceptive implant Norplant. In 1999, the company licensed to manufacture Norplant agreed to a $50 million settlement in response to a class-action lawsuit brought by more than 30,000 women who say they suffered severe side effects using the device.
The Population Council was incorporated in November 1952 by John D. Rockefeller III, and funded initially by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation, Markle Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and Rockefeller personally. The new council funded demographic and biomedical research and made grants to researchers and institutions to study “knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to family planning” and artificial birth control in countries throughout the world. Early grants supported studies in embryonic development, funded research into “differential fertility among social classes,” and paid for sterilization experiments on “women with bad hereditary history.” In 1956, the council established a biomedical research lab at the Rockefeller Institute for research on the human reproductive system and to facilitate the development of new contraceptives.
Historian Donald T. Critchlow wrote that the Population Council “cultivated elite connections and avoided public controversy by identifying itself as a neutral, scientific organization.” From its very beginning, however, “the council was policy oriented” and “played a principal role in establishing an international network of population experts who shared a set of assumptions about population dynamics and a consensus as to population intervention.”
Founding member of the council and secretary of the American Eugenics Society (AES) Frederick Osborn was Rockefeller’s successor as president in 1957. Osborn was a leading proponent of “reform eugenics,” which sought to distance itself from the racism and anti-Semitism of the eugenics movements popular in the U.S. prior to World War II and embraced by the Nazi regime in Germany. Osborn “did not hesitate to endorse compulsory eugenic sterilization of the mentally ill or restrictions on immigration, and to voice caution against miscegenation.” Osborn had written earlier that, “It is evident that the social conditions which affect reproduction might be modiﬁed in a number of ways, so that the dynamic inﬂuences of population change would be more in line with conscious social objectives. Eventually, if our dream of human progress is to be realized, rational social action must replace the operation of blind forces in this as in other fields.” Under Osborn’s leadership, the council made regular direct grants to the AES.
Osborn’s colleague at the AES, Frank Notestein, became the council’s third president in 1959. Impatient with the cost and bureaucracy involved with widespread dissemination of the birth control pill in undeveloped countries, Notestein and Rockefeller convened an international conference in 1962 on intrauterine devices (IUDs) to gather information on the contraceptive method and encourage further development. Despite hearing from doctors about frequent adverse side effects like pain, protracted bleeding, pelvic inflammatory disease, and perforated uteruses, the council collaborated with the Ford Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) on large-scale IUD programs in Pakistan, Taiwan, South Korea, and India where enthusiastic and often authoritarian leaders made population control a national priority. By 1968, the council had invested more than $2.5 million in manufacturing and distributing the new “Lippes Loop” IUD worldwide.
By 1965, the first program launched in Taiwan revealed that 28 percent of test women had their IUDs removed because of pain or excessive bleeding and 10 percent had become pregnant. This suggested that across Taiwan and South Korea, tens of thousands of women would soon be suffering adverse consequences. In India, writes historian Matthew Connelly, “the number would be orders of magnitude greater.” Meanwhile, a new local IUD plant was preparing to produce twenty thousand devices a day and the Indian government announced its plan to supply twenty-nine million women with IUDs over a five-year period.
A year later, significantly adverse side effects of the IUD had become systemic in Taiwan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, and the United States. By 1967 in India, 58 percent of women reported some pain after IUD insertion, 24 percent reported severe pain, and 43 percent had prolonged bleeding. That same year, Notestein acknowledged that “mistakes have been made, but the overall gains have been valuable and highly significant.”
“Beyond Family Planning”
In 1969, the Population Council’s fourth president, Bernard Berelson, published an article entitled “Beyond Family Planning” in the council’s quarterly Studies in Family Planning. Ostensibly, an effort to promote discussion about the “problem” of continued population growth, the document offered legitimacy to the most draconian policy suggestions, such as adding “fertility control agents” to water supplies in urban areas, temporary sterilization of all young women “via time-capsule contraceptives,” and compulsory sterilization of men with three or more children. While Berelson did not necessarily recommend these extreme measures, he included them in his essay as “programs or policies more or less responsibly suggested,” and he encouraged further research. Ten years later Berelson would write, “The familiar choice presented in the policy literature—that voluntarism is good and ‘coercion’ bad—is clearly simplistic. We are all of us ‘coerced’ daily by both culture and law, in countless accepted ways […] the term itself is neutral: the issue turns on what end is served by a coercive policy and the participatory conditions under which it is implemented.”
Revealing perhaps his true motive for considering harsher measures, Berelson suggested in “Beyond Family Planning” that the “more extreme of controversial proposals tend to legitimate more moderate advances.” Berelson noted that abortions were getting easier to perform by “the so-called suction device now being utilized in Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R.,” and might not require hospitalization. These advances would, in turn, allow for even more possibilities like an abortion “camp” where the procedure could be conducted on numerous women simultaneously.
About the same time that Bereleson published “Beyond Family Planning,” Population Council’s biomedical division director Sheldon Segal was training doctors at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi how to determine sex in humans “for its general usefulness in reproductive biomedicine.” While Segal claimed he never intended his training to facilitate sex-selective abortions, the procedures he taught were already being used to do that. Testifying before Congress in 2016, reporter and author Mara Hvistendahl alleged that a few years after Segal’s training “AIIMS became the site of shocking medical experiments.” Hvistendahl continued, “Doctors offered poor pregnant women in Delhi sex determination and then tracked whether they aborted—and wrote up the results in a medical journal. Of course, women tended to abort if they were carrying girls. That was how sex selection was introduced to India.” Segal would later go on record as a proponent of sex determination as a means of population control.
The Abortifacient Pill
Fearing boycotts led by American pro-life groups, Roussel-Uclaf, the French company which developed the RU-486 chemical abortifacient pill, chose not to bring the drug to the American market itself and sought to find an American company to buy the rights to RU-486. This proved a long and fruitless effort as the French company was unable to find a single American company willing to take on the politically risky drug. Impatient with the lack of progress, then-U.S. Representative Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) threatened the seizure of Roussel-Uclaf’s patent rights. In May 1994, Roussel-Uclaf donated RU-486 rights to the Population Council, which would be responsible for running clinical trials, obtaining Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and finding a manufacturer. 
While waiting for FDA approval, the Population Council transferred rights to manufacture and distribute RU-486 to Danco Laboratories in exchange for undisclosed royalties. The Washington Post reported that “secretive and obscure” Danco was formed in the Cayman Islands in 1995. Danco then contracted with Chinese firm Hua Lian to produce the compounds for RU-486, a deal which, according to a research director at the Shanghai Family Planning Commission, was encouraged by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Marketed by Danco as Mifeprex, the “Abortion Pill” was responsible for 6 percent of all abortions in 2001 and 31 percent by 2014, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. That percentage has already grown to more than 40 percent since a 2016 FDA ruling extending the use of the abortion drug through 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Norplant is a contraceptive consisting of six silicone capsules containing the hormone levonorgestrel that are inserted under the skin of a woman’s upper arm. Levonorgestrel thickens cervical mucus so that sperm cannot get through to any eggs and also prevents the regular release of eggs. These effects can last for up to five years. The product was developed by Sheldon Segal and Horatio Croxatto of the Population Council in 1966. As with the IUDs, clinical trials were held outside the U.S. in 17 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. In 1990, the FDA approved Norplant.
The council sold the rights to manufacture and market Norplant to Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, a division of the American Home Products Corporation. By 1992, Norplant sales reached $141 million and a year later the device had been implanted in 1 million women in the U.S. Over the next few years, however, tens of thousands of women brought lawsuits against Wyeth-Ayerst charging that the company downplayed the severe side effects of Norplant. By 1999, Wyeth-Ayerst agreed to a settlement in which the company admitted no wrong but agreed to pay $1,500 to each of approximately 36,000 women. Sales of Norplant plummeted, and Wyeth-Ayerst discontinued sales in 2000.
The Population Council funds and conducts biomedical research on contraceptive and HIV-prevention drugs and delivery systems; contraceptive product development; policy research and analysis to provide governments and international organizations “evidence-based” justification for contraception and abortion; and demographic analysis in support of population control experiments, policies, and, programs in underdeveloped countries.
The council administers its programs in 50 countries through offices in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In 2016, the Population Council took in $84.5 million in support, the majority, approximately 60%, from governments. In that year, 46% of Population Council contributions came from the U.S. government through the Agency for International Development (USAID), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The council also received 21% of its support from foundations, corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals, and another 4% from multilateral organizations. In 2016, the council spent $85.2 million on “program services,” which included Reproductive Health (37%), HIV and AIDS (27%), and Poverty, Gender, and Youth (17%).
The Population Council developed the non-hormonal copper ParaGard IUD in 1984 and the levonorgestrel-releasing Mirena IUD in 2000. ParaGard is also widely regarded as the most effective “emergency contraceptive” — even more so than the “morning-after” pill. Advocates of using ParaGard in this manner, typically do not mention or downplay the product’s abortifacient potential, preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.
The council has a long history of providing research, analysis, and advocacy to efforts at legitimizing and expanding access to abortion in underdeveloped countries. Population Council participated in the Consortium for Safe Abortions in India, which launched a program of “community-level sensitization using murals, community theater, home health visits, and local media to raise awareness” about the legal right to abortion and the location of abortion providers. The council reported that the program “successfully dispelled misperceptions about abortion-related issues” and significantly increased the availability of abortion in rural areas. Similarly, working with the National Pro-Choice Alliance for Mexico, the council “played a key role in the passage of the 2007 law decriminalizing early abortion in Mexico City.
In collaboration with pro-abortion organizations including International Planned Parenthood Federation and International Women’s Health Coalition, the Population Council in 2009 published It’s All One, a curriculum for sex education teachers “from Africa to the Pacific, from Asia to the Americas, from Europe to the Arab World.” Topics include gender, sexual health, HIV, sexuality, relationships, communication, intimate-partner violence, puberty, reproduction, contraception, and abortion. Recommended activities include having students pair-off to role-play situations such as, “communicating one’s HIV status, sharing what feels pleasurable and what does not, or deciding whether and how to communicate one’s experience of same-sex attraction.”
Jill Bunting serves as president of Population Council. She was educated in demography at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University and has spent most of her professional life working for the government of the United Kingdom. She served twelve years at the Department for International Development where she oversaw the government’s international “reproductive health” efforts. She was a director at International Planned Parenthood Federation prior to being selected to lead the Population Council.
Darcy E. Bradbury is Population Council’s chairman of the board. Bradbury is Managing Director, External Affairs at $30 billion hedge fund The D. E. Shaw group, where she manages the firm’s interactions with the government, the media, industry trade groups, and “other external parties.” Previously, she was a director at hedge fund group Blackstone and served as Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets under Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin during the Clinton administration.