Border Crisis Linked to Bishops’ Crusade Against Contraception
As thousands of Central American children desperately cross our southern border, seeking security and opportunity unavailable to them in their home countries, there is a rush to deal with this humanitarian crisis. While experts strive to stem this immigration surge, one fundamental cause shouldn’t be ignored: the Vatican’s refusal to respect the rights of all women to make their own childbearing decisions.
Many of these children have made the long, dangerous trek from Guatemala, which has the most rapid population growth of any Latin American nation. There, the least educated women have more than five children each; the average woman has nearly four. Mexico, its neighbor to the north, however, has made extraordinary progress in expanding access to voluntary family planning. Family size there has plummeted from 6.8 children per woman in 1970 to just 2.2 children today. This helps explain why the current crisis involves a sudden influx of children from Central America and not from Mexico, where small families have played a major role in changing society for the better.
What makes Guatemala so different from Mexico? A big part of the discrepancy is the role of the Catholic Church. Both Mexico and Guatemala are largely Catholic and share much in the way of a common heritage. But Mexico has a long, proud tradition of separation of church and state, and birth control is universally available. Not so in Guatemala, where the church is a powerful and harmful political force. Catholic bishops in Guatemala have long suppressed efforts to allow women and couples the means to make their own reproductive choices.
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