Religious opposition to population control in practice mainly takes the form of opposition to family planning and artificial contraceptive methods based on interpretations of scriptures and religious teachings.
Its effect tends to encourage elitism in development since statistics show that even where religious taboos on contraception exist, it is nevertheless widely practised in developed countries and among the rich in developing countries, and birth rates are on a par with those of societies where there is no religious taboo. Those who follow religious doctrine on this point are mainly the poor and uneducated. Religious opposition to population control may be encouraged or discouraged by government policy depending on control and depending on how strong the religious influence is in politics. Religious opposition may already be built into the law, not only regarding birth control but also into family and marriage law, age of majority, education, status of women and other laws which affect the use of birth control.
Vatican diplomacy has been remarkably successful in blocking any official international endorsement of "unnatural" methods of birth control especially in the form of family planning programmes. The Pope's recent concern has been over the secularization of Poland where, in 1991, at least at least 81% of Poles did not believe the Catholic Church had the right to demand submission to its contraception policies, and 71% rejected its authority on the matter of abortion. In 1992, the Vatican was instrumental in ensuring that population control and family planning were removed from the agenda of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro). At the 1994 Cairo Population Conference the Papal delegation kept the abortion issue at the centre of the negotiations; however at the end only it and a few Catholic countries from Latin America maintained objection. The diplomatic initiatives of the Vatican have been assisted by the World Muslim League which is apparently concerned at unacceptable changes to the role of women in Muslim societies brought about by family planning and the implications of a woman's freedom of choice in a male-dominated society.
The Catholic Church has one of the best-run lobbies in the USA. Its opposition to U.S. funding of international family planning has been palpable. Thus in 1984, in deference to the Vatican position, the Reagan administration announced at the World Conference on Population (Mexico City), that the USA was withdrawing funding from the world's two largest family planning organizations: the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In 1995, the pope issued an encyclical threatening to remove Church sponsorship of those Catholic healthcare organizations that failed to strictly obey church doctrine on matters like sterilizations and contraception. In the USA, there has been the outright elimination of reproductive health services when Catholic hospitals join or take over non-Catholic institutions. The Catholic organizations are forming networks, extending their influence and fortifying their leverage for future negotiations. Fifteen percent of the nation's nonfederal hospital beds are now in the hands of close to 600 Catholic hospitals. Often, the only hospital in a community is Catholic-run.
In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.
Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.
To justify conjugal acts made intentionally infecund, one cannot invoke as valid reasons the lesser evil, or the fact that such acts would constitute a whole together with the fecund acts already performed or to follow later, and hence would share in one and the same moral goodness. In truth, if it is sometimes licit to tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil or to promote a greater good, it is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom; that is, to make into the object of a positive act of the will something which is intrinsically disorder, and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well-being. Consequently it is an error to think that a conjugal act which is deliberately made infecund and so is intrinsically dishonest could be made honest and right by the ensemble of a fecund conjugal life. (Papal Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, 1968).
There is no religious opposition to family planning or population control and certainly no opposition to contraception in the sense of preventing pregnancies. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism all agree with the use of total or temporary abstinence to prevent pregnancy. All also agree that one or, in some cases, the function of marriage is to procreate. Religious traditions concerned with family planning are opposed to the use of artificial contraceptive methods, and particularly for the convenience of the adults.