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Can Obama's family-planning policies help the economy?

Population soars toward 9 billion in 2050. Changes may slow that growth.

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President Barack Obama's inauguration prompted a huge sigh of relief among the nation's family-planning advocates. As they see it, his policies could help slow the swelling world population while improving economic prosperity and political stability.

Since Obama's birth in 1961, the world's population has more than doubled to 6.7 billion, notes David Paxson, head of World Population Balance, an advocacy organization in Minneapolis. Despite low birthrates in many industrial nations, the world's population is growing an estimated 75-80 million a year.

When Mr. Paxson talks on the issue, he employs a metronome-like device that makes 140 ticks a minute. That's the number of people added to the world every minute, that is, births exceeding deaths. That amounts to about 200,000 people a day, with the world population headed toward 9 billion by 2050.

There's no way in the long run that the Earth can sustain even the present population because of limited amounts of safe water, oil, arable topsoil, ocean resources, and metals, Paxson argues. And he gets an "amen" from many other groups urging more attention to family planning.

On Friday, Obama repealed what critics call the "global gag rule," a US policy requiring all nongovernmental organizations that receive federal funds to refrain from performing abortions or citing abortion services offered by others. The policy was instituted by President Reagan in 1984, rescinded by President Clinton in 1993, and reinstated by President Bush in 2001. The rule has become a political flash point in the abortion debate.

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