WASHINGTON -- In the earliest Republican presidential debates, one of the most frightening moments came when Carly Fiorina described her "memory" of seeing a "fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'"
Many American hearts stopped beating momentarily at the vile description. Anti-abortionists applauded as they recognized the attack on Planned Parenthood for "harvesting" infant body parts and selling them. In November, three people were killed at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, the accused gunman supposedly "explaining": "No more baby parts."
It was a particularly vicious scenario in American life today, where abortion is seen to be as heinous as murder to some, but as a necessary element of control over one's own body to others. We know now that the entire drama was not only palpably false, but deliberately falsified so that, as rather rapidly occurred, the Republican Congress would shut off funds to Planned Parenthood and the venerable organization's reputation seemed forever sullied.
But it is now Planned Parenthood that has been cleared of any wrongdoing; instead, two anti-abortionists from a group called the Center for Medical Progress have been charged with felony counts in the case. The historically important organization providing birth control, female medical advice and some abortions has been totally exonerated and it is the anti-abortion activists who stand before their fellow citizens in shame.
It might well seem at this point that the entire disgraceful case is closed and that many activists should have learned a good lesson when it comes to truth-challenged gamesmanship in public life. One hopes this can be the case. But the fact is that, when it comes to birth and contraception, even though this is an era of sophistication and knowledge, we remain at a loss when facing the large issues of an increasingly overcrowded world.
It has been a long time since the English scholar Thomas Malthus published "An Essay on the Principle of Population" in 1798, when the population of the world was nearing 1 billion. His proposition was simple: If the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man was less than the power of population, then man was in trouble.
For a long time, his warnings seemed overdone. But by 1968, the world's population had risen to around 3.5 billion, with the annual rate of growth peaking at 2.1 percent. By 2015, the global population was an estimated 7.3 billion, according to the United Nations, and now, many scientists are beginning to share in Malthus' predictions and worries.
Eighty-two percent of the U.S.-based members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science now say that the growing world population will strain the planet's natural resources, while 59 percent of Americans in general agree with that proposition, according to Pew Research Center studies.
But if we begin to trace the population growth in specific Third World countries, the problem can often be looked upon as potentially tragic. Egypt's population has doubled since 1975, to more than 80 million today; Nigeria's population of 50 million in 1960 is now more than 180 million; Haiti is so overpopulated that its people have chopped down virtually every tree on their part of the island they share, leaving a barren moon of a place.
In 1995, I interviewed the American ambassador in the Sultanate of Oman, at the bottom of the Saudi peninsula. Discussing causes for worry in the region, he told me: "The Middle East receives 4 percent of the investment money in the world, yet every year millions of Arab boys are coming out of the universities with no place for them to go. It is the story that everyone talks about -- but nobody does anything about."
The outcome has been the staggering numbers of jobless, purposeless boys going into terrorist militias, fighting wars and overrunning Europe with intentions we dare not think of.
Yet, we do very little to put into worldwide practice the principles of Planned Parenthood, thereby allowing the births of children who cannot be cared for, boys who cannot find work and girls who are denied birth control. This is cause for serious concern -- for our families and for our planet.
On public television recently, I saw an official from Bangladesh, one of the most overpopulated and miserable lands in the world, now also threatened with inundation from rising sea levels, talking about who in Europe would be watching to see his countrymen coming when the sea takes over his land. "Those countries will have to take people -- big time" was the way he put it.
I listened -- big time.