Skip to content

An Interview with Dr. Madeline Weld (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/02


Dr. Madeline Weld is President of Population Institute Canada. She discusses: impact on policy from religion; consequences of blocking family planning; efforts to reduce women’s ability to make informed choices; the most stunning fact about demographics and birth rates; and if we ruin the planet, will we Disnify it (?).

Keywords: Madeline Weld, Population Institute Canada, president.

An Interview with Dr. Madeline Weld: President, Population Institute Canada (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When I think about something mentioned at the start of the conversation, it was the impact of some religious organizations, sometimes quite big, who stand against family planning. One of them tends to be the Roman Catholic Church.

The largest religious segment of Canadian society is Roman Catholicism. How does this impact policy?

Dr. Madeline Weld: Roman Catholics in countries with birth control access do not listen to the Vatican. Because Catholics in Canada use birth control and abortion at the same rate as everyone else. But, historically, I do not think there is any other organization that has caused more damage…

Jacobsen: …wow…

Weld: …to the population movement than the Vatican, which is a political organization. I look at it as a political organization intent on its own preservation rather than a spiritual organization. When the UN was being formed after WWII, the head of the World Health Organization was a Canadian named Brock Chisholm, a Canadian humanist.

He was in favour of family planning. He thought overpopulation would be a problem. He wanted to make family planning part of the WHO’s umbrella services, like child immunization, and so on. The Vatican got together a group of Catholic countries and they said that they would withdraw from the UN if this happened.

They bullied the WHO into dropping family planning from their agenda. This is described by Milton Siegel, who was the second to the chair or the vice-chair of the WHO [he was Deputy Director]– and who attended every meeting, as something they simply dropped as a topic.

The Catholic Church for all environmental things; it has been consistent in opposing family planning. The president of Ceylon now Sri Lanka was concerned about overpopulation: on his small island.

The Vatican was at the conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 [UN Conference on Environment and Development] also got family planning off the agenda. Then the Cairo conference in 1994: The International Conference on Population and Development had both the Vatican and the progressive feminists being against population control.

They talked about racism, colonialism, and so on. They talked about people freely and responsibly choosing the size of their family. But they did not speak about a woman living in a pro-natalist country, where her religion, mother-in-law, and husband say that she must have a lot of kids.

By not initiating any programs or ideas for programs for governments to take for this sort of thing, it fell by the wayside. The amount of money for family planning as a percentage of total population assistance fell dramatically. It went to AIDS.

The point is the Vatican interfered a lot [Laughing]. I do not think there is any organization in the UN that did more damage. We have the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, which is 56 Islamic countries plus the Palestinian Authority.

I am not sure how supportive they will be of family planning. They are a powerful block. I agree that religion [Laughing] does not help with family planning. In Canada and all over Europe, even Spain and Italy, they do not listen to the Vatican. Spain and Italy have some of the lowest birth rates in Europe.

Jacobsen: However, this came from the secularization of the organization of the outside rather than from the inside.

Weld: Yes, I think women benefitted from the secularization of society with more freedom and so on. There is a reform movement in the Catholic Church too. There is a strong contingent of pro-choice people in the Catholic Church too.

Jacobsen: I did an interview with the president of Catholics for Choice.

Weld: A lot of Catholic women disagree with the Catholic anti-abortion stance. There was a commission in the Catholic church to look at their stance on family planning. They had 56 lay people and 16 clergy representatives looking at it. [FYI: This was Pope Paul VI’s Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, which produced its report in 1966: And there were 56, not 54 laypeople on it.]

They were supposed to see whether changing the Vatican’s stance on abortion would harm the organization and whether the Vatican should do it. The commission looked at it, decided it would (harm the authority of the Vatican), but said it is the right thing to do anyway.

Basically, all the lay people agreed to it. 9 out of the 16 clergy representatives agreed that the Catholic Church should change its stance. A dissenting decision was made that if the Catholic Church changed its stance then it would look like the Holy Spirit would not have been guiding the Catholic Church all along.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Weld: But it has been instead with the Protestant groups, where birth control was okay.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Weld: What was a mortal sin would now be okay, it could not do that. Guess, who wrote much of the dissenting opinion? Karol Wojtyla who later became Pope John Paull II. It prevailed, the dissenting opinion. That is an unfortunate thing. []

There were two times when birth control could come into the fore. One was when the UN was formed with the WHO led by Brock Chisholm and another was when the Catholic Church looked to reform on birth control positions. Neither happened.

2. Jacobsen: Now, I look at this as one of those ethical splits. One from a transcendentalist traditionalist religious perspective on the source of ethics. Another on international secular human rights. When I look at those things, I recall Human Rights Watch stating equitable and safe access to abortion is primarily a human right.

Of course, it lists the consequences of not providing the safe and equitable access to abortion. So, if some of these religious organizations and some progressive feminist groups are blocking family planning and potentially abortion too, what are the consequences of doing this for women?

Weld: They are higher abortion rates. If women cannot use birth control, a bunch will seek abortions, and if illegal then illegal abortions, which means an increased rate of abortions and an increased rate of deaths from illegal abortions.

I can understand but do not agree with being anti-abortion. But if you are anti-abortion, then you should be pro-birth control, right [Laughing]?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Weld: Some people think women should not have those rights. I do not see why a sensible person would be against birth control.

Jacobsen: We have come to the same conclusion. If someone is pro-life in a strict and realistic sense, they should be pro-choice because the consequences would be pro-infant life, pro-maternal life, and pro-human right.

Weld: Right. I think the most awful case that made the news was this woman from India, who was in Ireland. Her fetus was dying. It was not viable. But the Irish doctors refused to abort because they were terrified at the time that the Irish draconian laws of the time may make them go to prison if they perform it.

The woman died because by the time the fetal heartrate died; she died of septicemia. It was a sad story. That was about five years ago. I forget when. Because Irish abortion laws were voted to be changed very recently.

3. Jacobsen: Now, in open societies in Karl Popper’s terms, such as Canada, the notion of the restriction of women’s bodily autonomy through various legal or fundamentalist religious measures cannot be done or, at least, as easily.

So, the people who try to do that or want to do that – and, to be frank, some people probably want that in this country – must work through coercion and culture.

Do you note any attempts within the culture or arguments made socially/culturally to either guilt women or shame women, or talk women, into being against contraception – trying to reduce their ability to make proper and informed choices about family planning?

Weld: I know in Ottawa the Morgentaler Clinic prevented people from demonstrating in front of the clinic. It is not advertised. You cannot tell looking at it from the outside. They cannot protest with 50 metres now.

That is some protection. There are organizations. I see their ads on the bus, advertising to pregnant women. Something like Melinda House or Maryam House, where you can go and have your baby. They have outreach.

They try to discourage abortions by women. I do not know of any attempts. The Catholic Church is always preaching against it. But I do not know of any coercive attempts. I do not know if they can without breaking the law. But they try.

They try to influence their legislatures and stuff like that. It is entrenched in Canada, though. Maybe, they can limit it to a certain number of weeks. I do not think even Henry Morgentaler did abortions after 22 weeks; unless there was a medical cause to do it.

I do not think they are going to give up. I think they have a pretty good turnout at their pro-life rallies in Ottawa. But they bus all the high school kids there. They beef it up [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing] something heard by me. The idea, “What will you do after you’re 35? What will you do in the latter part of your life? Oh, don’t worry, you’ll change.” These said to women.

These to negatively associate singlehood or non-motherhood, and to get them to have children or get married and have children. Tiny guilt and shaming tactics over time. They may not be conscious of it.

Weld: People, in general, or humans are pro-child. I think it is natural to want children for a lot of people. But people must make their own decisions. If life is too complicated, I know that more women now who are trying to freeze their eggs – or have their kids later in life.

Sure, they have a right to do so. But from my perspective, imagine looking after a toddler when you are 45 or something, I have two sons. They are 31 and 29. I was 31/32 and 34 when I had my kids. I am glad I had my youngish energy to chase around after them.

Because your energy levels decrease as you get older. You might have a rebellious teenager when you are 60 [Laughing]. Right now, I am 63 and independent. My kids have moved out and have their own life. The freedom is great.

It is something that people want to consider when they put off having their kids. They will be looking after kids into their old age. Do they want to be doing that? Of course, you will not see your grandchildren if you have huge distances between the generations.

Anyway, I think society must figure it out. Given that we have so many people already, I think small families is a good thing. The longer you wait then the less the population is, because parents do not die instantly when they have kids.

I am thinking in terms of biological realities. There might be an optimum-maximum age. There was a case of an Italian woman. She had a kid when she was 65. It was a few years ago. It made the news. I thought, “Why would you do that?”

Jacobsen: Did she have any kids prior?

Weld: I do not recall. You can read cases of old women or an old woman who want to have kids. It is weird.

4. Jacobsen: What is the single most stunning fact about demographics and birth rates, and so on, encountered in your entire career, even post-retirement included? 

Weld: I guess that there are 1 billion more people every 12 years. It is 9 zeroes. It is stunning. Since 9:58, my time, this morning, 13,319 more people have been added to the world. That is the net increase since I have been sitting at this computer.

So, in an hour and a half, we have thirteen and a half thousand new people, which is a lot.

Jacobsen: Is it considering the deaths?

Weld: Yes, it is births minuses deaths. We have this population clock on the website. I guess that is the most stunning fact. Also, humans have taken over 2/3rds of the land surface of the Earth for their uses and only the parts that are difficult to get to are a little safe from us.

It raises the question, “Do we want to turn the planet into a feed lot for humanity? If so, why?”

5. Jacobsen: Will we Disnify the planet if we ruin it?

Weld: I think we are to a degree. I think we delude ourselves if we think we are in control. If the soils are impoverished and cannot support high-yielding plants, and if the rivers are depleted if the aquifers are depleted and it is happening, what will we do now?

They are trying to breed plants that do not require much water. But we are always scrambling to solve some other problem. It is always something. The increase in food production has slowed down. There is always a maximum that can be produced.

It cannot be done forever. A lot of our food production depends on cheap fertilizer, which depends on oil; as the price of oil increases, the price of fertilizer will increase. We should limit our numbers before things naturally self-limit and make things unpleasant for us and other animals.

We could be a blip. It happened when the meteor wiped the dinosaurs out. Why would we do this to ourselves? Why would we cause this transformation and this depletion when we can avoid doing it?

Jacobsen: Because intelligence may be a lethal mutation as per the words of Noam Chomsky.

Weld: [Laughing] Yes, I think that is true.

Jacobsen: Alan Watts used to joke – the Eastern scholar from the 60s-70s – about what if the eventual state of a species is to produce a new star by discovering nuclear energy and then blowing themselves up.

Weld: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Of course, he was being facetious. But what if?

Weld: Yes.

Jacobsen: It is similar what if in a concrete sense of our intelligence allowing us to manipulate the environment very well and over a short, brief time – a “blip” as you noted.

Weld: I think we need to develop a new ethics called Ecological Ethics that have been promoted for a while now. Because most ethics only consider human to human interactions. I think we need to consider that we are part of a bigger system and what we are doing to our support system, ecological system.

I think that may be done willy-nilly because it will happen whether we like it or not.

That is my hope anyway.

6. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Weld.

Weld: Thanks for the interview, Scott.

Jacobsen: That was a lot of fun.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] President, Population Institute Canada.

[2] Individual Publication Date: November 1, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: