In the News, December 2020

Written by Marian Starkey, Vice President for Communcations | Published: December 14, 2020

Researchers at the University of Washington Publish New Population Projections

The Lancet published new population projections by researchers at the University of Washington in July, and they are quite a departure from the United Nations projections. According to these new projections, the global population will peak in 2064 at 9.73 billion and decline to 8.79 billion in 2100. The researchers project a world total fertility rate (TFR) in 2100 of 1.66 births per woman, down from 2.5 births today.

By contrast, the UN medium projection calculates a still-growing world population in 2100 of 10.88 billion. The UN projects that world TFR in 2100 will be 1.9 births per woman.

The difference in the University of Washington projections comes from the methodology used. While the UN Population Division looks at current age-specific fertility rates, the University of Washington researchers looked at completed cohort fertility at age 50, and modeled projections into the future using educational attainment and contraceptive demand satisfied as the two factors that influence completed fertility.

The University of Washington researchers calculated a second projection, wherein the world achieves the Sustainable Development Goals targets for education and contraceptive demand satisfied. Doing so, according to the team, would result in a global population of 6.29 billion in 2100.

Projections are models based on assumptions—therefore, we can’t say that one set of projections is “right” and another is “wrong.” As long as research methods are clearly laid out, we should embrace the thought exercise that comes with alternative projection scenarios, even if we think there’s little chance of said projections bearing out in reality.

United States Census Ends Early

The Trump administration ended the decennial U.S. Census more than two weeks early, after the Supreme Court ruled that it could. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only member of the bench to dissent.

The original deadline for collecting Census data was in August, but COVID-19 delays prompted an extension to October 31. A confusing legal battle ensued, with the deadline being temporarily moved to September 30 and then back to October 31, before data collection was ultimately shut down on October 13.

Although 99 percent of U.S. residents were counted before data collection wrapped up, that final 1 percent primarily represents harder-to-count populations that are concentrated in Democratic-majority areas, including immigrants, people of color, and lower-income residents living in multi-family homes. This undercount could deprive people living in these areas of funding and congressional representation. Compounding that possibility is the Trump administration’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from this Census, despite the Constitution specifying that everyone living on U.S. soil be counted. The Supreme Court is expected to hear that case as early as December.

ICE Doctor Accused of Performing Unnecessary Hysterectomies

Detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, claim that they were subjected to coerced and non-consensual hysterectomies after a nurse at the facility, Dawn Wooten, filed a whistle-blower report in September. The doctor who performed the procedures, Dr. Mahendra Amin, is the detention center’s primary gynecologist.

Dr. Amin would have been paid thousands of dollars for each surgery he performed with funds from the Department of Homeland Security. In 2013, he settled in a civil case after being accused of over-billing Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary surgeries performed on terminal patients.

Many patients who received hysterectomies from Dr. Amin said they had no gynecological problems leading up to the surgeries and that the doctor’s notes about massive cysts and heavy bleeding were fabricated. Many patients also said there wasn’t a translator in the room, so they weren’t able to communicate effectively with Dr. Amin during their exams. Ms. Wooten, the whistle-blower, said she was unable to explain to patients why they’d had their reproductive organs removed because she didn’t understand the reasons either.

Dr. Amin is no longer seeing patients at Irwin County Detention Center, and an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is ongoing.

WWF Living Planet Report Shows Alarming Wildlife Decline

Every two years, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) publishes its Living Planet Index. The 2020 iteration, published in September, shows a 68-percent drop in the abundance of 20,811 monitored populations of 4,392 vertebrate species (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish) between 1970 and 2016.

The decline hasn’t been even across the globe—Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced a 94-percent decline in measured populations of vertebrates, while Europe and Central Asia had a decline of 24 percent and North American had a decline of 33 percent.

According to the report, we are threatening wildlife populations by “overusing the Earth’s biocapacity by at least 56 percent.”

Mexican Supreme Court Rules Against Abortion Liberalization

The Mexican Supreme Court ruled 4–1 in July against decriminalizing abortion in the state of Veracruz. An injunction issued by a judge in Veracruz last year removed three articles from the state’s penal code, resulting in decriminalization of abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, decriminalization for terminations for health reasons, and the elimination of time limits on abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape. The Supreme Court ruled not to uphold the injunction.

Mexican abortion rights advocates had hoped that the case would go the other way and open up the possibility of nationwide decriminalization (abortion is already legal in Mexico City and Oaxaca, but nowhere else in the country).

Poland Abortion Unrest

In October, the 12-judge Polish Constitutional Court banned nearly all abortions, sparking massive protests across Poland. As a result of the uprising, the right-wing government delayed publishing the Court’s ruling, pausing it from going into effect.

Poland already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, but abortions due to fetal abnormalities were permitted—under the new ban, such abortions would no longer be legal.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Mail Order Abortion Medication

In a 6–2 decision in October, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that patients may continue receiving medication abortion pills through the mail during the pandemic. In an effort to reduce the necessity of risky in-person health visits, the FDA relaxed requirements for many medications, including opioids, that previously required patients to pick up the prescriptions in person. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) challenged that abortion pills should be among the medications permitted for mail order. Maryland District Judge Theodore D. Chuang ruled in favor of ACOG, and the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s emergency appeal to block Judge Chuang’s order.

In September, 20 Republican senators sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn thanking him for his efforts in the case described above and asking that the FDA “classify the abortion pill as an ‘imminent hazard to the public health’ that poses a ‘significant threat of danger.’” The authors of the letter also wrote, “Pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness.” It may not be an illness, but it is life-threatening all too often—worldwide, around 300,000 women die each year of pregnancy-related causes. In 2018, 658 women died of pregnancy-related causes in the U.S. alone.