In a classic example of what many observers will call a “she said what” moment, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained that the population controlling effects of the contraception mandate will compensate for its costs to taxpayers in a hearing before a House panel today.

“The reduction in the number of pregnancies compensates for the cost of contraception,” Sebelius said.

Her questioner, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), responded with no small measure of incredulity. “So by not having babies born, we’re saving money?”

Sebelius did not answer the question directly. “Family planning is a critical health benefit in this country, according to the Institute of Medicine,” she said, simply.

Watch the exchange:

Sebelius wasn’t done, though. She also told Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), when questioned about the constitutionality of the mandate, that the administration hadn’t even sought an opinion from the Justice Department before going through with it.

Sebelius’ comments on the contraception mandate’s intended result of reducing population may raise some questions among those skeptical of family planning as an institution. The idea of keeping costs down by reducing the number of humans on earth is, to say the least, counterintuitive. However, this idea of using depopulation to control costs is not unique to Sebelius. In fact, the main organization concerned with family planning at the global level, the United Nations Population Fund, issued a statement in 2008 suggesting that a decrease in population could help to combat climate change:

Most environmental problems, including those arising from climate change, tend to be
aggravated by population growth and greater population size. Thus, the fact that the world’s
population has reached 6.7 billion and continues to grow by some 78 million additional
people a year is unquestionably relevant.

The same statement also suggested that increases in population could lead to greater poverty, which was framed as a problem not in itself, but only for environmental reasons:

At one end of the scale, rapid population growth combines with poverty and lack of access
to resources in a number of poor countries to exacerbate problems of local environmental
degradation, resource depletion and inhibitions to sustainable development. Population,
environmental degradation and poverty are linked in the search for fuel-wood, food, water
and other basic needs, making impoverished people unwitting agents of environmental
change. Environmental footprints are thus also related to poverty and unfulfilled basic
human needs as well as to key civil and social rights.

Is Sebelius’ policy cover for this kind of Malthusian thinking? Weigh in below.