Abortion and Birth Rates
In his article (January 27), Lyman Stone gives a thorough analysis of the lower birth rates that are occurring worldwide, and many causes are explored to explain them. But mysteriously lacking is the impact that abortion has on low birth rates. There is credit given to contraceptive technology as a factor in effectively controlling the population. However, according to the World Health Organization, worldwide every year there are 40–50 million abortions. Shouldn’t we recognize abortions since 1973 as significantly impacting low birth rates, or is abortion just part of the “contraceptive technology”?
Too Many People?
In his article about declining birth rates, the author speaks about the decline as though it’s a bad thing. Would he have the human population grow unchecked forever until we have a trillion humans on the face of the earth? Quality, not quantity, is what matters. It is not necessary for a country’s gross domestic product to always grow for the economy to be successful. An increase in growth per capita indicates that citizens are achieving a higher standard of living. This could occur while gross domestic product as an aggregate declines.
Lyman Stone responds: Several readers noted two conspicuous absences in my recent article: abortion and overpopulation. I avoided these two topics for three reasons: practicality, empirical import, and moral concerns.
First, the practical: The article was, as I am sure readers noticed, already quite long.
Second, the empirical import of such questions: Much as existing academic research suggests that the impact of contraception on birth rates has been greatly inflated by both its critics and its enthusiasts, so too with abortion. While research suggests that restricting access to abortion does have some modest impact on birth rates, research has also clearly shown that readily accessible abortion creates its own demand. And when abortion is restricted, contraceptive use rises. Thus, it is statistically improper to assume that the many millions of abortions that have occurred around the world in the last few decades would not have happened but for the legality of abortion. In fact, were abortion illegal, many of those children would never have been conceived in the first place (and a considerable share would have miscarried). The significance of abortion as a driver of declining birth rates is greatly overstated.
Finally, the moral issue: Both abortion and overpopulation are topics so near to the darkest moments that modern man has experienced that I cannot write about them as secondary themes in a larger work. My view of abortion is simple: It’s murder and ought to be banned. But I am a demographer, not an ethicist or a theologian, and so I leave it to others to explain why killing a very tiny human is nonetheless killing a human.
My view of overpopulation takes rather longer to articulate, because this Hydra has many heads: Overpopulation concerns relate to climate, water, food, land, energy, traffic, hierarchy, genetics, democracy . . . everyone has a different reason why it’s bad to share the world with an ever-growing number of bearers of the image of God. But for me and my house, we will go forth and multiply. More pointedly, I view worries about overpopulation as a kind of gateway drug to genocide.
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