Abortion has a long history in human society. Often rendered in back alleys by surreptitious practitioners, abortion has never been admired. So too with infanticide, which is still practiced in a number of countries, especially among the rural poor. Globally, we don’t do much better with young children; malnutrition and starvation are worldwide plagues, now seen in especially poignant pictures from Nigeria.
A recent survey reports that for 2012, between 35 to 56 percent of pregnancies worldwide were unintended. Not immune from Darwinian theory, humans have clearly been selected to be fruitful and multiply. As a species, we have a number of ways of dealing with unwanted children. Not all of them violate the sanctity of the unborn child. The fate of infants and small children is frequently not pretty.
With these observations in hand, those who oppose legalized abortion should be vocal advocates of contraception and contraceptive education. Rates of contraceptive use are highest, and rates of abortion are lowest, in wealthy countries. The rate of abortion in the United States has dropped during the past three decades, not because boys and girls suddenly started behaving responsibly, but because contraceptive availability has increased significantly. Restrictions on abortion seem to have a minor effect; some of the larger declines in abortion rates have been seen in states with fairly liberal abortion laws.
Mid-range global population projections indicate 9 to 11 billion people will share the planet in 2050—up at least 30 percent from today. Far from spurring further economic growth, these people will demand resources and generate wastes on a planet that already shows all signs of saturation from our collective endeavors to enjoy the good life.
In the United States, some 30% of women of child-bearing age have had an abortion—more than 50 million since Roe vs. Wade. I hope that a woman’s right to choose remains legal. It provides options. But let’s hope that the issue of abortion does not become a wedge between those favoring lower rates of population growth and those advocating a healthy environment. Education, empowerment of women, and freely available contraception are much better alternatives.
Bongaarts, J. 2016. Slow down population growth. Nature 530: 409-412.
Crist, E., C. Mora, and R. Engelman. 2017. The interaction of human population, food production and biodiversity protection. Science 356: 260-264.
(The) Economist. 2016. How to make it rarer. 3 December. Pp. 50-52.
Jones, R.K. and J. Jerman. 2014. Abortion incidence and service availability in the United States, 2011. Perspectives of Sexual and Reproductive Health 46: 3-14.
Schlesinger, W.H. 2015. http://blogs.nicholas.duke.edu/citizenscientist/a-modest-proposal/