During a recent Q&A, a young woman asked me, “How do you respond to the argument that the world already faces an overpopulation problem? If abortion is made illegal won’t it only get worse?”
I actually hear this question a lot. At one particular high school I stayed after my presentation for two days to speak to various classes. This question came up so often I finally asked the students which of their teachers is making this argument in class and suggested that perhaps it would save everyone some time if that teacher would be willing to dialogue with me in front of the school. This challenge profoundly bothered one of the most thoughtful and respectful students I ever dialogued with after a presentation. The idea of overpopulation stressed him so much that he believed abortion to be a perfectly reasonable response in the face the looming threat of too many people. There are three things I like to discuss in response to this question.
The challenge is guilty of the error my friend and mentor Scott Klusendorf teaches us to look for first, it assumes the unborn are not like us without arguing for that position. We need to ask ourselves, would they attempt to justify killing 2-year-old children to stop overpopulation? How about 10-year-old children? If the answer is no, then they assume that there is something fundamentally and morally different about the nature of the unborn, say a 12-week old fetus, and a 2-year-old child.
If the unborn are human in the same way that 2-year-old is then we have the same basic duties to them we have to any human life, our most basic duty just being to refrain from killing each other. If the unborn and the 2-year-old are the same then this argument amounts to one group of human beings deciding they have the right to kill another group of human beings to horde resources. If that is the case and we have that right, then why start with the unborn? Why not older kids who eat more or the elderly? If overpopulation is the justification then why restrict our killing or start our killing with the unborn? This type of thinking puts us in some terrible historical company.
Perhaps they recognize it would be wrong to kill those people, but retreat to the position that the unborn are the kind of thing we are allowed to kill. Then overpopulation is completely unnecessary as a justification for abortion. If the unborn have no value we don’t ever need a justification to destroy them any more than we need moral justification to have a problematic tooth removed. This brings us back to the central question on this issue, “What is the unborn?”
The second point I like to make is that a coming overpopulation apocalypse is by no means the certainty some people would have us believe. In fact, the sources driving this fear have largely been discredited. I carry a file on my laptop containing multiple articles from sources including the New York Times and Vice, not exactly bastions of conservative bias, leveling devastating critiques against overpopulation claims. We certainly face population density issues that need evaluation, and we are even more certainly beset by corrupt and inept governments creating resource distribution issues in specific areas where the poor are unjustly oppressed. That said, we don’t have reliable evidence of an impending global overpopulation crisis sufficient to justify licensing the killing of whole categories of other human beings. Perhaps we should listen to less fearful voices before pulling the trigger on other humans.
Finally, this objection exposes a troubling view of our fellow man. In this view, the men and women in our lives are competition for resources and problems to overcome. I suggest that a healthier and more accurate view of our fellow humans is not that they are problems, but that we are problem solvers by our very nature. We need more people committed to finding creative solutions to the challenges our world faces. When we work together we can do amazing things.
Mr. Rogers’s mother once told him don’t only see the tragedy but also look for the people rushing to help. Advancements in growing food and sustainable farming happen every day. Some very smart people are working hard to make this world a better place. Rather than accept a view of our fellow man that defines them as competitors in an apocalyptic zero sum game, maybe see them as the untapped resource that will help us overcome whatever challenges we face. Learn to look at the world and the people in it with better eyes.
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/us/the-unrealized-horrors-of-population-explosion.html https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d35nm7/an-economist-explains-why-thanos-is-wrong https://overpopulationisamyth.com