BAD NEWS supposedly comes in threes, so it's no surprise that last week saw a trifecta in the race to breed ourselves into oblivion. There was the South Dakota bill proposing a ban on all abortions other than those to save the life of the mother (that's right, no exceptions, even for rape or incest). Then on Tuesday, the Supreme Court shut down an anti-racketeering lawsuit against pro-life groups that blockade abortion clinics. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that last Saturday at 7:16 p.m. Eastern time, the world's population hit 6.5 billion. Two years ago, the same bureau issued a report noting that our numbers had roughly doubled in size between 1960 and 1999.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 07, 2006 Home Edition California Part B Page 13 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Abortion: A March 4 column about abortion and overpopulation said that "roughly 10 billion people" die of hunger annually. The correct figure is 10 million.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 07, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Population issues -- A Saturday op-ed column about abortion and overpopulation said that "roughly 10 billion people" die of hunger annually. The correct figure is 10 million.
I'm generally not one of those pro-choicers who screams Armageddon each time some legislature pulls the kind of stunt we're seeing in South Dakota. It's pretty clear this bill was designed to take the temperature of our newest Supreme Court justices, and even President Bush has called it too extreme. For my part, I'd like to impale those protesters on the wire coat hangers that would make a gruesome comeback if they had their way. Fortunately, Congress some years ago stepped in to make blocking clinics illegal.
Still, the timing is uncanny. Although there are clearly too many of us, our government seems to think we should reproduce even when we don't want to. Granted, on one level, the abortion issue doesn't have a lot to do with the overpopulation issue. Contrary to certain conspiracy theories among many pro-lifers, most population watchdogs don't align themselves with the abortion-rights set. The concept of family planning, particularly as it applies to the developing world, has replaced the more sinister-sounding population control. Even the lobbying group Zero Population Growth changed its name four years ago to Population Connection. Somehow the word "zero" rattled the bones of a culture that prefers to only connect -- and only expand. But the connection we can't seem to make is the glaring correlation between consumerism and fertility, even though we worship and feel entitled to both.
Like a lot of people, I tend to get enraged when I see demonstrators holding up pictures of dismembered, late-term fetuses and sanctimoniously reminding women that their babies aren't just material objects. For one thing, it's misrepresentative (the vast majority of abortions occur within the first 12 weeks of gestation, when the fetus is no more than a few inches long). For another, it's hypocritical.
These picketers make my blood boil, but I get just as angry when I see parents and would-be parents talking about childrearing (and often child conceiving) as though it were a series of consumer decisions. For too many parents and wannabes, raising a child seems to be as much about acquiring the accessories of family life as it is about committing to the fundamental work of raising another human. Whether it's a teenage mom anticipating her baby shower as though it were the prom or an affluent couple spending nearly $1,000 on a Bugaboo Cameleon stroller, baby love isn't just the stuff of dreams, it's the stuff of stuff.
And it is here, at the crossroads of child worship and superstore worship, that we form many of our ideas about who should be reproducing. Although no one says it out loud, surely the reason most middle-class people in this country don't feel accountable for our ballooning population is that we believe we're duty bound to replace our elite, red-blooded, all-American selves. In this mind-set, overpopulation is perpetuated not by hard-working parents who send their daughters to ballet class but chiefly by immigrants, the poor and people in developing nations. This is also the mind-set to which pro-lifers pay (silent) lip service as they physically and legislatively try to block the reproductive freedoms of women who are often immigrants, poor or living in developing nations.
Obviously abortion is not a solution to the domestic or global population crisis, and obviously plenty of parents view family life as something more than an accessory for their McMansions. But the materialism and status anxiety that the mainstream culture increasingly associates with parenting -- the cable channels devoted to birthing plans and their myriad accompanying products, the tank-like SUVs that are must-haves for anyone with more than 1.7 children, the perpetual orange alert around the issue of college admission and tuition -- suggests that life might be easier all around if there weren't quite so many of us.
I'm not advocating a one- (or even two-) child policy, nor am I unaware of the fact that two-thirds of the world's growth comes not from birthrates (which are actually down worldwide) but from people living longer. However, despite those reduced birthrates, roughly 10 billion people around the world die of hunger every year, and millions of Americans lack affordable healthcare. Maybe these are issues we'd hear more about if not for the competing noise from the abortion war.
By the way, since last Saturday we've added another 5 million people to the planet. But don't worry. Apparently there's plenty of room in South Dakota.