Q: In a country like India, won’t fewer abortions lead to overpopulation, or increase the existing overpopulation?
A: Suppose there is a lifeboat at sea that was built for 20 persons, but suppose it contains 30. The evening wind about to come up is sure to sink the boat. A few people must die for the sake of the rest. There are three options:
1. A sufficient number of people may volunteer to die for the sake of the rest.
2. The passengers may agree on some lottery system to decide who is to die.
3. The strong can throw the weak overboard.
Proposing that we solve overpopulation through abortion is to propose the third option. But if the strong treat the weak and defenceless like that, what is the use in the strong surviving?
Another way of saying the same thing: If we are to address overpopulation by killing some of the weak, then killing two-year-olds would be just as logical as killing the unborn. The moral bankruptcy of killing two-year-olds would be easy to see, and the moral bankruptcy of killing the unborn might be less easy to see, but the bankruptcy is the same.
Ultimately, the real solution to any threat of overpopulation in India is to increase the disposable income of families. In affluent countries, the birth rate declines, sometimes in a drastic way, even without abortion.
In the meantime, if each person who is concerned about overpopulation will remember that they themselves would not want to jump overboard off a lifeboat, we will use our intelligence to find other options and improve those options. We can, for example, educate regarding contraception and self-restraint, we can make contraceptive techniques more available and better, we can highlight the nobility of adoption rather than conception for those who have the wish and means to have children, and we can educate with the goal of exposing the emptiness and falsity of the lifestyle choices promoted by entertainment and the media.
We are all members of an elite club, the club of the unaborted. And now some of us are saying, “Let’s keep the club small, so that we can better enjoy the facilities. Let’s not admit new members.”
Once we have decided that the slaughter of innocents is not an acceptable solution, any pressure of a growing population that may exist will force us to be more willing to adopt other solutions. Under the present situation, that pressure is released “the easy way”: by taking advantage of the helplessness and vulnerability of some.
Q: In an already poor family, one more pregnancy and one more birth is likely to affect the mother’s health and/or ability in other ways to care for her existing children. The new arrival as well is likely to have an unhappy life. In such a situation, wouldn’t abortion be the kindest option for everyone?
A: IF it is certain that the quality of life of numerous family members will become wretched as a result of sparing the life of one person (the new arrival), and the lives of those members will be at risk; and IF it is certain that there will be no serious psychological reaction in the parents (due to guilt), then we would have to say that abortion would be the best option for the family members other than the new arrival.
The argument that abortion is in the best interests of the child itself, however, is more suspect. It may be possible to predict with near certainty that the new arrival will have an unhappy life; but it would be equally possible to predict the same for many two-year-olds; and we do not kill two-year-olds.
If we are to kill people in their own best interests, then either we should start killing two-year-olds (and four-year-olds, etc.) whom we predict will lead unhappy lives – which our consciences tell us we should not do – or we should stop killing the unborn whom we predict will lead unhappy lives.
If an abortion would spare the health of the mother and thus help her to take better care of the other family members, then for the sake of the many (the mother and other family members), it might be necessary to sacrifice one (do the abortion). But if the mother’s health is not at risk, and it is just a question of too many family members trying to live off too few resources, then why should the youngest automatically be the one who has to die?
Society should certainly try to avert the conception of an unmanageable number of children, but once they are conceived, they are already part of our family, and how do we decide who is most expendable?
Note: In terms of justifications, or arguments, for abortion related to the burden on the mother, an unborn baby cannot be fully compared to a baby outside the mother’s body; because a baby inside the mother is a burden on her in some unique ways. But in terms of a justification or argument of mercy killing (the argument that killing is actually a mercy to the child), there is no difference between an unborn baby and a two-year-old or four-year-old.
Mercy killing as a justification is in the same category as sex selection: the category of attempted justifications that do not justify killing an unborn child any more than they justify killing a two- or four-year-old. In her book Disappearing Daughters: the Tragedy of Female Foeticide (New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India, 2007, p. 10-11), Gita Aravamudan quoted an Indian village woman who was suspected of having killed a daughter after birth:
“It is all very well for you town people to speak. You can afford to have yourself tested by machines and kill the girl child even when it is in the womb. In what way is that less of a crime? Is that not also killing? Has any town woman been arrested for that?”
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