With the announcement of Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement from the U. S. Supreme Court, right-wing evangelicals have begun to salivate at the prospect of a new, solidly antiabortion justice to replace her. But, they should be careful what they wish for. If the Bush administration ultimately manages to get enough new justices confirmed so that the court will overturn Roe v. Wade, what would be the result?
Evangelicals think that the result would be tough new antiabortion laws in the states and possibly at the federal level. But, in truth, those evangelicals would be playing with fire. Once the principle that the state can control a woman's reproduction is re-established, that control could just as easily be used to limit family size or even prohibit women from having children at all. "Impossible!" you say. "It'll never happen!"
Trouble is, it's already happened--and not just in China where the one-child policy has been China's major tool for stemming population growth. In the United States in the early part of the 20th century many state laws allowed the forced sterilization of the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, the deaf, the blind and others deemed unfit to have children. This was part of the unfortunate eugenics movement which sought to "improve" human populations by preventing so-called "defective" persons from procreating. "Certainly, no one is thinking about this today," you may respond. Probably not.
But, future policy on controlling reproduction may look more like China's than that of the eugenics or the antiabortion movements. Why? We are headed into what some consider a resource challenged future. Energy, water and good soil for growing crops may be in shorter and shorter supply as the world population continues to grow over the next several decades. In fact, the scramble for energy resources, especially oil, is unfolding right now before our eyes. The fight over water and good arable land won't be far behind.
It's not inconceivable that many governments will come to the conclusion that there are too many mouths to feed and that the job of governance would be made easier by slowing down and even reversing population growth. With Roe v. Wade gone, it will be much easier for the U. S. government to limit family size and to enforce such a limit either directly (i.e., through forced abortion and sterilization) or through sizeable financial penalties.
Those who support reproductive rights have always emphasized voluntary measures to control family size for a reason. They know only too well what happens when the state starts making decisions about reproduction. Here's where the law of unintended consequences will most assuredly be felt. Besides abortion, some right-wing evangelicals also oppose the wide dissemination of birth control methods. They regard birth control as an invitation to promiscuity and, in the opinion of a few, a sin against a God who wants us to "be fruitful and multiply." How ironic it would be if the same antiabortion justices favored by many evangelicals ended up paving the way for mandatory population control--possibly including obligatory use of birth control and forced abortion and sterilization. After all, if the government has a right to compel a woman to have a child, it must also have the right to prevent her from having one as well.
Perhaps today such an outcome seems improbable. But, it's impossible to say what future generations will find acceptable when faced with extreme resource and population pressures. Do we really want to find out?
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