The Left has long been infected by a dangerous desire to tell you how many children you’re allowed to have. Today, that urge takes shape in the tendency of progressives to blame “extra children” for all of our woes.
They particularly like to pin the supposedly devastating effects of climate change on families that dare to have more than a “reasonable” number of offspring. This charming argument cropped up again early yesterday morning in a tweet from progressive commentator Jill Filipovic:
Never mind that Filipovic just published a book arguing that women can be fulfilled only if societal structures protect their ability to do whatever will bring them the most pleasure at any given moment. Apparently, that fundamental freedom to order your life exactly as you please — aided by extensive government programs, of course — applies only if you stick to the Left’s prescribed number of children — or, if you kill them post-conception.
This is just the latest example of Filipovic’s insisting that she knows how to live your life better than you do, and it was prompted by a new study finding that the “best” way to reduce one’s carbon emissions is to have at least one fewer child. Such daft suggestions prompt the inevitable question: which child?
Of course, there’s a big difference between offing a child standing next to you and saying that people ought to choose not to have that child in the first place. But both presume that human life is valuable only if — and should be brought into the world only if — a certain subset of powerful and wise elites give the okay. Filipovic’s solution doesn’t even meet her own standard of public policy designed for those already alive — she ignores the fact that having children brings joy to parents, one-child policies have disastrous consequences, and lowering birthrates would render her beloved social programs inoperable. (With fewer workers, who would pay for all the benefits?)
If the Left’s view becomes widely accepted, a regime of legally limited reproduction could even become a routine part of the government’s duty to protect its citizens.
If the Left’s view becomes widely accepted as a desirable or necessary course of action, there is no limiting principle to prevent it from becoming a government-enforced mandate against over-reproduction. And if enough people become convinced that overpopulation is quickly killing the earth — which, by the way, it’s not, despite the endless paeans to the thoroughly discredited Thomas Malthus — a regime of legally limited reproduction could even be considered a routine part of the government’s duty to protect its citizens.
It’s happened before. In the 1920s, many medical experts, lawmakers, and supposed reformers advocated forced sterilization as a method of reducing unwanted populations and thus limiting growth. Margaret Sanger, for example, founder of today’s Planned Parenthood, started her group with the intention of providing birth control to minority communities in order to limit their numbers.
This grotesque mindset contributed to the widespread use of government-sanctioned, forced sterilizations to reduce “unfit” populations. In 32 states, federally funded programs targeted the disabled, the mentally ill, immigrants, minority women, and poor people for sterilization, often without their knowledge and always without their consent. From the 1920s to the 1970s, 65,000 Americans with mental illnesses or development disabilities alone were forcibly sterilized.
In 1927, the Supreme Court held in Buck v. Bell that forced sterilizations carried out on the “feebleminded” or otherwise unfit populations were constitutional. In the majority opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of the defendant, who had been sterilized at birth, that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” That appalling decision still stands.
In the late 1960s, though, reformers and activists turned from eliminating “unfit” populations to lamenting the consistent growth of the overall population. Fueled largely by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich’s manifesto The Population Bomb, large swathes of society came to fervently believe that the world’s implosion was imminent and could be staved off only by limiting human reproduction.
“There’s too many people. And we’d like to see people have fewer children and better ones,” said Ehrlich’s student Stewart Brand in 1969. “It’s about pain in the world. Maybe anybody who’s thinking of having a third child ought to go hungry a week.”
Like Brand, most adherents to Ehrlich’s group Zero Population Growth — with 600 chapters and 60,000 members — subscribed to the biologist’s extreme beliefs, including that childbearing ought to be forbidden. Ehrlich even argued that compulsion would be acceptable if citizens didn’t cooperate.
Ehrlich wanted to create a blacklist of people and organizations that impeded population control, award “responsibility prizes” to couples with childless marriages, and impose a tax on children and a luxury tax on supplies such as diapers and cribs.
Needless to say, Ehrlich’s dramatic predictions never came close to being realized, and not because we stopped reproducing. “I was recently criticized because I had said many years ago that I would bet that England wouldn’t exist in the year 2000,” he said in a 2014 interview. “Well, England did exist in the year 2000, but that was only 14 years ago.”
Ehrlich and Brand’s rhetoric sounds more than vaguely familiar. Today’s Left might not openly espouse such misanthropic theories, but the insistence that overpopulation will destroy the earth is very much with us. Blatant forms of racism and eugenics have faded into the background, but the underlying principles that motivated reformers in the 20th century still resonate.
At this week’s G-20 summit, for example, French president Emmanuel Macron suggested that Africa’s high population rate is a primary cause of the continent’s lack of growth. “When countries still have seven to eight children per woman, you can decide to spend billions of euros, but you will not stabilize anything,” he said.
In the U.S., nearly 80 percent of all Planned Parenthood clinics are located within walking distance of black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
This mindset helps explain why global nonprofits have a laser-like focus on distributing copious amounts of contraception in Africa, under the guise of human rights. And it’s not just overseas. In the U.S., nearly 80 percent of all Planned Parenthood clinics are located within walking distance of black and Hispanic neighborhoods. In New York City, more black babies are aborted each year than are born alive.
Planned Parenthood supporters will be the first to tell you that their clinics provide contraception and abortion on demand to give minority women equal access to opportunity. But in reality, strains of Sanger’s original mission echo, just as Ehrlich’s refrain on limiting reproduction echoes in the comments of Filipovic and Macron.
If progressives continue to indulge this latest disturbing version of population-control rhetoric, they ought to confront the question: Who among us is less worthy of being alive?
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.