Human dignity and the social impact of abortion

There was a fascinating op-ed on Friday in the Global Times, a state-owned Chinese paper, advocating from an economic perspective the abolition of forced abortions in China. Essentially, China’s population is ageing, there are not enough children, and they are headed for demographic disaster unless they boost their fertility rate. The fact that even state-owned papers are now arguing this is a testament to the severity of the situation.

It’s interesting that people who have no moral objections to abortion, or even moral objections to compulsory abortion as in China, still see that it has negative consequences from a practical perspective.

This is due to a basic economic reality which is applicable to most western countries: people are living longer (due to improved medicine, modern medical care, etc.), while fertility rates have been declining. As a result, many countries are facing the challenge of an ageing population. The potentially disastrous consequences of this have been set out by the academic documentary The Demographic Winter.

This is also a significant issue for Australia. The Government’s 2010 Intergenerational Report predicts that, at current birth rates, the proportion of Australians over 65 will grow from 10% today to more than 20% by 2050. As a result, the proportion of people of working age would fall, hurting economic growth and creating a fiscal gap. Due to ageing and the associated health/pension costs, Government revenue is projected to be 3% less than expenditure.

Jessica Brown, an expert in population and family policy from the Centre for Independent Studies, has argued that “only high fertility can slow the inevitable ageing of our population.”

The latest estimates of our fertility rate are around 1.9, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. There are various reasons for this, some of them economic, but certainly social and cultural factors contribute to this as well.

Our abortion laws and social attitudes towards pregnancy are undoubtedly part of this. When society considers widespread abortion to be acceptable, this is obviously incompatible with the idea that life is an inherently good thing. That is, life is not considered valuable in and of itself. This, in turn, affects people’s decisions whether or not to have children and how many to have, as the broader implication is that children are good in certain circumstances but not in others. Social outlooks on the value of life, directly or indirectly, affect the decisions we make.

If, on the other hand, we promote the dignity of human life from conception onwards and view children as inherently valuable, our social attitudes would have the opposite effect. Naturally, we would expect the more positive the social attitude to pregnancy and life, the more value people would place on children, the more children they would have, and the higher the fertility rate.

Building a culture of life, where women are always supported throughout their pregnancies and never feel as though abortion is their only choice, is essential to this. From a purely practical perspective, a culture of life would be beneficial and a step in the right direction to address our low fertility rate and ageing population.

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