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Abortion and Overpopulation

Killing people to solve social problems is always wrong, regardless of the person's stage of development

Trent Horn

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is the perfect occasion not only to renew our resolve to defend preborn children, but to prepare to do so effectively in debate. Because in its effect, a poor argument can have a more detrimental effect than choosing not to respond to a challenge at all. And we must respond.

A college student named Victor once told me, “We need abortion. I mean, how are we going to care for these children when the world is so overpopulated?”

You’ve probably heard an argument like this before, but you may be surprised by the response I gave: “Let’s say you’re right—the world is overpopulated.”

Now, pro-life advocates who think the world is not overpopulated may be tempted to argue the point. Don’t. You have enough to argue about without bringing up another topic of disagreement. On the other hand, don’t say you agree with the person on overpopulation or anything if you actually don’t agree with them because then you’re lying to the person.

Instead, agree for the sake of the argument. You can say something like I did above, or “I don’t think the world is overpopulated, but for the sake of the argument, let’s say it is.” Or, you could agree on some common ground between the two positions like by saying “I agree that some parts of the world are crowded and people there may lack the basic necessities of life.”

Once you’ve found some common ground you can then apply the overpopulation argument to the killing of a born person like a two-year-old or an infant and ask if they should be killed for the same reason. But you can also use other less controversial examples, like the one I offered Victor:

You know some people like scientists or political leaders contribute knowledge or ingenuity that could help us solve the overpopulation problem. Since we don’t know which unborn children will grow up to be these people it may not be a good idea to kill them. Why not instead kill people we know aren’t contributing to solving the problem, like the mentally handicapped or people in extreme poverty?

Victor smiled as he understood where my argument was headed and remarked, “But you can’t do that, because . . .” As his voice trailed off I replied, “Because we shouldn’t kill human beings just to ease overpopulation. If a baby in the womb is as human as you or I, doesn’t he deserve the same protection you and I receive?”

It’s also worth mentioning that overpopulation doesn’t justify a pro-choice position but a pro-abortion position. What if abortion is kept legal only in order to ease overpopulation, but women as a whole don’t choose to abort? Would the pro-choice advocate argue that women should be forced to have abortions in order to reduce population levels? I doubt most people (at least in America) would argue for that solution. But if it would be wrong to force women to have abortions in order to ease overpopulation, then wouldn’t it be just as wrong to force unborn humans to be aborted for the same reason?

Finally, while there are concerns about the availability of specific resources like water in certain parts of the world, the world as a whole is not overpopulated, even though people have made this claim for centuries.

In 1798 clergyman Thomas Malthus said human populations double every generation but human food production doesn’t increase nearly as quickly, so humanity would eventually run out of food. In 1968 environmentalist Paul Erhlich wrote in The Population Bomb, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.”

Of course, that didn’t happen.

Instead, humanity learned how to produce more food. We went from producing one ton of wheat per hectare in England in the 18th century to producing nearly eight tons per hectare today. In fact, in many places the problem is not too many children, but too few. In some countries with generous social safety nets, there simply aren’t enough children to support the growing population of aging, retired workers.

There are places in the world where people lack access to basic resources, even though there is enough food on earth to feed more than the current population. Killing human beings in the womb won’t help these humans who currently live in poverty. Instead, we need creative approaches to better distribute resources, which is another reason why we shouldn’t kill children in the womb today who may grow up to be the scientists and global leaders who will solve the problems we face in the future.

The bottom line of this argument, for apologetics purposes, is this: just as we don’t kill born human beings in order to address social problems, we shouldn’t kill preborn human beings. After all, they are persons just like you and me, made in the image and likeness of God, and they deserve the same respect we deserve.

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