Isn't abortion justified for population control and to ease the financial and emotional burden a child may put on a family?

Photo copyrighted. Courtesy of Films for Christ. Photo copyrighted. Courtesy of Films for Christ.

Some pro-choice advocates make much of both the use of abortion as a means of population control and the financial and emotional burden a child may put on a family. It is argued that in such situations abortion is justified. Along the same lines, a number of pro-choice advocates argue that if abortion is forbidden, then the poor will keep producing more children to draw more welfare. Hence, in addition to pity, there is an economic incentive invoked in this appeal.

Beyond pointing out that the so-called “population explosion” is an economic and not a people problem,[1] there are fundamental moral problems with this argument.

  1. It does not really support the pro-choice position that abortion is a fundamental right the pregnant woman can exercise for any reason she deems fit during the entire nine months of pregnancy. If this argument is successful it only establishes the right to an abortion in the cases of overpopulation, poverty, and financial burden, and not “for any reason the pregnant woman deems fit.”

  2. Like the other arguments we have examined, this one also begs the question. That is, only if the pro-choice advocate assumes that the unborn poor are not fully human does his or her policy carry any weight. For if the unborn poor are fully human, the pro-choice advocate's plan to eliminate overpopulation and poverty by permitting the extermination of the unborn poor is inconsistent with his or her own ethic of personal rights. Thus, the question of aborting the unborn poor, hinges on the status of the unborn.

    Furthermore, if the unborn are fully human, then this is also a good argument for infanticide and the killing of all humans we find to be financially burdensome or emotionally taxing.

    Therefore, only by assuming that the unborn are not fully human does the pro-choice advocate avoid such horrendous implications. Thus, in order for this argument to work, the pro-choice advocate must beg the question.

This is not to say that the human race may not reach a time in its history at which overpopulation becomes a problem so severe that it must significantly curtail its birthrate. At such a time it would be wise to try to persuade people either to willingly use contraceptive devices or to practice sexual discipline. If such a tactic does not work, then forced sterilization may be a viable—albeit desperate—option, since it does not entail the death of the unborn. In any event, if the unborn are fully human, abortion is not a solution to population problems even in the most dire of circumstances. Hence, the real question is whether or not the unborn are fully human.

Underlying this type of pro-choice argument is a fundamental confusion between the concept of “finding a solution” and the concept of “eliminating a problem.” For example, one can eliminate the problem of poverty by executing all poor people, but this would not really solve the problem, since it would directly conflict with a basic moral truth that human beings should not be gratuitously exterminated for the sake of easing economic tension. This “solution” would undermine the very moral sentiments that ground our compassion for poor people—namely, that they are humans of great worth and should be treated with dignity regardless of their predicament.

Similarly, one can eliminate the problem of having a headache by cutting off one's head, but this is certainly not a real solution. Therefore, the argument of the pro-choice advocate is superfluous unless he or she can first show that the unborn are not fully human and hence do not deserve to be the recipients of our basic moral sentiments.

Baylor University philosopher and bioethicist Baruch Brody comments:

In an age where we doubt the justice of capital punishment even for very dangerous criminals, killing a fetus who has not done any harm, to avoid a future problem it may pose, seems totally unjust. There are indeed many social problems that could be erased simply by destroying those persons who constitute or cause them, but that is a solution repugnant to the values of society itself. In short, then, if the fetus is a human being, the appeal to its being unwanted justifies no abortions.[2]

Photo copyrighted. Courtesy of Films for Christ.

This is not to minimize the fact that there are tragic circumstances with which our society is all too familiar, such as the poor woman with four small children who has become pregnant by her alcoholic husband. But once again we must ask whether or not the unborn entity is fully human, for hardship does not justify homicide. In such cases, those in the religious and charitable communities should help lend financial and emotional support to the family. And it may be wise—if it is a case of extreme hardship—for the woman to put her baby up for adoption, so that she may give to others the gift of parenthood.


  1. See Craig Walton, "Socrates Comes to His Senses During Meeting With Bush," Las Vegas Review-Journal (3 November 1988), p. 11B. [up]
  2. See Jaqueline Kasun, "The Population Bomb Threat: A Look at the Facts," in The Zero People, pp. 33-41. Originally published in Intellect (June 1977). [up]

Author: Francis J. Beckwith, adapted from a series in Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991. Provided with permission by Summit Ministries and the author.

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