In the United States, the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old legal precedent that ruled state-level abortion bans are (in many situations) unconstitutional and violate the rights of pregnant women.

Since 1973, legal challenges to Roe v. Wade have weakened the case significantly, most recently allowing for a spate of state-level abortion bans in-all-but-name (notably in Texas, but other states are following suit). Overturning Roe v. Wade is likely to lead to a flood of these state-level abortion bans in roughly half of the United States.

Deep Green Resistance is both ethically and strategically opposed to abortion bans. As a feminist organization, we believe a woman or girl has the right to choose an abortion if that is what she wants. Broadly, these bans disproportionately affect poor women, since wealthier women may be able to travel to a jurisdiction in which abortion is legal, while poor women will not. This entrenches cycles of poverty, since giving birth to and raising a child is extremely expensive and time consuming.

Women’s Loss is Earth’s Loss: Abortion Bans Make Sustainability Impossible

Abortion bans significantly harm the planet, since overpopulation (alongside consumption and technology) is a major driver of the destruction of the natural world.

  • The United States population was 31.4 million in 1860. Today, it is more than 331 million.
  • As one professor stated, “Since 1960, while human population has doubled, the global economy has quadrupled, and resource consumption quintupled.”
  • That was in 1999. Now, twenty-three years later, there are 1.8 billion more people on the planet, equivalent to more than the entire populations of China and the United States combined.
  • More than 80 million people are added to the global population annually, the equivalent of ten New York Cities or twenty Los Angeles’s.
  • The biomass of mammals on planet Earth is now more than 96% humans and livestock, and only 4% wild animals.

This massive population is only sustained by consuming the planet. Agriculture is rapidly destroying the planet’s remaining soils, and crop yields only remain high due to massive infusions of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers. Dead zones are spreading in the ocean due to pollution from industrial farming running down major rivers. Rainforests are being felled to clear more land for agriculture. Global fish populations are collapsing due to overfishing, pollution, and global warming. Non-renewable aquifers are being overpumped and going dry.

The father of the “Green Revolution” himself, Norman Borlaug, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, warned that “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.”

Can Overpopulation Be Solved without Violating Human Rights?

Coercive attempts to control population such as China’s one-child policy or forced sterilization policies in different regions of the world have been widely and rightfully condemned as human rights violations. Less widely known are population success stories that do not involve coercion. In Iran, for example, an exploding population in the 1990’s led the government to institute what is often celebrated as the world’s most successful humane birth-rate reduction program (which has since been rolled back in part to encourage economic growth.

Alan Weissman, writing in his 2013 book “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth” in which he travels the world analyzing the issue of overpopulation, describes a conversation with Iranian Obstetrician and Gynecologist Dr. Hourieh Shamshiri Milani:

“There was no covert coercion [in Iran’s family planning program], she’d explain. The sole requirement was that all couples attend premarital classes, held in mosques or in health centers where couples went for prenuptial blood tests. The classes taught contraception and sex education, and stressed the advantages of having fewer children to feed, clothe, and school. The only governmental disincentive was elimination of the individual subsidy for food, electricity, telephone, and appliances for any child after the first three. By 2000, Iran’s total fertility rate reached replacement level, 2.1 children per woman, a year faster than China’s compulsory one-child policy. In 2012, it was 1.7.”

Reducing Birth Rates

To state the obvious, when birth rates are reduced below replacement level (2.1 children per couple), population will gradually and naturally fall over time. Eileen Crist, an associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech and author of a book on population issues, describes that process:

Environmental writers and activists who highlight the calamities connected with overpopulation are motivated by deep concern for the well-being of all life; they also emphasize that a smaller global population can be achieved by policies and actions that promote fundamental human rights. To achieve a sustainable human population, they urge the global community to pursue full gender equity; ensure education for girls (and all children) through secondary schooling and beyond; make high-quality family planning universally available; include comprehensive sexuality education in school curricula; and aggressively oppose the abusive cultural practice of child marriage. With these human rights ambitiously pursued and universally attained, population growth can end sooner (than via ‘the invisible hand’ of globalization) and a smaller global population gradually attained.

And what is the role of abortion in this? Given that roughly 44% of all pregnancies are unintended, and about half of those unintended pregnancies are terminated through abortions, researchers have concluded that no country can effectively reduce its population growth “without the widespread use of abortion.”

We believe that birth control including vasectomies, family planning services, abortion by mail providers, and abortion should be available to all people as part of efforts to defend the planet. Non-abortion family planning measures actually reduce the number of abortions performed, and thus should be supported by everyone regardless of their political beliefs on abortion (for example, today’s abortion rate in the United States is roughly half what it was in the 1980’s, which is believed to reflect easier access to contraceptives such as abortion pills by mail).

For the rights of women, and for environmental reasons, we are opposed to abortion bans.