Monday, January 26, 2009

Worldviews Have Consequences

In what is sure to be the beginning of a slew of Executive Orders and legislative initiatives with profound cultural implications, over the weekend the Mexico City Policy was reversed. During his presidency, Reagan instituted a polity whereby any foreign or international organization asking for U.S. funds could not provide or promote abortion services. The language of the current executive order contains no language about supporting abortion policy across the globe, but it doesn’t take much to understand what the vocabulary means and what the consequences are likely to be. Much of the vocabulary that supports the murder of children around the globe reads like this:

It is clear that the provisions of the Mexico City Policy are unnecessarily broad and unwarranted under current law, and for the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.

“Family planning” in these contexts includes, and is sometimes exclusively, abortion. And how is abortion “economic development”?

In addition, I look forward to working with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N. Population Fund. By resuming funding to UNFPA, the U.S. will be joining 180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.

If we can keep the poorest around the world from having too many babies, so the logic goes, they will be wealthier. Putting the “logic” aside, we need to recognize these kinds of policies for what they are – eugenics. Eugenics is the practice of deciding who is fit to be born, live, and die. Usually it is repellant to us. But if it is couched in terms of “empowering women,” “global economic development,” and “improv[ing] the health of women and children,” who can object? What reversing the Mexico City Policy does is allow U.S. funds to be used in reducing the populations of the poorest around the globe. Apparently, if there were less of them, “global economic development” would proceed less hindered and the rest of us would be better off.

A proper Christian reaction to poverty does not – never does – include abortion. Saying that poverty is a complex and possibly insurmountable issue is an understatement. But for the Christian, it is an opportunity to give and to do. Christian churches among the poorest populations around the globe do the most good. Pentecostal churches in central Africa, for example, not only educate their city’s children, but they run effective and poverty reducing health clinics.

When Paul was commissioned by the apostles in Jerusalem, he was encouraged to remember the poor, which thing he was eager to do (Gal. 2:10). Paul then writes often to churches about the collection he will receive from them, and thanks them on behalf of the others who received their last contributions and gifts. Paul’s actions are our guides. We give what we can and we do when we can, but we never reduce the populations of people holding us back.


Brian B said...

"If we can keep the poorest around the world from having too many babies, so the logic goes, they will be wealthier. Putting the “logic” aside, we need to recognize these kinds of policies for what they are – eugenics."

I just want to clarify where the source of your objection lies: would you object to absolutely any measures, processes, encouragements, or policies that had as their aim to "keep the poorest around the world from having too many babies"? In other words, do you think that trying to reduce the number of children born into highly impoverished areas is *always* problematic (i.e. tantamount to eugenics), or only if such attempts involve an immoral practice like abortion? Would you count the encouragement, provision, and education about the use of contraception (say, amongst married couples - or perhaps amongst poor married couples) as eugenics?

I ask because I totally agree with your revulsion toward making abortion a part of any effort toward anything, of course; but in general I think the attempt to curb population growth - especially in areas that are already severely impoverished - is a sound one, and ought to be encouraged (as but one small part of trying to reduce the suffering of the poor), provided it doesn't involve immoral practices (coercion, abortion, etc.). What's your take?

Phil Steiger said...

Good question! These issues are so gargantuan I think it is hard to settle on a single set of solutions. But I do think the conventional wisdom is lacking in a couple of important respects.

I am not sold on the idea that reducing the number of people born to poor families is a good or the best step toward alleviating their poverty. First of all, it (always) smacks of eugenics. Take for instance what is being proposed in the current U.S. stimulus package for family planning. In order to reduce medical costs to states, our government wants to encourage contraception and provide abortion services. Who costs a state money when they have a kid? Demographically it is the poor and minorities in our culture. So, by extension, we will end up encouraging the poorest and the minorities among us to have fewer kids. Whether the motive is “good” or not, that is deciding who deserves to be born, which is by definition, eugenics. On a global level, I don’t think the reasoning is much different. Because the developed and developing world is currently in what sociologists call a “demographic winter,” most of the population growth happens among the poorest nations. So, to encourage population control, generally speaking, is the same as pinpointing the poorest among us and encouraging them to not have kids.

Secondly, though some of the work is controversial right now, I think studies along the line of “The Bottom Billion” are beginning to show that the primary problems for the world’s largest populations of poor is not their numbers but the political and economic structures they suffer under. Take for instance the famine in North Korea. The famine has not been caused by weather or over population, but by the communist government. Their controlled distribution of food is abysmal, and they refuse outside aid because outside influence is a threat to information control. If the regime is changed, the North Koreans can continue to have kids and feed them too.

Thirdly, and I know this will raise the hackles of many, most of the world’s religions oppress the poor. India is riddled with poverty, not because the poor continue to have kids, but in large part because Hinduism holds to a hard and fast caste system that may be nearly impossible for many to break out of. How can a society take care of its poor if its dominant religion teaches the poor are poor because they were rotten people? Judaism and Christianity, on the other hand, have powerful ethics of compassion which (should) spur their adherents to take care of the poor. I think G.K. Chesterton put it well in “Orthodoxy”: Christianity has the right view of all human people because it teaches that the duke and the peasant are both equally valuable and equally damned.

I know these views may make me stick out like a sore thumb, but I believe they make more sense than what is commonly proposed as family planning.