A Very Modest Proposal

In his “Modest Proposal”, Jonathan Swift suggests that since the British are not willing to help alleviate Irish poverty, it would be wise for the Irish to sell their children as meat for British consumption. Many today would read this satire half with laughter and half with disgust. Yet the mass promulgation of abortion makes me look twice at this 1729 social commentary.

Abortion in the United States has been touted as a welfare program of sorts, a way to bury the inconveniences of those who are not ready to have a child due to the parents’ economic state. Indeed, Professor Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago, in his book Freakonomics even goes so far to venture that abortion is responsible for a drop in crime in the 1990s. Regardless of whether abortion would ease the financial burdens of an already large family, facilitate the parents’ careers, or prevent the heavy costs of raising a child with mental disabilities, Swift’s proposal for the elimination of Irish babies strikes a resonant chord.

Unfortunately, Stanford mirrors the general perception of sex in our society. As popularized by every major soap opera and drama, sex is simply for pleasure, and children are the “side effects.” With this type of culture, it is no surprise that abortion continues to be prevalent. To encourage such behavior, the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) provides twelve free condoms each quarter to all undergraduates. Whatever your thoughts may be on contraception, contraception allows for safer sex, but not safe sex. Although Sweden promotes contraception and provides free contraceptive counseling, it still reports high abortion to live birth ratios.

Much of this irresponsibility stems from America’s widespread cheapening of sex. Holding off sex until we can actually support a child has been replaced by having sex whenever we please, often under the guise of “safe sex.” Nevertheless, we have yet to build an effective infrastructure to take care of women while they are pregnant and to provide alternatives to abortion that would allow expectant mothers to live relatively normal lives. Instead of providing community support for those who abstain and those who become unexpectedly pregnant, society markets a false freedom of choice that leaves women with abortion as their only choice after irresponsible sexual decisions.

Swift criticized how nonchalantly English citizens looked at the plight of Irish. We, too, often look nonchalantly at the culture of birth control. Indeed, eliminating “births” is touted by leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama as ways of reducing poverty both domestically and internationally. Pelosi went even so far as to classify “family planning” as effective economic stimulus, arguing that “the contraception [initiative] will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” These Malthusian views were disproven in Malthus’ own lifetime, as the role of technological innovation and the value of human capital overshadowed his theses.

As writer James Pethokoukis states in his response to Pelosi, quoting demographer Phil Longman, “Population aging also depresses the growth of government revenues. Population growth is a major source of economic growth: more people create more demand for the products capitalists sell, and more supply of the labor capitalists buy. Economists may be able to construct models of how economies could grow amid a shrinking population, but in the real world, it has never happened. A nation’s GDP is literally the sum of its labor force times average output per worker. Thus a decline in the number of workers implies a decline in an economy’s growth potential. When the size of the work force falls, economic growth can occur only if productivity increases enough to compensate.”

At a top research university like Stanford that engages millions of dollars of research on how to save lives and can document in detail the development of the human growing inside the womb, we still have debates on whether self-contained humans with heartbeats have the most basic of the unalienable rights with which we are supposedly endowed by our Creator: life. When Swift wrote about infanticide for economic stimulus to satirize the position of the British, he never imagined that almost 300 years later it would become the official policy stance of a developed nation to advocate the right to kill children. Tragically, it has.

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