Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Darwinian view of abortion

kw: current events, abortion, evolution

When abortion was legalized about forty years ago, much was said about the elimination of back-alley "house of horrors" abortion clinics. I wish it were so. The case of Kermit Gosnell (I decline to use the title Dr.) shows that, somehow, the back alley is still with us. Some would say it shows the effect of a continuing social stigma, but the reality is much more banal. Clean clinics cost more, and far too many women have no medical insurance.

As much as I hate to admit it, abortion has a place in population moderation ("population control" bears too much hubris). The most modern methods of conception prevention, mis-named "birth control", are about 99% effective. It has been estimated and published a number of times that a woman in the Free World who uses the pill, an IUD, or a condom for every sexual encounter, intending to have no children during her thirty to forty years of fertility, will on average conceive three times. As a character in Jurassic Park said repeatedly, "Life will find a way." If a woman wants fewer than three children, what is she to do? RU-486 is one possibility, but only when used early. Abortion is the final resort.

In an ideal world with a generous economy, the cost of raising a child would not be a deterrent to having one. Welfare moms take note: you appear to be living in such an economy, albeit a bit skimpy on the "generous" side. But in the face of a planet that in forty years will be bearing nine billion persons, something has to give. The planetary economy will give out at some point.

However, there will always be wide differences in the number of children a particular woman or particular couple wishes to raise. Again, referring only to the free world, the cultural preference is now to have one or two children, not more. But some want more, and some want none. In Darwinian terms, what does this mean?

It means a lot of abortions. Abortions have become a factor in natural selection among humans. It can be imagined that the tendency to of some people to use abortion more than others is genetically determined, at least in part. People with those genetics will have fewer offspring than others, and many will have none. This will lead to a gradual reduction in "abortion-favoring" genes in the population. Generation after generation, the proportion of women who can "easily" choose abortion will decrease. Perhaps, if we are lucky, newer versions of the Pill will be developed that are more like 99.9% or 99.99% effective. Otherwise, the number of abortions will slowly decrease, and population will grow beyond UN projections.

Again, "Life will find a way," which in this case means population moderation is going to get harder as time goes on.

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