Today’s paradigmatic demand for reproductive rights, including the rights to contraception and the safe termination of a pregnancy, goes something like this: Men and women have the right to choose the timing and size of their families. And things like President Trump’s recent expansion of the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception, as well as his refusal to fund family planning services domestically and abroad, violate these rights.
Is there another way to make the demand for reproductive rights? Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has acknowledged that climate change is a threat to our national security, and studies have shown that choosing a smaller family is the most effective way to mitigate climate change. Moreover, these studies focused simply on emissions, not also factoring in the beneficial effects of creating a smaller, better prepared and more resilient population to match the more challenging environment of the future. Could we make a better demand for reproductive rights based on preventing a recognized threat to our national security?
Here’s another way: If you are a caring person you might feel beleaguered by the constant needs of neglected children, in and out of our communities. Refugees, abused children in failing foster care systems, children living in child-care desserts, children who vitally need federal health insurance, etc. – where did these millions of children come from? Why do we treat children as invisible until they arrive in this world, especially when we now know the disproportionate impact early childhood development has on a person, impacts that last the rest of their lives? Instead of dumping funding and other resources into a cavern of needy children, why not also incentivize parents and communities to work together to plan a fair start in life for every child?
We have to imagine what the world would look like today if parents in the past had waited a few years more to have kids, had fewer kids, and worked with their communities to improve the conditions into which every child had been born. What if all parents had planned for and worked towards things like health insurance, educational savings plans, organized community day care, etc. – all with the help of others who saw family planning for what it is: the future of the world. That proactive view of helping children presupposes rights to things like access to contraception, and the safe termination of a pregnancy. But it bases those rights upon what children need rather than simply upon what parents want. And by focusing on children it also bases the rights on the interests of the community in its future citizens. Who among us really wants to live in communities filled with people raised by parents who did not plan for or want children at the time, but were forced to have and raise kids because they simply could not prevent them?
We can talk about reproductive rights and our right to choose. We can also talk about reproductive rights and climate change, national security, the wellbeing of children, the future of our communities, etc. Is the latter more compelling?