This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium, Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.
Ben Siegel is a 2nd year graduate student at the Claremont School of Theology, working on his M.A. in Religion, Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. He is a loud-mouthed native New Yorker, a Jewish atheist, a passionate feminist, an unapologetic tree-hugger, a raging comic book nerd and long-time lover of punk rock music.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s World Population Clock,* the earth sustains the lives of approximately 6,976,289,710 human beings and counting. Unfortunately, the carrying capacity of our planet is anything but unlimited. Unmanaged population growth will demand, among other things, encroachment into more hitherto unindustrialized regions, meaning further despeciation and environmental degradation. A globalized capitalist economy, seemingly undaunted by such paltry concerns as labor laws and emissions standards – with its preference for monocultural farming techniques and yields – threatens to eliminate biodiversity in the pursuit of a broader profit margin. This begs the question: are we demanding too much of Mother Earth?
The earth’s ecosystems are rapidly becoming incapable of supporting the human and non-human organisms that are dependent upon the stability of their respective biomes for basic daily needs. Humans require clean water, food, and safe shelter within a stable community. Furthermore, they need to be able to access affordable medical treatment in order to maintain healthy bodies. Healthcare is a particular concern for women whose biological capacity for pregnancy and birthing makes special medical demands and cannot simply be thought of as just another routine procedure. Every pregnancy is different because every woman’s body is unique, but even simple complications can become life-threatening when the availability of medical support is lacking during pregnancy and delivery, especially in lower-income contexts.
Considering the global population boom, legal and religious policies that restrict and deny women’s right to healthcare may be fairly recognized as an assault against ecofeminist values, women’s bodies and the environment itself. Communities of would-be mothers and the planet earth – our collective mother – bear the gendered expectation of silent self-sacrifice in the pursuit of producing more children than they are capable of supporting. Population growth is, therefore, as much an issue of women’s rights (particularly the right to affordable healthcare) as it is a matter of ecological responsibility.
Despite the desperate need to curb the global spike in population, religious and secular world leaders and policymakers apparently fail to see the harm that anti-choice edicts and bills have upon women’s health options and the human carrying capacity of the world. The Bible commands us to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (Gen 1:28).
It’s highly unlikely that the authors of the Bible’s unrestrained, earth-dominance-oriented paradigm of human reproduction could have imagined either the industrialized global economy in which we live or that an unlimited procreation policy could have such profoundly negative environmental effects. However, faith in the infallibility of such scriptural “truths” undergirds Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 statements about the inability of condoms to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually-transmitted infections as much as they support religio-political conservative lawmakers within the United States and the world at large in a vicious crusade against women’s rights and access to reproductive health.
Now more than ever, with Roe v. Wade threatened by dedicated and mobilized legions of anti-choice activists, we need to continue the fight to preserve women’s right to choose. We also need to encourage our officials, whether mundanely or divinely elected, to advocate on behalf of policies that ensure the overall health of individuals, communities and ecosystems in dire need of relief from the pressure cooker that is overpopulation. Just as there are limits to what mothers can provide for their children, so are their limits to Mother Earth’s capacity to support our ever-growing species. If we wish to have a future on this planet, women must be empowered and educated in order to be active agents of choice in their own reproductive processes and understand that systematic unmitigated childbirth draws us closer to the tipping point.
*As of 10 pm, 11/20/2011 < http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html>