Vatican City, April 25, 2018: Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. © Antoine Mekary


People Should Make Their Own Childbearing Decisions, Without Interference From Public Figures

Written by Alex Casey, Communications Fellow | Published: January 19, 2022

There is nothing women love more than being given reproductive advice from men who have no idea what they’re talking about. Pope Francis’ and Elon Musk’s recent comments that encouraged people to have more children for religious and economic reasons are of that variety. 

There is something comically ironic about a childless man telling his followers that foregoing parenthood is selfish and “takes away our humanity.” And we should hardly take advice that will impact the future sustainability of humanity on this planet from a billionaire who thinks we should colonize Mars and advocates for increasing Earth’s population for innovation’s sake.

Advocating for more people in a world that can barely sustain 8 billion is nonsensical. It’s especially foolhardy to push for higher fertility in high-income countries like the U.S., Canada, and Australia, where per-capita carbon footprints are 200 times larger than in some of the poorest and fastest growing countries. In high-emissions countries, over-consumption, industrial agriculture, and the military industrial complex are wreaking climate havoc on lower-income, lower-consuming countries. Population pressures in climate vulnerable countries compound these climate impacts by undermining access to natural resources, economic opportunity, and health care. For example, close to 1.8 billion people across 17 countries live in regions with extremely high levels of water stress—climate change and population growth will only increase the number of people at risk of water scarcity. 

Having a child is neither good nor bad—assigning moral binaries to complex reproductive decisions is reductionist, at best. At the same time, more people are not necessary for increased innovation, action, and change. In the U.S. alone, close to 40 million people live in poverty. Loretta Ross, co-founder of SisterSong, writes, “Who gets targeted for positive, pro-natalist policies encouraging childbirth versus negative, anti-natalist policies that discourage childbirth is determined by powerful elites, informed by prejudices based on race, class, sexual identity, and immigration status.” Better access to reproductive autonomy, education and job training, and livable wages would do a lot more to encourage innovation than higher fertility.

In the United States, more than 19 million women live in contraceptive deserts — meaning that they lack reasonable access to a health center that offers the full spectrum of contraceptive methods. Access to abortion is becoming more difficult every year, and the Supreme Court is poised to make things a lot worse if it overturns Roe v. Wade this spring. According to the Guttmacher Institute, gutting or reversing Roe could have drastic implications for millions of women throughout 26 states, 21 of which are certain to ban abortion immediately through “trigger bans” and five of which will try to ban abortion as soon as possible. Bans disproportionately impact low-income people and people of color, who may not have the resources necessary to take time off of work and spend money on transportation, childcare, and lodging in order to travel for their appointments.

Elon Musk isn’t particularly outspoken about reproductive policies, and even tweeted in response to Texas’s six-week abortion ban, “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people…” The Catholic Church is another story, however. Bishops in the U.S. have used Catholic sacraments to intimidate President Biden and Nancy Pelosi for supporting abortion rights, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spends millions of dollars per year to lobby members of Congress about “pro-life” activities.

Women have or don’t have children for their own private reasons. Conversation surrounding fertility and reproductive choice is no one’s business but theirs. Ensuring that everyone has the right to make autonomous reproductive decisions is our best bet at attaining some semblance of the world these men want to live in.