A Declining Birthrate And Unregulated Fertility Clinics: Marks Of Cultural Deterioration

Apr 10th, 2021 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

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Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created disruption and chaos in American civilization.  It fostered an economic recession but also a new way of communicating (e.g., Zoom).  But certain expectations have also has been proven to be wrong.  For example, many social science specialists predicted a boom in the American birthrate.  Apparently, it has had the opposite effect.  For a number of years, America’s birthrate has been declining and the pandemic has not reversed that trend.  Furthermore, technology has fostered novel ways to become pregnant, with devastating consequences.  I will argue that both of these trends provide further evidence of a civilization that has lost its way.

  • First, consider the declining birthrate in America.  The US population is growing at its slowest pace—at a rate parallel to 1937.  The number of deaths is increasing while the number of births is decreasing.  With Americans getting older, fewer babies are being born and more people are dying.  For example, US annual births fell to 3.75 million in 2019 from 4.3 million in 2007.  Furthermore, economic professors, Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine, demonstrate that the COVID pandemic will yield a decline in US births of about 8%, as compared with the number of expected births, resulting in 300,000 fewer births this year than would otherwise be expected.  They conclude: “There is a well-documented cycle to the nation’s birthrate: When the labor market is weak, aggregate birthrates decline; when the labor market improves, birthrates improve.  At the individual level, there is also a well-documented link between changes in income and births: When income increases, people often expand their families when people experience job or income loss, they have fewer children.”  Furthermore, the state of public health has affected the decision to have children.  Consider these observations by Kearney and Levine:
    • School closures, public-gathering limits, social-distancing regulations have had an effect.  Millions of parents are now working often at home and also homeschooling.  This obviously raises the “cost” of rearing children.
    • Restrictions on social activities also mean relationships that could have budded into cohabitation situations or even marriage did not occur.  This also contributes to the overall reduction in birth rates.
    • In January 2021, which would be the first month in which all full-term babies born were conceived after the lockdown began, births fell by 7.2% in Florida and 10.5% in California.

What are the effects of a declining birthrate in America?  [1]  There will be a smaller work force, which lowers economic productivity and fewer workers to contribute to the tax base.  “It also means a lower ratio of workers to retirees, which stresses Social Security since current workers fund benefits paid to current beneficiaries.”  [2] If this pattern continues, as it clearly seems it will, immigration will play an increasingly critical role to shore up the American population.  With declining birth rates, there is no other way to increase the work force, increase the tax base and enhance economic productivity than immigration.  But many Americans are unwilling to accept this as part of the solution to this growing crisis.

One final comment:  There is little doubt that abortion has played a major role in this birth rate decline, but let’s consider the impact COVID-19 has had on abortion.  Abortion access has been a critically important and successful strategy of the pro-life movement.  Indeed, in 90% of American counties there is currently no abortion clinic and in six states there is only one clinic left in the whole state.  In addition, up to 21 states have passed laws banning or limiting abortion in ways many deem unconstitutional (based on Roe v. Wade). Therefore, for the first time since 1973, the annual abortion rate has dropped below one million, which is encouraging.   However, the COVID-19 pandemic has fostered the growth and appeal of “medical abortions,” which require drugs rather than surgery.  Medical abortions normally occur in clinics, but during the COVID-19 pandemic temporary measures could become permanent in some parts of the world, including the United States.  [A reminder:  Two medicines are needed for medical abortions—mifepristone (which blocks the effects of the pregnancy-enabling hormone progesterone) and misoprostol (which induces contractions).  These drugs are taken two days apart and the pregnancy normally ends four to six hours after the second drug is administered.]  How has the pandemic changed medical abortions?  For example, in Great Britain the health secretary in March approved a rule change  which, in effect, gave a woman’s home the same status as an abortion clinic.  The Economist reports:  “Instead of visiting a doctor, women could arrange an abortion by phone and have the pills delivered by post.”  Ireland has introduced something similar, as has France.  In July a federal judge in the US lifted regulations that required women to collect abortion pills from a surgery clinic or hospital, ruling that this was a “substantial obstacle in the path of women” during a pandemic.   Years ago, the Food and Drug Administration in America approved the two drugs mentioned above to abort pregnancies of less than ten weeks but it has also imposed more stringent regulations than those that apply to most drugs in America.  Therefore, in America medical abortions account for about 40% of all abortions, while in most northern European countries, medical abortions account for more than two-thirds of all abortions.  Since medical abortions are sometimes difficult to document, we do not have reliable evidence on the total number of annual medical abortions.  What we do know is that this path for an abortion is growing!

  • Second, consider the role of fertility clinics in having children.  Fertility clinics that store male sperm and female eggs have exploded across the US in unprecedented ways. Such clinics often charge huge fees to infertile couples, lesbian couples, gay men couples or others who seek to “design” the kind of baby they want using donated sperm or eggs.  [Conception normally occurs via artificial insemination or through in-vitro fertilization in a petri dish.]  Unlike most nations, America’s sperm-and egg-donor industry is largely unregulated, such that no one knows how many children have been conceived using donated sperm or eggs.  What are the effects of this unregulated birth industry, which is usually more of a business than actual medicine?
    • A husband and wife seeking to use donated sperm or eggs to have a baby are the minority of clinic customers.  Indeed, the majority of sperm banks’ customers are gay couples and women without partners.  This is due to the legalization of gay marriage and the rising number of single women who are choosing to become mothers.  [Many of these are professional women who do not want to get married.]
    • Children who are born through sperm donors outnumber those born from egg donors.
    • Men who donate their sperm to these donor banks are usually paid for their services, often quite lucratively.  There are cases where one man, who had donated his sperm for money, has sired over 60 children.  As with adoption situations, the children of sperm and egg donors, often desire to trace their blood relations.  But it is difficult often to find out the biological father if he was a sperm donor.  [When anonymity of sperm donors is not protected, the number of donors drops significantly.]  Although not the norm, some clinics do have an “open ID” donor policy, which means that when the child conceived using donor sperm turns 18, the child can contact the donor via the sperm bank. However, most clinics in America guarantee anonymity; therefore, America is now an exporter of donor sperm.  As The Economist reports, “because donor-conceived children, like adopted ones, fare better psychologically when told of their origins from babyhood and allowed to trace their relatives if they wish to, there is a push to prohibit anonymity.”  But, DNA testing has made anonymity somewhat superfluous.  If a teen or a young adult really wants to find out his/her biological parent they can do so.
    • There is a distinct need for more rigorous and comprehensive screening for health conditions among sperm donors.  In 2014 a popular sperm donor who had fathered innumerable children in several states and at least two other countries was found to have lied about his IQ and his health.  He was a university dropout with a criminal record and several health disorders.  Several lawsuits followed this exposure.

The Postmodern embrace of personal autonomy combined with the genetic and reproductive technologies revolution has produced a series of serious, profound crises which have deep ethical ramifications for our culture.  A declining birth rate and the explosion of unregulated fertility clinics do not bode well for the emotional, economic and psychological health of the United States.  The pursuit of personal autonomy comes with a cost.

See Jo Craven McGinty in the Wall Street Journal (23-24 February 2019); Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine in the New York Times (7 March 2021); Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times (20 December 2018); The Economist (19 September 2020), pp. 16, 31; and The Economist (6 March 2021), p. 27.

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