American parents with two or more children should be punished, says college professor

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |
Twin boys Sun Qiyu and Sun Qichun hold China's national flags on the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing November 2, 2015. China must continue to enforce its one-child policy until new rules allowing all couples to have two children go into effect, the top family planning body said. The ruling Communist Party said last week that Beijing would loosen its decades-old one-child policy. The plan for the change must be approved by the rubber-stamp parliament during its annual session in March. | REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

BOSTON (Christian Examiner) – America should follow China's lead and adopt its own one-child policy, handing "tax penalties" and even fines to parents who have two or more children, argues a professor at a prominent northeastern college in a new Boston Globe opinion piece.

Sarah Conly, associate professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, defended China's now-defunct policy in an Oct. 31 column titled, "Here's why China's one-child policy was a good thing." It was published the same week China announced it was changing its one-child policy to a two-child policy.

The old law was controversial for many reasons, including the common practice of forced abortions on women who already had one baby and were pregnant with a second one.

Conly said she opposes forced abortions, although she added that everything short of that should be done to prevent American parents from having multiple children. Failing to limit the number of births in the U.S. and the world will lead to environmental disaster, she argued.

"The most recent estimate from the United Nations says we'll reach a population of 9.7 billion by 2050," she wrote. "... The sad truth is that trying to support this many people will bring about environmental disaster."

Conly added that "we are using resources unsustainably, and despite the frequent cries for a cutback in the use of resources and release in greenhouse gases, nothing much has happened. ... More people will mean more unsustainable resource use, worse climate change, and, eventually, wars over scarce goods or massive population displacement and migrations to places with remaining resources."

The answer is to limit the number of babies parents can have, she said.

"Given the damage we are causing, and the suffering we foresee for all those who live after us, it is clear that having more than one child is just something that none of us — Chinese or American — has a moral right to do," Conly wrote. "We have no right to cause great harm to others when we can avoid this without great loss to ourselves.

"[S]o, we don't have a right to have so many children," Conly said. "We can live happy, fulfilled lives with just one child, and one child per couple will keep the human race going until we get to that point when we do reach a sustainable population and can go back to allowing ourselves to reproduce at replacement value — two children per two parents."

Bowdoin is a prominent college within the academic world and was ranked the fourth best liberal arts college in America in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report. Famous alumni include President Franklin Pierce, writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

Religious groups may object to such a policy, Conly wrote, but even religious groups who oppose contraceptives must fall in line.

"Does the right to religious freedom mean we have a right to do whatever our religious doctrines dictate?" she asked. "Of course not. No one thinks that if a religion required, say, human sacrifice, those who follow it would be allowed to engage in ritual killing, no matter how sincere their belief. We want to accommodate religious practice whenever we can, even when that has some cost to social welfare. But again, if the cost is too great, we tell practitioners that in this case they need to amend their own ways. We've done this many times and will do it again. Typically, a change like this (allowing contraception) doesn't cause an otherwise thriving religion to collapse and fail."

She said tax breaks should be set up for couples who have fewer children and that people should be punished financially if they have two or more kids.

"Instead of tax breaks we can have tax penalties for those who have more than one child," she wrote. "In terms of money, receiving a tax penalty may be no different from failing to receive a tax break, but calling it a penalty can provide more motivation. Lastly, if we ever did discover that we needed sanctions to get people to refrain from having an unsustainable number of children, they wouldn't be physical in nature. Fines may be the best way to go, and again, there is reason to think suitable fines, fixed on a sliding scale relative to income, can be effective — not 100 percent effective, which no regulation ever is, but effective enough."

Society, she concluded, must change how it views childbirth.

"It's new for us to think of something as immediately joyful as childbearing as harmful, and it's hard to change our ideas when we are confronted with new circumstances. This is natural. Natural, but dangerous," Conly wrote. "... Any kind of one-child policy will be unattractive, but the alternative looks to be worse."