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The emergence of the New Malthusians

The new eugenicists of today, employing rhetoric similar to that of Margaret Sanger a century ago, are talking about the ruinous societal consequences if Roe v Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

People pass a Planned Parenthood clinic March 17, 2017 in New York City. (CNS photo/Justin Lane, EPA)

Taking apparent inspiration from Thomas Malthus’ hypothesis that there must be a “strong and constantly operating check on population for the lower races” through birth control and abortion, the new eugenicists of today are already talking about the ruinous societal consequences if Roe v Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. And although faithful Catholics have long rejected these utilitarian arguments for abortion, the Malthusian warnings of increases in poverty, crime, and abuse if abortion is curtailed have escalated since the draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs Jackson was leaked.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League, which later became Planned Parenthood, devoted an entire chapter of her 1922 book The Pivot of Civilization to criticizing the dangers of the “overbreeding of the races”. Today’s Malthusians are warning of crime in the streets and starvation once the Supreme Court issues its ruling in Dobbs. United States Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) recently told an MSNBC interviewer, “The fact that things like inflation can happen, and it becomes more expensive to feed your kids and to fuel your car is exactly why people need to be in charge of how many mouths they’re going to have to feed.”

Sanger built upon the popularity of eugenics, which had become almost a religion among elites in the 1920s and early 1930s. In her earliest days, Sanger focused her work and her rhetoric on trying to create a superior race. Attracted, like Adolph Hitler, to Nietzsche’s ideas about humanity as a work in progress and the need to create the godlike Superman, Sanger envisioned a new race of biologically superior creatures who would be as different from us as we are from apes. In her first book, titled Women and the New Race, she advocated birth control and sterilization as tools to prevent the superior race from being “forced into a cradle race with rapidly breeding inferiors.” In 1939, she produced a pamphlet called “Birth Control and the Negro,” which asserted that the “poorer areas, particularly in the South, are producing alarmingly more than their share of future generations.”

The dark side of the Sanger legacy continues today in the heavy marketing of abortion in neighborhoods primarily populated by African Americans. An analysis of New York City abortion rates and ratios by ZIP code published by the Chiaroscuro Foundation reveals that Bedford-Stuyvesant has the highest rate of abortion in Brooklyn at 59 percent. This means that there are 59 abortions to every 100 pregnancies. The abortion rates in Jamaica, Queens and Southeast Queens and Central Harlem-Morningside Heights are even worse – well in excess of 60 percent. In contrast, while more than half of the pregnancies in New York City’s Black and Hispanic neighborhoods end in death for the unborn child, only 6 percent of the pregnancies for women living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side zip code of 10162 end in abortion. And only 6.7 percent of all pregnancies in the lower Manhattan Zip code of 10282 end similarly.

From the earliest days of the abortion rights movement led by Sanger, there was an attempt to broaden what was then a radical feminist idea to the larger issue of the “general welfare of the whole human race.” Sanger argued that controlling the birth of children was pivotal to a rational approach dealing with the threat of over-population and its ruinous consequences in poverty and disease. Her message—like that of today’s Malthusians—was that when women have control over the choice to end the life of the unborn child, they will improve the human race, preventing poverty and crime.

This has been occurring for many decades now. Professors John Donohue and Steven Levitt of the University of California at Berkeley provided a powerful economic argument in favor of abortion that relied on many of the stereotypes first promoted by the eugenicists of the Sanger Era. In a scholarly paper published in 2001 entitled “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime,” Donohue and Levitt used elaborate mathematical models to marshal evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to crime reductions. They maintain that crime began to fall roughly eighteen years after abortion was legalized and pointed out that the five states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation which legalized it in 1973 with Roe v Wade. States with the highest abortion rates in the 1970s and 1980s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990s according to the authors. They contend that “legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent in the drop in crime.” And they warn of the coming violence in the streets if abortion is curtailed in any way.

In the spirit of Sanger, Donohue and Levitt claim their data demonstrates that abortion is the strongest contributor to the reduction in crime rates in society. In fact, they suggest that the “social benefit to reduced crime as a result of abortion may be on the order of $30 billion annually” and they predicted that “any attempt to limit abortion will result in higher crime rates and they subtly offer suggestions for public policy.”

Despite criticisms from the pro-life community for their utilitarian argument for abortion, Levitt teamed up with a new co-author, Stephen Dubner, to write about the abortion-crime link, as well as a number of interesting economic questions, in their 2005 best-selling book,Freakonomics. While avoiding the politically incorrect issue of how increased African American abortion rates bear on crime reduction, Freakonomics continues the argument that “more abortion yields less crime.” But the book takes a more circumspect position by acknowledging that an economic calculation of benefits that abortion may yield in terms of crime rates “feels less Darwinian than Swiftian…one need not oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds to feel shaken by the notion of a private sadness being converted into a public good.”

The idea of abortion being a “public good” was the one that seemed to be carrying the day from the pro-choice side as corporations increasingly promise workers to help them pay for their abortions if they live in a state that outlaws the practice of abortion. Amazon was just the latest company to promise to pay up to $4,000 for employees’ travel costs to seek abortion care if they live in a state without access to abortion. Amazon joined Citigroup, Yelp, Uber, Lyft, Bumble, Levi-Straus, and Match Group in helping employees end their pregnancies through abortion.

One cannot dismiss the idea that abortion serves the bottom line for these companies. Just as many companies now encourage and pay for their female employees to freeze their eggs for a future pregnancy in order to enable them to continue working through their childbearing years, providing access to abortion for high-value employees is most likely seen by these companies as a boon to the balance sheet.

It is indeed a Modest Proposal that these companies are offering—and one that should be rejected.  The Malthusians have attempted to control the conversations since the 1973 decision in Roe v Wade. Their utilitarian arguments appeared to have “won” the day—until recently. Finally, the Supreme Court decision may be a sign that we are beginning to take steps toward rejecting the culture of death and reclaiming a culture of life.

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About Anne Hendershott 103 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH


  1. We read in the last line: “Finally, the Supreme Court decision may be a sign that we are beginning to take steps toward rejecting the culture of death and reclaiming a culture of life.”

    Meaning, that the pretense of our current culture—the presumption of “value neutrality”—is really a vacuum quickly filled by all manner of evil. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so too does a fallen world. To argue, then, that a reduction in abortions will result in more (merely different) crimes in the street is the blind leading the blind. Intellectual pygmies in business suits posturing as cultural elites.

    To aim for a “culture of life” means to overturn many layers of such false neutrality and self-deceiving stupidity, now baked into most of our boardrooms and Western institutions. One exception was the Basic Law in the 1949 German Constitution. It is no accident that following the Holocaust and the carnage of World War II, the German constitution starts at the beginning, uniquely, with this: “Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the obligation of all state authorities” (Article 1[1]).

    Nothing neutral about that, although the contradiction of abortion is now legal even under German law. And, too, from Germany we are assaulted by the rhetorical gymnastics of the pygmy Marx and Batzing’s “synodal way,” under the pretense (the fig leaf!) that such sweeping ecclesial and moral novelties are a tailored response to the sexual abuse crisis. Never let a good crisis go to waste!

    As for even this “synodal” version (comical if not so tragic) of social science, what Tolstoi had this to say generally about the neutrality of science certainly applies: “[value neutral] Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to our question, the only question important for us: ‘What shall we do and how shall we live.’” A culture of life.

  2. I think there might be a relationship between abortion and crime rates, but not the one the pro-abortion side asserts. “Broken Windows Theory” states that visible signs of anti-social behavior in the environment, like broken windows and graffiti, encourage further crime and disorder. Abortion is egregious anti-social behavior that directly violates the dignity of the human person. In an environment where abortion is legal and even encouraged by the state, it is no wonder to me that some young people fail to acquire an authentic understanding of human dignity, and hence perpetrate the murder and mayhem that is more and more common.

  3. “The Malthusians have attempted to control the conversations since the 1973 decision in Roe v Wade.”

    Such views shouldn’t be allowed to be publicized. They are in support of a conspiracy to murder.

  4. Hendershott’s comparison of Margaret Sanger to Adolf Hitler has value. Akin in supremacy views and elimination of the unfit to live ideology, also in desperate circumstances that influenced their vision. Adolf, awarded the Iron Cross first class for bravery, suffered from partial mustard gas blindness. And a proud Germany reduced to ruin and starvation. Margaret Sanger, nee Higgins born down the road in Corning NY in an impoverished Irish Catholic household her father a free thinker atheist mother who conceived 18 times 11 surviving. Margaret cared for the family until her mother died at a young 49. The makings of radical perspectives.
    Catholicism would have us address abject poverty, crime, with compassion. When practical with a large dose of social economic intervention. For Margaret working for a time in Brooklyn, Manhattan in Black neighborhoods her response was elimination rather than compassionate care. All the dynamics were already in play, eugenics becoming increasingly popular. It became logical to both Adolf and Margaret to eliminate inferiors perceived as the cause for retarding advancement and a more viable society [Hitler’s Mein Kampf faults Catholicism’s charity for enabling the destitute]. Certainly Margaret’s home experience, her mother constantly impregnated her father above it all in his free thought atheism made a profound impression. I would, then, differ somewhat with Anne Hendershott on what shaped Margaret’s death dealing ideology.
    Despite Planned Parenthood’s disavowal of Sanger’s reasons for abortion they remain identical in implementation. Would that Margaret Higgins was born into a family of devout Catholics many of whom suffered similar poverty and bore large families, who heroically managed and stayed faithful.
    I’m not assured by our current culture’s equation of license with liberty that striking down Roe will begin a process toward the better. With that in mind there really is no alternative apart from the practice of Catholicism and the spiritual virtues that can possibly make things better.

  5. As a postscript to my comment, a forgotten virtue in marriages is continence, a form of temperance. Margaret Sanger nee Higgins childhood in a family that didn’t practice a sacramental life is an example where a holy sacramental life is more disposed to abstain from relations strengthened by Christ’s presence.
    Needless to say our youth seem oblivious, except for what’s been noticed a a trend among youth to simply abstain. This should be a priority counsel by presbyters.

  6. “Professors John Donohue and Steven Levitt of the University of California at Berkeley…used elaborate mathematical models to marshal evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to crime reductions.”

    Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation for crime reduction is likely to be the truest. Here is an explanation that uses a very simple mathematical model, and so largely negates Profs Donohue’s and Levitt’s work: (sorry about the ad that will pop up at the beginning).

  7. Cycle Technologies provides the latest research concerning natural birth control, in coordination with Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health. Their research is very advanced, and nullifies the need for abortions.

    We will reach a global population of eight billion souls at the end of this year. It took all of eleven years to add this most recent billion, since seven billion inhabitants of the planet were first recorded during October, 2011. There were 1.65 billion people on the planet when the twentieth century began, and six billion people on the planet when the twentieth century ended. It is true that there are limits to social stability when a threshold is reached in the number of people on board the good ship Earth.

    To suggest that Aristotle and Aquinas were on the mark with the value that they placed on metaphysics — which Saint John Paul II espoused — would probably not make much sense to most people. The way out of this population dilemma involves including God in the equation.

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