Several days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, allowing states to decide to what extent they wish to restrict—or outlaw—abortion access.
While you may not think of abortion being related to the environment, governmental decisions domestically and abroad to limit access to reproductive health-related drugs and procedures can have long-term consequences for the health of our environment.
How is this? First, a little background.
For tens of thousands of years, the human population was extremely low. Disease, famine, war, and other calamities shortened our longevity. However, since medicine began to advance in the 1900s and lengthen the lifespans of humans, our population has seen incredible growth. In the space of 200 years, human population has accelerated from from 1 billion people in 1804 to 8 billion people this year. Reading it, it doesn’t sound like much. But in seeing the maps below, you get a much better understanding of the drastic change.
Map of the world population in 1804 from World Population History (note that the orange and yellow dots both represent world population equally; the orange dots are simply clickable points on the website).
And the world population in 2022…
Considering that some of the areas on the map—like the African Sahara, the Australian outback (which is most of Australia), and the Arctic regions of Canada and Russia—are essentially uninhabitable, humans cover the vast majority of livable land. The map also doesn’t accurately represent the presence of megacities, cities with populations over 10 million, of which there are currently 34.
The rapid growth of our population has serious environmental consequences that include:
More people emitting carbon and creating waste - While companies emit more carbon than individuals (as you may recall, carbon emissions contribute to climate change), the fact is that companies do this to meet the demands of their customer base, which is constantly growing given increases in human population. Equally, with more businesses and more individuals consuming, there’s a greater amount of waste created that ends up in landfills, incinerators, the ocean, and other places, releasing pollutants and emitting even greater amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
Less land for agriculture and biodiversity - Having more people on Earth means that they need food and shelter to survive. Although technological innovations have permitted humans to augment crop yields to meet food needs, changing weather patterns due to climate change now make food production very precarious. This will make it much more challenging to support our ever-expanding numbers. In addition, human activities like razing forests for cropland or housing have caused the world's biodiversity to plummet by more than 65% in the last 50 years.
Some environmentalists argue that people in high-income countries have an outsized impact on the environment, utilizing more resources and creating more waste than people in lower-income countries. This is true. However, the economic power of upper-middle income countries is quickly increasing, and their demands on the environment are rising with it.
This brings us back to our reproductive health.
Containing our population is critical to the environmental health of our planet. But in order to do this, we need to allow people the freedom to control their own reproductive health, which means providing safe and affordable access to birth control and abortion services.
All of the major world religions—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism—agree that humans have a responsibility to care for the Earth and the creatures on it. Providing access to all forms of reproductive health services, including abortion, is therefore a moral imperative for believers and non-believers alike.