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The Dartmouth
April 12, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Saklad: Abortion and Climate Change

Restrictive abortion laws could increase our ecological footprint.

Humans are the greatest threat to conservation and biodiversity today. The greenhouse gases that we generate alter the climate, and, barring any major changes, continued growth of the human population will increase the carbon footprint of our species. Better technology and decreased consumption can ameliorate this situation, but they cannot currently stop it. In order to curb our carbon footprint, people must begin to monitor their growth as a species, particularly in the United States, where overconsumption is the norm. Unfortunately, legislators are removing women’s rights to make that decision as government officials in some conservative states are pushing bills to severely restrict abortion. Not only does this unfairly govern women’s bodies; it also diminishes their control over their ecological legacies. An increasing human population presents a serious threat to the planet’s future, and without access to abortion, legislators are stealing women’s right to control their own personal ecological legacies.

On May 15, Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, making it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with the only exception being when the mother’s life is at risk. Notably, no exception is made in the case of rape or incest. Georgia’s fetal heartbeat abortion law, passed May 7, bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Using a transvaginal ultrasound, this can be as early as six weeks — often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Under the Living Infant Fairness and Equality Act, exceptions may be made, such as in the case of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is expected to be unsuccessful. Similar fetal heartbeat laws were signed into law in Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, among other states. As in Alabama, there are no exceptions under the Kentucky, Mississippi or Ohio laws for rape or incest. Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia are also considering passing fetal heartbeat laws. Federally, the tides are also turning against abortion. President Trump passed the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. funding of international programs that offer or support abortion practices. And critically, the administration’s conservative appointments to the Supreme Court may weaken judicial support for women’s right to choose.

The potential ecological footprint of the pregnancies that mothers are forced to carry to term is not the main issue here — the main issue is the violation of women’s reproductive rights by lawmakers. Still, it’s certainly something to worry about. According to the Center for Biological diversity, an average parent’s carbon legacy of a single child is 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. One person’s carbon footprint is especially exacerbated in the United States, where people have become used to lifestyles of overconsumption. Per capita, the U.S. produces 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the average of developing nations. That’s especially concerning given that the U.S. is the only developed nation experiencing significant population growth. According to some estimates, the U.S. population could double by the end of the century. 

This will mean less space to fit more people and a poorer quality Earth to share. Carbon pollution, deforestation, sea level rise and natural disasters will swell with the population and may someday make the world uninhabitable altogether. As a woman who cares about the planet’s future, these restrictive abortion laws may hinder my ability to control my impact on the Earth. Since I understand the consequences a child has on my ecological legacy, I may choose to abstain from having kids — and that is my right. Having kids is one of the most impactful things a person can do to our environment, and I should be able to weigh the pros and cons of reproduction and determine my own carbon legacy. In other words, I and other potential parents should have the right to choose. By passing restrictive abortion rights, state legislatures rob women not only of the right to control their own bodies but of the right to make a tremendous ecological decision.