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The environmental consequences of childbearing, however, should
inspire us to reverse these assumptions, however difficult and nearly
unthinkable it may seem to do so. We need to define our notion of family
anew so that the very phrase “start a family” takes on a new meaning. We
should contemplate the possibility that not reproducing is more nurtur-
ing and responsible, more loving to others and to humanity, than bring-
ing more people into the world. Clearly, we should not simply assume
that childless people are automatically responsible in these ways: leaping
to that conclusion is simply not justified. But we should not only respect
but admire the decision to remain childless if it is part of an individual's
broader effort to reduce harm to the environment. The corollary is true as
well: we should seriously consider the possibility that having children is
not responsible. No mater how strong a person's desire to have children
might be, we should not assume that it automatically overrides every
other concern.
he absence of any serious discussion about these maters permeates
our culture. The leading political and economic theories in the Anglo-
American tradition, for example, start from the notion of rational self-
interest, an assumption that takes for granted the adult status of all par-
ties. But that sort of analysis does not explain what brings individuals
into the world in the first place. Apparently the principle of self-interest
includes one's decisions about reproduction, but that possibility is not
discussed explicitly in the theories of, say, John Locke or Adam Smith,
the people whose ideas shape the American traditions we adhere to even
today. Perhaps a child is simply an extension of oneself until coming of
age, when she presumably turns into a rational adult (but then Locke and
Smith also don't seriously consider the possibility that women are ratio-
nal adults as well). Such theories never examine whether a rational adult
should have children in the first place, nor do they ponder how childbear-
ing figures into the consequences of self-interest for society as a whole.
This question constitutes an immense blind spot throughout the modern
tradition of political and economic reflection.
The consequences are immediately clear in the rather muddled state
of our constitutional law. Since Roe v. Wade , Americans have typically
invoked the right of privacy to defend a woman's decision to have an
abortion or atacked that right in the name of the unborn child's right to
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