The Ethics of Childbearing

Last week, I turned 28. This minor shift in age from mid-twenties to late-twenties has seemingly given some people a carte blanche to start asking me about my plans for having children. The question is always “when,” not “if,” I will be having children, and I usually find myself answering: “I don’t know.”

It’s not that I don’t like children. I love them; I’m a teacher, and I’ve chosen to work with young people for the rest of my life. Many of my friends have recently had babies and I love their children, too. It’s just that the choice of whether or not to have children is not one that I can take lightly. Babies change everything: relationships, family dynamics, sleep schedules, finances, priorities. Adding a child to my life would alter it completely at this point, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

However, the choice — and what we must consider before making that choice — is not just a personal one. According to Christine Overall at the “New York Times,” it is also an ethical one:

The question whether to have children is of course prudential in part; its concerned about what is or is not in ones own interests. But it is also an ethical question, for it is about whether to bring a person (in some cases more than one person) into existence and that person cannot, by the very nature of the situation, give consent to being brought into existence. Such a question also profoundly affects the well-being of existing people (the potential parents, siblings if any, and grandparents). And it has effects beyond the family on the broader society, which is inevitably changed by the cumulative impact on things like education, health care, employment, agriculture, community growth and design, and the availability and distribution of resources of individual decisions about whether to procreate.

With the population of the world reaching seven billion just last November, it is true that there are other things to be considered when we think about bringing another child into the world. We must take into account the overpopulation of our planet and the depletion of our already scarce natural resources. No longer is it advisable to have as many children as possible to ensure the survival of the species — and the family — as it was centuries ago. Bringing a child into this world now means more to the environment and to society than it did even a few decades ago, and the decision about whether or not to have a child, or another child, is one that should be an informed decision.

On the flip side, though, if we start dictating how many children women can have, we are restricting women’s rights and their onus over their bodies and their lives. Telling women they cannot have children is just as restrictive as telling them they must. When we talk about the ethics of childbearing, this must also be a consideration.

While it is important to think about environmental and societal concerns when we contemplate whether or not to have children, the bottom line is that, if a woman feels it is best for her, her family, and the world to have a child, we cannot restrict that personal choice. However, having conversations about the ethical — as well as personal — implications of childbearing is a good first step toward more people making informed decisions about the trajectory of their lives.


Related Stories:

Why Are We Still Judging Women Without Children?

Overpopulation Threatens Our Survival

To Breed or Not to Breed

Photo Credit: vastateparkstaff


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

VERY interesting. i plan to have at least one more (i have a son who is two). i make sure he takes part and knows the importance of recycling, reusing, conserving, buying locally ect. I love being a mom and feel no guilt about having him (esp since he was a fluke of birth control... albeit a happy fluke). But I completely understand why many people choose not to have children. their lives have just as much meaning and im sure are just as fulfilling. also, some people who HAVE kids, simply shouldnt have

Abbe A.
Azaima A.4 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.4 years ago

Well said, Geri.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.4 years ago

great article

Geri M.

People in India or of Indian descent, stop aborting female fetuses because they are female. You argue females must be provided with dowries. Whose law is that? You can change your laws, so DO IT! Males are NOT worth more than females. Change your thinking and your beliefs. You can do it! If any women declines to have children it is her considered choice and you must learn to respect it. She is an intelligent being with a right to control her own body and her own destiny. She is not an animal who must be "controlled" with restrictions and punishment because she is inherently "evil" or demonic! Do you think after centuries of error you can finally change your beliefs? Do it now, do it today!

Geri M.

Are we still judging (unfavorably) women without children. No doubt. Crazy white men are trying to bring back the centuries old persecution, domination of, and harassment of women known as sexism. It has never left us. What ALL people need to do is examine their beliefs about women. Do I think women are less intelligent than men? Do I think women must be told the "right" thing to do by others? Do women have souls? Are women truly human? Do women have morals? If you can say yes to any of this, you have a job to do on yourself. Yes, you can change your mistaken beliefs, but you must acknowledge first that you have them! What you actually believe determines your thinking and your behavior. Change it, today!

Hope Foley
Hope Foley4 years ago

A very refreshing read.

Amber Beasley
Amber Beasley4 years ago

I absolutely agree! I always pictured myself having at least one child (which is all I really want) but lately I have been questioning even that. this world has gotten to bad and it's only going to get worse. do I really want to bring another person into this world of hatred, greed, pain, and pollution? Not to mention the oh so quickly growing population numbers. It is not a decision I take lightly (unlike a lot of people) and I know that even if I do decide to have kids, and I am definitely not ready now. my life would change so drastically and I'm just not ready for that until I'm a little older and have settled down some. right now I'm enjoying my job and my husband and just my youth in general. I'm only 21 and have plenty of time to think it through. I'm just not sure that I'll ever be ready. It's in God's hands and if He wants it to happen He's gonna have to show me that.

ida w.
Ida Nga Sze W.4 years ago

well said. personally, i don't want to have children especially after thinking about the number of human being on this earth. if i want to look after one, i would adopt, just like the strays animals i adopted. and i never understood why people have to have kids from their own bodies.

Carolan Ivey
Carolan Ivey4 years ago

nancy d wrote: [[I have two children. After the second I had a tubal ligation. What I didn't think was right is I had to have my husband sign a paper giving his consent!!! There was no way around it.]]

Same thing happened to me. And guess what - men can get a vasectomy any time they want and not have to tell anyone - not even their wives.