Demographic Effects of Abortion Highlighted


An economist in Northern Ireland has pointed out that liberal abortion policies result in populations that are smaller and older, and that this has a significant impact on society. Dr Esmond Birnie, who is also a former Ulster Unionist MLA, said the recent referendum result in the Republic demonstrates the prevalence of a mindset that sees abortion as a matter of individual choice, but “very few actions are without some wider social consequence.”


Freer access to abortion throughout the Western world, Dr Birnie argues, “may have had one of the most profound social and economic consequences imaginable - fewer children being born. The tendency in these countries is now towards a shrinking population.”


In Britain, Ireland, and much of continental Europe, the total fertility rate (the average number of children born or likely to be born to a woman across all her child-bearing years) has for some time now been well under the critical value of 2.0.


In Britain, the fertility rate collapsed from about 2.9 at the start of the 1960s to only about 1.7 in the late 1970s. That change coincided with the introduction of the contraceptive pill and de factoabortion on request.


Once the total fertility rate falls below about 2.1 then without some compensatory change, such as immigration, the population will be reduced in the long-run.


“During the 1960s-1970s and again in the 2000s, most of the Western countries compensated for declining fertility through sizeable immigration.

“That meant that as the ‘indigenous’ population aged and then began to shrink there were still enough people of working age to pay the taxes to fund spending on pensions and other social services.

“However, it is clear that we are in the middle of a public opinion and electoral backlash against immigration.

“What we may be observing is an inconsistency or incoherence to the extent that people are demanding both freer abortion - almost certainly accompanied by declining fertility - and less immigration.”


Dr Birnie points out that Northern Ireland’s fertility rate is currently about 2.0 compared to a UK average of about 1.8.


“In 2017 the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published a range of demographic projections through to 2045.

“One of those projections indicates what would happen to Northern Ireland’s total population if fertility declined from its current relatively high level to the lower level in Britain: the population level in 2045 would be 100,000 smaller than it would otherwise have been, with all other factors remaining constant and compared to a projected population of about two million.”


This leads to the conclusion that the adoption of liberalised abortion laws in Northern Ireland would make it much more likely fertility rates in Northern Ireland will converge to the levels currently experienced in Britain and in turn make it likely the total size of population will be substantially lower.


“In summary, even placing to one side wider legal, scientific or moral considerations, abortion is not just a matter of individual choice.

“Liberal abortion policies tend to be associated with populations that are either smaller or older, or both.

“By backing freer abortion the baby boomers and subsequent generations have intensified the challenge of paying for their own upkeep in retirement.

“This is especially so given that it can no longer be assumed that substantial immigration can be the back-stop policy option.”

The Irish News. June 28.

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