Reading Amartya Sen with Margret Sanger’s “Case for Birth Control” in mind, we can observe an interesting debate on the values of family planning.
Sanger argues for family planning in place of the risky alternative to curtailing families, such as abortion. She gives a list of nine reasons why people should not have children if they are being thoughtful at all. I find some of the things on this list to be rather arbitrary (like the specific ages that men and women should be before reproducing); however, most of the items on this list are just looking out for the health and well-being of both the mother and her offspring via family planning, which is extremely valuable. The problem that I have with this list comes from number seven, “Children should not be born to parents whose economic circumstances do not guarantee enough to provide the children with the necessities of life” (p132). Although poorer parents may not be able to provide their children with the best material things, that this does not necessarily suggest that these individuals are less qualified to be parents than a wealthy individual. As for the material, there are (in the US at least – forgive me, I’m not informed about policies in other countries when it comes to welfare) government programs that are in place to protect children from homelessness and hunger. While I agree with Sanger, insofar as we should not rely on these programs for rearing children, until we can solve the poverty problem in the US, these programs are the best solution to both protect children and protect women’s reproductive freedoms.
Sen, on the other hand, argues against family planning as the primary approach to accomplishing lower fertility rates among the impoverished. Sen advocates instead for the prioritization of economic and social development as primary ways to reduce the fertility rate. I really appreciate Sen’s approach to population problems through a broader lens than most individuals in looking at all, instead of just some, of the indicators attributing to high fertility.
Sen finds that development is the best way to decrease fertility rates (through a “collaborative approach” in which governments work with citizens to create social conditions – like increases in female education – that lower the fertility rate) , and thus does not want resources taken away from social, economic, and healthcare developments to simply make family planning services more widely available. Sen claims that, “The appeal of such slogans as ‘family planning first’ rests partly on misconceptions about what is needed to reduce fertility rates, but also on mistaken beliefs about the excessive costs of social development…” (p194). Therefore, Sen does not want resources to be distributed away from what will ultimately help the well-being of the nation and aid in stabilization in the long run with methods of family planning which will only help in the short term.
Thinking of Sanger with Sen in mind, one of Sanger’s greatest faults is that she dissociates this problem of poor individuals having larger families than wealthy individuals from economic and other social woes in the nation. Children being born into impoverished families is symptomatic of the greater poverty problem in the US. In order to really fight this problem, we need to look into fixing its primary cause of poverty. Instead of distributing resources to family planning, we might want to instead distribute more resources into education (including sexual health and education), and economic programs to support those in impoverished situations.
I suppose my question after all of this is: what is the appropriate balance between distributing resources to family planning versus to economic and social development? In other words, I realize that family planning has its value, but how much should spend on it rather than on other developments?