Josie Luetke:

Interim writer, Josie Luetke, Talk Turkey

Canada’s fertility rate is now 1.3 children per woman, its lowest in recorded history. Replacement level fertility, by comparison, is 2.1 children per woman.

Several years ago, Statistics Canada cautioned, “If the country’s fertility continues to decline further in the coming years, Canada could join the countries with the ‘lowest-low’ fertility rates (1.3 or fewer children per woman)—a situation associated with rapid population aging and increased stress on the labour market, public health care, and pension systems.”

I guess we’re there now.

High-profile figures like author Jordan Peterson and billionaire Elon Musk have been repeatedly warning that we have the opposite of an overpopulation issue.

On Jan. 2, Musk posted on X, formerly Twitter: “The biggest problem that humanity faces is population collapse.”

While the housing shortage, cost of living, and fears of climate change are often cited in explanation, there are more fundamental factors at play.

In a Fox News interview last year, Musk said: “In the past we could rely upon, you know, simple limbic system rewards in order to procreate, but once you have birth control and abortions and whatnot, now you can still satisfy limbic instinct, but not procreate.”

Even Statistics Canada admits that prior to 2021-2022, the largest fertility rate drop was between 1971 and 1972, “three years after the contraceptive pill and therapeutic abortion were decriminalized by Bill C-150, passed in 1969.”

I am alarmed. And so too is much of the pro-life movement, up in arms about the depopulation agenda and the demographic crisis. As always, however, prudence is called for.

At the most recent March for Life in Washington, D.C., I noticed a plethora of “Make More Babies” signs from diaper company EveryLife.

As a childless, unmarried woman, I feel somewhat out of place in discussions about falling birth rates. I understand that this message isn’t necessarily for me. What am I supposed to do? Make eye contact with a male marcher, gesture to the sign, and nervously ask, “Should we take them up on their suggestion?”

That said, I wonder if this message is for anyone, actually.

By all means, make more babies. (Actually, not by all means.) But ought you make more babies because you read that you should in Talk Turkey? Probably not, despite what I’d like to believe about the compelling nature of my columns. Ought you make more babies because you saw a sign from a diaper brand telling you to or because Elon Musk asked ever so politely? Again, probably not.

You’re not planting geraniums in your garden on a whim; you’re creating a new person, and so it does actually matter why and how you do that.

Yes, the costliness and perhaps the difficulty of rearing offspring tends to be overblown, or more accurately, the adaptability and resilience of parents tends to be underestimated. (Again, not being a mother myself, please take that with a hefty dose of salt.)

So, I do appreciate how the “Make more babies” campaign is reframing reproduction as positive, instead of burdensome.

However, I would point to Musk as a prime example of irresponsible baby-making. He has ten living children with three different women—the majority conceived via in vitro fertilization, half conceived outside of wedlock, and at least two carried via surrogate.

Anyone can make a baby; the trick is raising the kid well. While it’s impossible to optimize every condition, parents should make every effort to approximate the ideal. Children deserve to be conceived in the loving embrace of husband and wife, and raised by them together.

In this respect, it’s counter-productive to focus on the birth rate without first establishing the primacy of the nuclear family.

Ironically, the climate change activists are kind of right. We need to ensure a hospitable environment before we consider bringing a kid into the picture—but the hospitable environment I believe crucial is different than the one they believe crucial.

Now, Peterson, to his credit, has been promoting marriage and applauding Hungary’s pro-family policies. Traditional Catholics and certain other Christian denominations have long been urging their young people to get married early and have a large brood.

Again, though, this is complicated for me, because I was, at one point, planning on marrying young and having eleven children, and now in hindsight, I’m grateful that I didn’t get married. I’ve seen firsthand how this good and pure desire can also blind you to the unsuitability of you and your potential spouse.

So, really, before we start talking about having more kids, and before we start talking about marriage, we need to be talking about pursuing holiness and vocational discernment.

Of course, that makes for a far less catchy ad campaign, and really, an ad campaign for holiness would be a bit contradictory.

There are other reasons I think pro-lifers ought not get too caught up in the discussion about birth rates.

We aren’t opposed to abortion because of its societal repercussions. We oppose abortion because it kills human beings. Even if our birth rate were flourishing, abortion would still be just as wrong.

The only reason why someone should become pro-life is because of this realization that killing should be anathema, not because of regrettable impacts on our demographics.

While I definitely believe having kids should be incentivized—be fruitful and multiply—I’m only insisting that a woman not kill a child once reproduction has already occurred. Otherwise, if a woman does not want kids or is not in a place (i.e. a loving marriage) where raising kids is a good idea, I certainly do not think she should be compelled to reproduce out of some sense of patriotic duty or urge to save the human race from extinction. One of the accusations often levelled at us is that we’re “forced birthers,” who see women as “walking wombs” or “incubators.” We must watch that we do not give the impression of being controlling.

We must also be careful about whom we select as allies. There are right-wing actors in the political arena concerned about the preservation of national identity, the creep of globalism, and immigration, whom some members of the pro-life movement believe they can bring onside through a shared pro-natalist agenda.

Because of low fertility rates, Canada and other Western countries are dependent on immigrants. There are valid concerns to be had about our immigration levels: we’re seeing an effect, for instance, on the aforementioned housing supply (and thus, proclivity to have kids). However, some of the concerns about immigration are merely motivated by racism and xenophobia.

Many immigrants are actually restoring hope for Canada, being more socially conservative than native-born citizens—more pro-life, more pro-family. In 2018, Globe and Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski wrote, “Immigration has swelled the ranks of Canada’s social conservatives.”

Think about the composition of the Million Person March in September and the protests that preceded it against sex-ed curricula: Chinese, Muslims, Sikhs, etc.

In 2022, pro-life MP Leslyn Lewis (CPC, Haldimand—Norfolk) observed, “New Canadians are coming from often traditional backgrounds, where they have a strong faith base and family is the core of their societies.”

Meanwhile, many of the political darlings on the right have sold out morally. When France was on the verge of becoming the first country in the world to enshrine a “guaranteed freedom” to abortion in its constitution, anti-immigration French nationalist Marine Le Pen said, “We will vote to include it in the Constitution because we have no problem with that.”

Musk has remarked that, “No new humans means no humanity.” But we already lost our humanity when we accepted the killing of the most vulnerable. No number of children born will excuse the number who were not permitted to see daylight.