Margaret Battin

Margaret Battin (“Sex and Consequences: World Population vs. Reproductive Rights”) makes the case for the use of certain types of contraceptives as a way to manage problems of world overpopulation. She distinguishes between “current use” contraceptives and “automatic” contraceptives, and she proposes that automatic contraceptives are more efficient for the purpose of controlling population.

Currently pregnancy results in about one of five times when persons have intercourse. So pregnancy, Battin proposes, is the “default” result of intercourse. With automatic contraceptives, this number could be reduced to close to zero. Battin uses the expression “automatic default” to refer to intercourse that does not result in pregnancy; by this she means that non-pregnancy is the ordinary outcome of intercourse when automatic conraceptives are used.

Some automatic default contraceptives are already available to women. Two examples of automatic default contraceptives are the IUD (intrauterine device) and the subdermal implant. Automatic male contraceptives are in the process of being developed.

Battin stipulates that two criteria must be met before her proposal may be considered a moral practice. These criteria are universality and guaranteed reversibility. Assurances must be in place that no individuals or vulnerable groups will be targeted to receive automatic contraceptives. In this way, the criterion of universality will be met. The criterion of reversibility will be met when the automatic contraceptive can be removed to allow an individual to choose pregnancy.

Battin’s argument is a moderate consequentialist or pragmatic moral argument. She does not build her case on a dualist or materialist worldview; rather, she looks to anticipated consequences from a practice that does not make assumptions of a religious nature. Nor does she make a claim that her proposal represents inevitable scientific progress, as a scientific fundamentalist might. Rather, she sets forth her proposal as a practical way to address a problem that, if left unaddressed, could lead in a relatively short period of time to widespread hunger and starvation.