I remember how we used to mock China, and its 1 child policy; we were so arrogant, then, about how such a law would curtail our freedom to reproduce. Then rapamycin and a dozen other breakthroughs basically doubled the average human life expectancy.
Suddenly everything was in upheaval; social security wouldn’t kick in until the hundred and teens, and age discrimination laws were tightened to the point that it was virtually impossible to fire someone over the age of 90- at least for a while. Things eventually balanced out over time.
But the one thing we never expected to see was mass starvation in America. On a continent that could have at one point produced enough food to feed the entire globe, now we didn’t have enough of it to feed our ballooning population. Young people saw child-rearing as a short-term event, something that was only going to take a sixth of their life rather than a whole third (or more), and the population was set to continue expanding.
I wish I could say it had come down to a vote, with those of us who finally understood how our over-consumption had brought us to the brink, and with everyday Americans saying, finally, that it was enough. But it wasn’t. Polling data and the few referendums that made it onto local ballots went down in flames, never getting better than 20% of the vote among even the most elderly populations (who had less of a vested interest in so-called breeding rights).
Then, the government in power did one of those rare, self-sacrificial things and passed the legislation anyway. Using sophisticated modeling, they decided how many people the resources of the country could sustain, and they set targets for that. No new breeding was allowed- and with each death by accident or age we grew closer to our sustainable levels.
Predictably, we voted that government out of power the first chance we got, but their successors found the problem equally insurmountable, and so they attempted to do nothing to change what had been built. Eventually, even that failed, as the initial program had been too “soft,” relying on extra taxes and penalties to keep people “honest.” I think the only thing that stopped a violent revolution was the election of a charismatic president, someone who was able to finally explain the problem to the people. “By having another child, a couple is taking food away from someone else, in effect killing that person. We can’t allow that to go on, so, as much as it pains me, as President and a mother, as a nation of responsible and above all good people, we have to stop.”
We passed mandatory sterilization laws; people were given the option of reversible operations, chemical regimens, or the use of mechanical prophylactics, and the dangers and failure rates of each were discussed openly. Accidental pregnancies could be terminated for free, but no new lives were allowed to start unless one ended. People didn’t like to talk about it, but sometimes this meant the government seizing a father or mother (or child) inside the maternity wing.
Most of this started before my time; I lost my virginity at 18, and by then, my high school girlfriend and I had both had our tubes tied (though my mother insisted we also use condoms- because who knew what kinds of diseases high school girls had). I’d only slept with a handful of women when I met my wife in college, which she was starting just as I was getting out. We married after her graduation, and I honestly never thought to love another person after I met her.
She was beautiful and smart, but flawed from an upbringing far from ideal; she was particularly upset because she’d been passed over for a promotion she probably deserved, by a boss who reminded her too much of her father. I resolved to take her mind off it, and we planned a small getaway, to the coast. Nothing overly dramatic, but enough, I thought. It did, however, mean playing hooky on her quarterly reproductive exam. We figured even through the bureaucracy we could reschedule, and perhaps we could have, but we never particularly tried to. When her next quarterly exam came, she was fine, and we figured that was good enough.