I am a hard man to shock.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of things. I’ve known people who have been through practically every imaginable kind of suffering. And I’ve been slugging it out in the culture war since I was just a kid. But every now and then I get caught by surprise.
What was it that left me so stunned? A commentary by Will Saletan at Slate entitled, “After-birth Abortion: The Pro-Choice Case for Infanticide.”
That an argument in favor of infanticide is an entirely logical consequence of the widespread public support for abortion is undeniable. Still, the detachment with which the topic was discussed left me feeling a cold dread.
It wasn’t until after I read it that I noticed the publication date: March 12, 2012. The story is two years old, yet somehow, I’ve never come across it before. Saletan’s piece is an examination, from a pro-abortion perspective, of the implications of an argument made by “philosophers” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva in favor of “after-birth abortion” — what you and I would call infanticide. The article in which these arguments appeared was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in February, 2012.
The case that Giubilini and Minerva make is absolutely chilling:
[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.
[I]n order for a harm to occur, it is necessary that someone is in the condition of experiencing that harm. If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. … In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions. … Indeed, however weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones, because this latter interest amounts to zero.
Saletan is, without question, in favor of abortion rights. But even he takes issue when Giubilini and Minerva make the following claim:
If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.
I don’t buy this argument, in part because I agree with Furedi that something profound changes at birth: The woman’s bodily autonomy is no longer at stake. But I also think that the value of the unborn human increases throughout its development. Furedi rejects that view, and her rejection doesn’t stop at birth. As she explained in our debate last fall, “There is nothing magical about passing through the birth canal that transforms it from a fetus into a person.”
The challenge posed to Furedi and other pro-choice absolutists by “after-birth abortion” is this: How do they answer the argument, advanced by Giubilini and Minerva, that any maternal interest, such as the burden of raising a gravely defective newborn, trumps the value of that freshly delivered nonperson? What value does the newborn have? At what point did it acquire that value? And why should the law step in to protect that value against the judgment of a woman and her doctor?
What Saletan does not attempt is an answer for these questions. It is too dangerous to begin limiting the terms on which babies can be killed if one wishes, as Saletan does, to preserve a legal “right” to abortion.
What struck me most as I read through the excerpts of the Journal article and Saletan’s analysis was how surreal it was to witness actual human beings so callously discuss, dissect, and dismiss the rights of a newborn child.
The harder question to answer is just what, exactly, the ramifications of this kind of thinking will be. I’ve written before about the need for pro-lifers to demand intellectual honesty when it comes to abortion. After all, science is on our side. But this is almost too much honesty. It’s so Mengelean in its complete disregard for human dignity that it almost leaves you speechless. (In case you find the comparison to Mengele hyperbolic, it is known that after his stint as the Nazi “Angel of Death” responsible for gruesome medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners, he spent his post-war years as a “specialist” in providing illegal abortions in Argentina.)
Thinking this radical takes time to percolate through the ideology of a movement — even on so far afield of human decency as the pro-abortion culture. Naomi Wolf, Camile Paglia, and others have been telling us for decades that abortion is the killing of an honest-to-goodness human being. You don’t see that cropping up in the Planned Parenthood literature. Princeton “ethicist” Peter Singer has been making the case for infanticide since the 1990s. But these voices have remained somewhat on the fringes of the abortion movement. It seems that the article in the Journal of Medical Ethics marks a milestone in making such arguments mainstream. And since the piece was originally published, there have been several notable developments advancing the “after-birth abortion” cause:
- Last year, Alisa LaPolt Snow, a Planned Parenthood official testifying before the Florida legislature, stated that the fate of a child who was born after surviving an abortion should be left to the mother and her doctor.
- Later the same year, controversy-courting MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry took this argument further:
“When does life begin? I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents. A powerful feeling–but not science…”
- This month, Belgium voted to allow the euthanizing of children, a dangerous global precedent. While the law currently applies only to terminally-ill children, it is hardly a stretch to imagine the same thinking applied and advanced as a “humane” way to perform “after-birth abortions” for cases as trivial as financial distress.
As the drumbeat for legal infanticide grows slowly but steadily louder, it seems unavoidable that we can expect to see additional milestones such as these in the months and years ahead.
The argument for legal abortion is more than a “slippery slope.” It is a Pandora’s Box. Even Saletan concedes:
You may find this statement cold, but where’s the flaw in its logic? If the neurally unformed fetus has no moral claims, why isn’t the same true of the neurally unformed newborn?
And that, right there, is the crux of the problem. In their attempts to deconstruct the boundaries of what makes a human person a human person, they have unraveled a thread that continues to erode at what was once the most common understanding of human decency. There’s no slowing this runaway train. The only thing left is to find some way to stop it.