If you kill a baby — in its mother’s womb — 10 minutes before it’s to be born, that’s called abortion. If you kill a baby 10 minutes after it’s born, it’s murder, according to our law. In a new academic paper, a pair of medical ethicists argue that the two are morally and ethically identical — and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with killing babies.
I don’t think many people would disagree that any sane and civilized society should prohibit murder. The question has been when to define a human being as attaining “personhood.” Many who have argued for the morality of abortion have generally said that a human being comes into existence only at birth, arguing that late-term abortions — in which the developed baby’s head is cracked open and destroyed — are perfectly legitimate. (Read about “intact dilation and extraction” here. This was made illegal in the United States in 2003.) Others have argued that the point at which the growing baby would be viable outside the womb is when it’s a human being.
In pretty much every moral or ethical area, I want people allowed to make their own decisions, just as long as they’re not violating someone else’s life or property to do so. I’ve argued that abortion is immoral, because at some point it’s the same as killing a baby. And since we don’t know exactly what that point is, my view is that the benefit of doubt should go to the baby — since the mother and father had to decide to take the actions that created it.
In discussing the issue, I’ve many times made the point that it’s legal in many places to kill a baby minutes before birth, but it’s considered murder right after birth. So I’ve asked why there was something about the birth process that made the baby different from what it was minutes ago. I never dreamed that anyone could use the same argument to make the case for infanticide.
Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Australians Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue that newborns don’t have any moral or ethical status. They say it’s not murder or infanticide. They prefer the term “after-birth abortion.” (The full paper is called “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” You can read it here.) The abstract of the paper gives the basics of their argument:
Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
It’s hard for me to imagine a more straightforward and shameless evil.
The heart of their case is that there is no real difference between killing a baby in the womb and killing it outside the womb. I agree with them. I can’t find a flaw in that logic. The problem — from my point of view — is that they have such a low view of life that they don’t believe it’s worthy of being protected to any serious degree.
When I’ve made the point that there’s no real difference between killing a baby 10 minute before birth or 10 minutes after birth, those in favor of abortion tell me I’m making an absurd argument. “No one,” they assure me, “would ever argue in favor of killing babies after they’re born, so it’s a silly point to suggest.” When those on their own side of the debate are seriously arguing exactly that, they might have to confront the reality of where their beliefs about abortion are taking society.
We’re very far down a terribly destructive road in the moral sense. We accept abortion and many will defend it right up until the point of birth. Now we have a new beachhead — those who will defend killing the newborn. Where does it stop? At what point do we decide that human life is important enough to have protection?
I believe that many of those who oppose abortion are hypocritical in their positions. They claim they’re “pro life,” yet they are perfectly happy to support killing people if governments send soldiers to countries to kill other soldiers and even civilians. They’re also perfectly happy to support killing people if the legal system decides they’re bad people and should die. (They’re not terribly concerned with the serious mistakes that legal system makes in killing people.) I would take their concerns about abortion much more seriously if they were consistent across these areas. (Some moral and ethical people are consistent. It’s mostly those social conservatives for whom abortion is merely a political issue that are so hypocritical.)
Those who argue in favor of abortion need to confront an entirely different issue. They need to confront the fact that arguing in favor of “choice” in this area logically means that a woman should also have a choice about killing her newborn baby. How many of them are willing to join these two ethicists in extending the call for choice to killing babies that are already born?
I would be a lot happier in a world where nobody had to worry about this issue, but if we’re going to admit that murder is wrong, we have to decide what’s murder and what’s not. We can’t avoid those hard distinctions unless we just take the attitude that everyone can decide for himself when it’s OK to kill another — 2 minutes old, 2 days old, 2 years old or 20 years old.
As for me, I think it’s wrong to murder newborns babies. I think it’s just as wrong, though, to murder them while they’re still in their mothers’ wombs.
There are many practical and legal issues to sort out when you consider these arguments — and I’m all in favor of contraceptives to avoid even facing them — but at the heart of the matter, it comes back to a simple question. When does that fertilized egg become a human being?
I can’t give you a good answer, but I’m certain that continuing to push the line in the direction being pushed by these medical ethicists is pushing us further and further down a path to a culture of death.