The Journal of Medical Ethics published an article in February of this year titled, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” With a name like that, it’s not hard to imagine that it could easily fire people up.
The abstract reads:
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 should, of course, be taken into account that this article was not intended to alter political discussion on abortion, or suggest that infanticide become legal. An open letter from the authors stated the following:
However, we never meant to suggest that after-birth abortion should become legal. This was not made clear enough in the paper. Laws are not just about rational ethical arguments, because there are many practical, emotional, social aspects that are relevant in policy making (such as respecting the plurality of ethical views, people’s emotional reactions etc). But we are not policy makers, we are philosophers, and we deal with concepts, not with legal policy.
Moreover, we did not suggest that after birth abortion should be permissible for months or years as the media erroneously reported.
The authors plainly state that this is a philosophical discussion. Debates on the morality of certain actions are always pushing the envelope, as they should. The very essence of ethical discussion is not simply to ask what is ethical, but also why a specific action can be deemed right or wrong, or even if there is a definitive moral answer at all. Therefore, an article that posits these ideas is not necessarily suggesting the actions are right or wrong, it is discussing the rationality behind them and opening up the debate. But rather than accept that philosophy operates outside the realms of politics and the legal system, Washington Post writer, Mary C. Curtis, uses this article to further her own agenda.
Is this a pro-choice manifesto, carried to the ultimate, logical conclusion, considering children not their own unique selves but something and someone not quite human?
Or could it be its subversive opposite, the best pro-life argument anyone could imagine, exposing the darkest, selfish reasoning at the end of what seems the sensible point that a “woman is in control of her own body?”
Not enough to suggest that the reasoning for abortion rights is the exact same as that of infanticide, Curtis’ article further explains that pro-life activists know that infanticide is “what is in their dark hearts,” with “their” referring to “anyone who ever uttered a pro-choice word.” But then has the gall to top off her article by saying, “It would be a positive step if once the white-hot anger and defensive reactions cool, there might be dialogue about questions for which there are no easy answers. Instead, an article in a medical journal has just poured oil on an ever-raging fire.”
What both Curtis and the article in the Journal of Medical Ethics fail to point out is that there is a key difference between abortion and infanticide. A fetus relies solely on the mother. Yes, infants cannot provide for themselves, but they are not dependent on a single, specific human being. No one else can come along and take responsibility for a fetus by simply adopting it, nor can they take on the risk of serious permanent injury or death that a woman faces during pregnancy and birth. So while people could sit around for decades debating about the morality of abortion and “humane” infanticide, the two cannot be considered to have the same argument. Period. The pro-life attack that abortion is the same as, or even very similar to, killing an infant (or a child of any age, for that matter) is baseless and ridiculous. It’s high time this theory was put to rest.
Then again, that would require the kind of sensible rationale that the staunchly pro-life community seems to be lacking.