“After-Birth Abortion”: another step in the campaign to soften resistance to infanticide

By Dave Andrusko

Margaret Somerville

Not surprisingly, a there’s-no-difference-between-abortion-and-infanticide piece in a prominent bioethics journal continues to churn up a storm of passionate controversy. Today, as part of an ongoing series, National Right to Life News Today offers two more analyses of “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva which appeared in the “Journal of Medical Ethics.”

After a real quick summary, I’m going to address some of the issues that we’ve haven’t discussed a lot in the past.

The Australia-based bioethicists provide the reader with an abstract which tells us where they landed having jettisoned the ballast of respect for human life, born and unborn:

“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.”

Giubilini and  Minerva argue in a most peculiar manner (they would say they are merely being consistent). If you’d abort a child because you knew she’d have disabilities—and somehow her condition escapes the ultrasound or she is injured during deliver—then why not kill (and they do use the word “kill”) the newborn? Neither is a REAL person, ergo their moral status is gauged on the same sliding scale. Verdict? Thumbs down for life, thumbs up for “after-birth abortion.”

They buttress their philosophical argument (which is, to be fair, ground already plowed by the likes of Peter Singer) with appeals to the notion that death is in the best interest of kids with disabilities, family “burdens,” and economics.

Giubilini and Minerva resort (of course) to the medical worst-case scenarios,  but concede that people with Down syndrome “are often reported to be happy.” So how do you justify killing them? Switch gears. You kill the newborn (and how far after birth is never specified) because “to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

Get it? It doesn’t make any difference that death is no longer strictly in the child’s “best interest” because the child is a “burden.”

“On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.

They follow this with some philosophical back-filling: the usual nonsense that while the unborn baby and the newborn are human beings and potential persons, they have no “moral right to life” because  supposedly a real person can “attribute[e] to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.” And then it’s off to the conclusion they had reached before they started–being “merely human” counts for nothing.

To cover all their bases Giubilini and Minerva have to discount adoption. Mothers (and fathers are never discussed) are “actual people,” as opposed to potential people, and if the “loss” of the child (to adoption) causes her grief, well, so much for the kid.

To any morally sentient human being, the obvious comeback is, “Huh?” What about the loss, because you’ve killed your own kid? Not to worry, they have an answer:

“it is true that grief and sense of loss may accompany both abortion and after-birth abortion as well as adoption, but we cannot assume that for the birthmother the latter is the least traumatic.”

Everyone involved, including the editor of the journal who defended the paper, insisted they were not advocating legalizing infanticide. But who is so naïve as to miss what the paper represents? Another in a lengthy set of steps to soften resistance to killing newborns for any reason or no reason at all.

Margaret Somerville is the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University. We ran her analysis yesterday to rave reader reviews.

So why the outcry over infanticide and the silence over abortion? Somerville surmises probably because “many people have so normalized abortion that they’ve lost their ethical sensitivity to what it involves, but that isn’t true with respect to infanticide.” Somerville then offers an insight that those who wish to hold onto their own humanity should cling to:

“I suggest that a more existential perception also differentiates those who accept abortion and possibly infanticide, from those who do not: this is whether the transmission of life, the coming-into-being of a unique new human being, involves a mystery that must be respected. If we perceive that mystery, we look at both the unborn child and the born one with amazement, wonder and awe just because they exist, and act accordingly. If we do not perceive it, we can make recommendations such as those outlined in Dr. Giubilini and Dr. Minerva’s article.”

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