The Ethics of After-Birth Abortion

Two physicians, writing for the Journal of Medical Ethics, argue for the legalization of infanticide.  In the paper, Doctors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue that newborn babies are not really persons and are therefore “morally irrelevant,” thus permitting a procedure euphemistically termed “after birth abortion.”

There should be nothing shocking about the article, “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”  It is, after all, a simple application of the logic of the pro-choice community.   If one believes that a fetus is but a glob of tissue one must accept the right to remove that glob from the host body (otherwise known as a mother).  If one accepts that the glob is not an actual and distinct life because it can not survive on its own, than surely logic dictates it is but a trivial fact whether or not that glob is within the host, or inches outside.

The only thing surprising about this article is that it took so long to write.

The authors write, “We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”  Therefore it is “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

According to the article, the health of the erstwhile child is unimportant.  What is important is that to raise certain children “might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”  Furthermore, the doctors note that “it is hard to exactly determine when a subject starts or ceases to be a ‘person’.”

When Camille Paglia wrote in 2008 that “I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue,” I applauded her honesty.   Here Paglia foreshadows the “ethical consequences” of the logic: abortion is murder, but so what?

Once we have the right to determine the relative worth of the life of another, the applications are endless.   Already, 92 percent of pre-natal diagnoses of Downs Syndrome result in abortion.  Just two days ago, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified that fewer babies will save health care costs, which to her is a good thing.

It can not be too long until we apply the “after-birth abortion” logic to all sorts of terminally ill, or mentally ill, or even mentally deficient, persons.   After all, that will save public health care dollars, which is something Giubilini and Minerva clearly intended.  What’s more, we already have something analogous to after birth abortions, called euthanasia.

Are you thinking about the now infamous “death panels” mentioned by Sarah Palin?  Oh, how the Left laughed at that Alaskan rube with her lowly state college education.  The correct name of the panel is the Independent Payment Advisory Board.  Their job is to limit Medicare spending.  They have the power to ration health care, and as board members have openly admitted, nothing is more expensive and pointless than the provision of care during the final six months of life.

The argument in favor of abortion, as voiced by Giubilini and Minerva, makes clear that life can be terminated for reasons “such as the costs (social, psychological, economic).”  Today, that may only apply to newborns, but the line of reason can not end there.

Lest you dismiss the authors with the foreign sounding names as part of some fringe element across the ocean, note that the Journal of Medical Ethics is a well-established, peer-reviewed scholarly publication.  Among its board of directors is at least one name familiar to those of us involved in New York State politics.

Dr. Bonnie Steinbock is a professor at the University at Albany.  The former chair of the philosophy department serves the taxpayers of New York not merely as an ivory tower instructor but as a consultant to the New York Institute for Ethical Stem Cell Research and a member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law.  Prof. Steinbock is also active at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Bioethics.  The author of such articles as “The Morality of Killing Human Embryos,” and “When Is Birth Unfair to the Child?” Steinbock is a leading voice of pragmatic morality.

Whether you choose to defend all human life as having intrinsic value, or you choose to promote the ability of the powerful over the powerless, the stakes are rising.  The debate is here, now, in our medical schools and legislatures.  One school of thought seeks to protect those who are too weak, too small, ill, or poor, to defend themselves.  The other reasoning makes acceptable killing as social policy.  If you are torn between the two sides, I ask only that you err on the side of life.

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6 thoughts on “The Ethics of After-Birth Abortion

  1. I’ve been trying to avoid even reading articles on this issue. It honestly floors me that this is even being considered legal, moral, acceptable in the least. Thanks for your post, you make things easier for me to get. 🙂 That 92% statistic about Downs babies…I can’t believe that’s true. How sad. I’m sure we all know babies, children, adults whose life would have been eliminated by this “after-birth abortion”. One would be my nephew. And all just so familes and society aren’t burdened. Sickening.

  2. First off, there are always going to be people who have extreme views, even those who arrive there via chains of logical reasoning. However, to make such an extreme position as infanticide (which is not abortion, by definition) as equivalent to the pro-choice position is a huge (and highly flammable) straw man error. This could MAYBE be compared to very late term abortion; however, the VAST majority (88% according to the Guttmacher Institute) of abortions are within the first trimester. There is a large difference between a discussion about abortion 2 months in to fetal development (i.e., arguably not a “concrete individual”) and a discussion of infanticide. However, you suggest that both are “globs” – huh?

    Even if we only look at late term abortions, which I think even many pro-choice people will admit is a problematic area, remember these – despite the hype – are very rare (less than 1% according to the Guttmacher Institute). These are also restricted by law.

    As far as the any abortion = murder claim, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Unfortunately many pro-choice arguments feel required to lump all abortion together as a response to the opposite side’s view that even the moment of conception = a full person and the concern that being open to any restrictions of abortion will soon turn into all abortion being illegal or at least inaccessible enough for many women that it might as well be illegal. As a result, a discussion about shades of grey gets reduced to black and white.

  3. Amber, since we do not agree (on this or much else beyond sci-fi dystopianism) I appreciate you being here.

    I think your main argument is with Guibilini and Minerva. They are the ones making the claim that there is no difference between a unborn glob and a (I guess) post-born glob. My point is that their argument is logically consistent.

    31 states have banned partial-birth abortions. The procedure is permissible to varying degrees in the other 29.

    I acknowledge that late term abortions are a small percent of the whole, but fail to see how that is relevant. From my perspective that is akin to saying that only a small percentage of domestic abuse is spousal abuse, or some such objectionable analogy. By the way, I am not equating abuse with abortion, I am just saying that if it is something you oppose the frequency of it does not matter. I suppose if I said to a person who wanted to ban guns that only a small percentage of gun ownership resulted in accidental death that person would not care.

    Your final point gets to the heart of what I was trying to accomplish with this post. Namely, that if you follow the Guibilini-Minerva logic (again which I think is consistent with the generic pro-choice argument) you start to run out of grey area, leaving only black and white. Either every life is inherently valuable, or every life can have its worth determined by someone else. The consequences of the latter are potentially limitless.

    Here is a wildcard. I imagine at some point in the near future that pre-natal testing will reveal much more information about the future life of the unborn. I also imagine that sexual preference may be one of those data points. When that happens I expect some bigot will attempt to abort the presumptively homosexual baby and others will attempt to keep abortions legal but disallow sexual preference as a determinative factor. If this happens it will flip the whole argument upside down.

    1. What I disagree with in your post is your transition from Guibilini-Minerva to the pro-choice position as if they are the same. I seriously doubt you will find many pro-choice people who would follow Guibilini-Minerva’s logic. (I brought up late-term abortion as the only thing possibly close; however, even then viability matters.)

      I think you offered the article to be thought-provoking and illustrate your fear of abortion turning into a slippery euthanasia slope. However, that late-term abortion is both rare and heavily restricted casts doubt on the likelihood of such a slope, at least any time soon.

      As for your last point, first – Gattaca! Second, I suggest that this is a related but actually separate discussion from the pro-choice/anti-abortion debate, at least as it now exists. In this much more nuanced discussion lies not only implications for abortion but also discussions about the ethics of genetic manipulation and science. (Who needs to use abortion for selection when you can just play around with your future offspring’s genes?) This will also have major implications for the already born. So yes, this is going to be a big deal and is totally worth discussing.

  4. When I say it will flip the argument, I meant that it will scramble the typical Left-Right dividing lines. For instance, if the Pride Agenda left the Democrat fold to ally with Right-to-Lifers, conventional politics would cease to exist.

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