Babies, after-birth abortion and logic

This one is hot off the press.

If you haven’t heard the latest, a bunch of ethicists have written an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics called ‘After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?‘  The overarching premise is that if a foetus can be aborted for various reasons, then by those same reasons a baby should be able to be aborted (their usage) after birth.

I agree with the logic.

A good example that they give, which highlights the point well, is the use of prenatal testing to determine if a child is impaired in some way.  If a test comes back positive then there are grounds (for some) for the child to be aborted.  The reasons that are often given are that the child will live a horrible life of suffering, and/or that the parents, mother or father cannot cope with such difficulties, inconvenience or burden, and so on.

The logical difficulty comes when a baby’s physical or intellectual impairments go undetected by prenatal tests.  The baby is subsequently born with the undetected impairments, which, if detected prior to birth the baby could have been aborted.  The authors of the article give numerous examples of this possibility.

So what do we do?

Well, if one is going to grant the option of aborting these impaired babes pre-birth, then on the same grounds, one should be granted the same option post-birth, which they have conveniently called ‘after-birth abortion’, as opposed to the term infanticide.

Their argument is not purely based upon pragmatism, but on a philosophical argument of what is means to be a moral being.  This is summed up in their reason for using the term ‘after-birth abortion’ instead of the term infanticide.  Such usage:

…emphasise[s] that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.

In a clever sleight of hand the authors shift what is being defined and argued.

The battleground here is not when life starts per se, whether at conception or at birth like the old discussion, but rather, what is a moral being?  A baby and a foetus are similar in that they are morally equivalent and only potential persons, so they argue.

I won’t expound the ins and outs of their argument, but I agree that it logically follows that if a foetus can be aborted because it is not a moral being, merely something with personhood potential, then one must be consistent and attribute the same value to new born babies who are, by the same yard stick, not moral beings, merely capable of one day being a person.

Should we be scared of a flood of new laws that might legalise the aborting (killing?) of babies on the basis that they are not yet moral persons?  I don’t think so.

The issues that the authors of the article raise need to be responded to by all who have previously held views on abortion, whether for or against.  I suppose one could put their head in the sand and pretend that our moral stances have no logical consequences but that is certainly foolish.

These ethicists have thought through the subsequent logical implications of holding to pre-birth abortion, and given one perspective: there are grounds for aborting living babies.

What this article does is expose how dangerous a poorly thought through moral stance can be.

For that I thank them.


4 comments on “Babies, after-birth abortion and logic

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ll read the article later, when not using my phone (ie it’ll be In bigger font), but for now, the ‘moral being’ argument strikes me as similar to the ‘Informed consent’ debate.

    I’m pro-abortion in a plethora Of circumstances I’ll not bore you with here, but infanticide is not at all the same thing. Pushing the boundaries with regard to when a ‘potential person’ may be killed is a dangerous game; potentially this could lead to a ‘until they can decide for themselves, it is the parents’ call…’ philosophy, thereby rendering the life of a child until about the age of four rather precarious as the child cannot articulate that they’d rather not be killed for some reason the court deems appropriate. While a fetus is in-utero the mother absolutely should have say over what happens to it, via her body; but once it is born, that’s an entirely different matter.

    Millions of dollars are spent each year just to keep pre-term infants alive, some of these individuals will survive with chronic ailments, parents know this, but some will be perfectly fine – is it really the right thing to do to suggest to these parents that they allow “…after-birth abortion…” to be committed just because they might face difficulties with the child in the future? No. If parents cannot cope down the track, there are responsible options they can peruse for, excuse this term, offloading the child. I know in Bulgaria et al it is different, but in these countries methinks quality obstetric care is less readily available than in AUS or the US, therefore this problem is one for the true first world, and in my mind is rendered mute by the facilities we have available to lend care to disabled children, and support to their families.

    • Hi there,
      I think the article is fascinating because it drives into what most people assume as end game.

      You said, ‘While a fetus is in-utero the mother absolutely should have say over what happens to it, via her body; but once it is born, that’s an entirely different matter.’

      They disagree. Not with the first clause but the latter. They argue that just because a baby is born does not automatically make it a different matter, which is most often assumed. They are applying the reasons for pre-birth abortions and applying them to babies who have been born with surprising consistency.

      The issue (here) is not should abortion be allowed, they assume it is. The issue that they are dealing with is the implication if one is to be logically consistent with a view of pre-birth abortion.

      Their view is that logical consistency drives one to believe that post-birth abortions are as valid, in some cases, as pre-birth abortions.

      They argue that it is not enough to say that it is a different matter once a baby is born, but is incumbent those who agree with pre-birth abortion to show how and why the criteria for aborting babies pre-birth all of a sudden does not apply to aborting babies post-birth.

      Interesting hey?

  2. Tracy says:

    Well put Daniel and you are so right, this is the sort of thing that need to be discussed. The moral reasoning for abortion really is flawed, it truly is and the article certainly shows that. It does highlight the fact that the rights of the “humans” particularity the female humans are paramount. At the end of the day for me the same reasoning applies, it is not our place to decide life and death.

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