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.