Thursday, October 30, 2014

After-Birth Abortion The pro-choice case for infanticide. ----------- These people are sick

By William Saletan
A Dutch baby born on Feb. 29, 2012

Photograph by Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images.

Just when you thought the religious right couldn’t get any crazier, with its personhood amendments and its attacks on contraception, here comes the academic left with an even crazier idea: after-birth abortion.

No, I didn’t make this up
. “Partial-birth abortion” is a term invented by pro-lifers. But “after-birth abortion” is a term invented by two philosophers, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. In the Journal of Medical Ethics, they propose:

[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.
William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.Predictably, the article has sparked outrage. Last week, Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and Chris Smith, R-N.J., denounced it on the House floor. But it isn’t pro-lifers who should worry about the Giubilini-Minerva proposal. It’s pro-choicers. The case for “after-birth abortion” draws a logical path from common pro-choice assumptions to infanticide. It challenges us, implicitly and explicitly, to explain why, if abortion is permissible, infanticide isn’t.

Let’s look at some of those assumptions.

1. The moral significance of fetal development is arbitrary. I often hear this argument from pro-choicers in the context of time limits on abortion. In a debate last fall, I drew up a timeline of fetal development, week by week. The response from Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, was that it would be arbitrary to use any point in that timeline to draw a legal limit on abortion rights. Giubilini and Minerva seem to share this view. “Abortions at an early stage are the best option, for both psychological and physical reasons,” they write, conspicuously omitting the idea that abortions at an early stage are better than late ones for moral reasons. “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life,” they write. “Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life,” such as “spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted” or “fetuses where abortion is permitted.”

Furedi accepts birth as the first logical time limit, though not for reasons of fetal development. (See her comments 44 minutes into this video.) But Giubilini and Minerva push beyond that limit. They note that neural development continues after birth and that the newborn doesn’t yet meet their definition of a “person”—“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.” Accordingly, they reason, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.” 

2. Prior to personhood, human life has no moral claims on us. I’ve seen this position asserted in countless comment threads by supporters of abortion rights. Giubilini and Minerva add only one further premise to this argument: Personhood doesn’t begin until sometime after birth. Once that premise is added, the newborn, like the fetus, becomes fair game. They explain: