In 2010, 1,270 babies were killed after they were born alive after a botched abortion. Recently, a representative of Planned Parenthood stated that the life or death of a child born this way, “should be left to the decision of the mother and her health-care provider”.
Perhaps she had been reading the most chilling statement you will read this year:
“[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.“ — Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics
To most people, I suspect the words of the Planned Parenthood lobbyist and the learned philosophers above are morally repugnant. At least, I certainly find them so. And most pro-choice advocates would not, I think, agree with them. Even Planned Parenthood tried to discredit the words of its paid representative.
But it seems to me that the quotes above are the logical outworking of the philosophy behind the pro-choice movement, and not some strange perversion of it. This is a serious and startling claim. Let me see if I can justify it.
There are four main beliefs that form the groundwork for the pro-choice movement:
1. The status of the fetus is morally ambiguous or arbitrary; it is not a person
2. The mother, as a person, has greater value than the fetus
3. To force a woman to carry a child to birth is to impose an unjust burden on her
4. The fetus’s value is determined by the mother
One can readily see how these four fit together, with the first belief readily providing justification for the others. I will not take the time to argue against each of these (a rather long article, indeed) but to simply point out the reasoning for each, and then apply that to a child born through a botched abortion (or, even more chillingly, to a baby delivered naturally).
The first belief noted above is that the status of the fetus is morally ambiguous, morally arbitrary, or both. A fetus “grows” or develops into a person by a process of continual change. It does not have the status of human personhood at conception, nor is there any point where one can simply say, “Now it is a person. Now it has value”.
Once this belief is accepted, the second belief follows logically. The mother has greater value than the fetus because she is older and has developed feelings, thoughts and relationships that the fetus has not (yet). She is a person. The fetus is not (yet). Her body therefore has claim over the body (that is, life) of the fetus.
If this is true, then the third belief also seems to follow: since the value of the fetus is ambiguous or non-existent, while the mother has great value, than any burden that the life of the fetus places upon her is unreasonable, unless she chooses to accept that burden. The fetus has no claim to any rights (its status being ambiguous), while the mother has full rights (her status as a person being secure).
And this is why the fourth point follows: the value of the fetus is determined by the mother. If the mother chooses to bear the fetus to birth, then she (and others) will call it a baby, that is, an infant person. If she does not choose to value the pregnancy, she aborts a “fetus” or “the product of conception”.
Here is the point of my argument: the pro-choice philosophy here, followed to its logical conclusion, will also justify killing a child born alive after a botched abortion. In fact, it seems difficult to see why it would not apply to a child born normally after a full pregnancy, even weeks of months after the birth.
To return to point one above: in some sense it is true that an eight month old fetus is different from an eight week old fetus. It is viable, that is, can exist without it’s mother’s body. And it is more advanced not only physically, but mentally. It has grown countless neurons since eight weeks, and is able to think and feel what before it could not.
My point, however, is that this could all be said also of an infant a month old as opposed to a fetus of eight months. It can exist without its mothers body, but cannot yet live without (sometimes burdensome help) from its parents or guardians. Its neurons have continued to grow, and it can now think and feel (at least emotionally) many things it could not as an eight month old fetus, and this growth will continue throughout its life. The eighteen inch trip down the birth canal did not resolve its moral status, if that status is defined by its knowledge, viability, and feelings.
Minerva and Giubilini, in the article quoted above, are succinct on this point: “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.”
In other words, because the pro-choice philosophy is grounded on the idea that personhood and value are “developed” rather than given, it cannot argue that an infant who has simply traveled outside her mother’s womb is a person with value, while one who has not yet made that trip is neither a person nor valuable. Indeed, it would seem to have trouble arguing that a one year old child has the same value as her mother.
And this implies, it seems to me, that the mother has greater status or value as a person than a child born to a botched abortion, or to an infant of a month (or a year) old. Personhood and value, remember, are developed, and of course the mother will be more developed in brain function, emotional depth, and in relationships than a newborn or infant.
Therefore the third part of the pro-choice philosophy comes into play: since the mother has the greater value and status, then her needs trump the needs of the child. If its continued life would somehow be burdensome to her, then it should not live.
Finally, we come to the conclusion. And this is the position the Planned Parenthood representative shocked her audience with: if a child is still alive after an abortion attempt, wiggling and struggling on the table, then only the mother (and her doctor, perhaps) has the right to decide what to do about it. If they decide to attempt to save it, they will do so. If they decide to let it die unassisted (or even to actively kill it) then they can and will do so. The baby (remember, it is a fetus no longer) only has the status or value they give it, no more.
One wonders, on this logic, why the same could not be true for a baby born full term, but now discovered to have a disability. Do the mother and doctor decide then if the disability is so severe that it would be burdensome to someone else (read: real people) to let it live? Why not? And where is the line of what is too burdensome, if not the individual choice of the mother?
Minerva and Giubilini again:
“If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”
Please take 30 seconds to read that paragraph again.
Some may wonder if I am presenting here a slippery slope argument. I am not at all. I am not saying, “look if you let this happen, then these other bad things may happen”. Rather my argument is this: if this is morally just, then this other thing is also morally just. But it’s not.
Or, to put it in a syllogism, it is this:
Premise 1: If A, then B
Premise 2: Not B
Conclusion: therefore, not A.
(This, by the way, goes by the name of the moden tollens form of syllogism, and is recognized as one of the two valid forms of hypothetical syllogisms.)
To fill it out:
Premise 1: If abortion is morally justified on the usual grounds, then infanticide is also morally justified.
Premise 2: infanticide is not morally justified.
Conclusion: therefore, abortion is not morally justified on its usual grounds.
Now, of course, I did not take time to argue premise 2. I am making the assumption that my readers will already concede it. If not, then they are free to disregard my conclusion.
To sum up, the words of the Planned Parenthood representative, though embarrassing to the pro-choice cause, are actually morally and logically consistent with the philosophy underlying that cause. Planned Parenthood can “clarify” its position and walk back from its lobbyist all it wants. What it has not done, and cannot do, is show why, on its philosophy, she is wrong.