As someone often asked to give my perspective on abortion and legal developments, I have confided carefully over the past few years that I foresee that abortion and even late-term abortion are not the endgame of more progressive “pro-choice” advocates. What they actually want, I reticently assert, is a kick-the-tires period…if you have a baby and things don’t work out, just bring her back to the hospital for an abortion. Ten minutes after birth. Ten days after birth. Two years after birth. Abortion.
Some reading this will have the same inward response I’ve elicited over the years. “That’s crazy. Overboard. The stuff of conspiracy theories. He’s gone to an illogical extreme to make a point. No one wants to be able to abort a two-year-old child!”
That’s the confession three individuals have made to me in the past week. They admitted to thinking I was a bit fanatic for suggesting we could soon be talking about legalizing infanticide, but in light of recent news developments, they now see the writing on the wall. My mother was one of them.
A 2013 academic paper entitled “After Birth Abortion—Why Should the Baby Live?” (Giubilini A, & Minerva F. J (2013). Journal of Medical Ethics, 39:261–263.) gave a philosophical defense of infanticide by another name. They wrote:
[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.
What, after all, is the significant moral difference between a newborn and a pre-born fetus?
Giubilini and Minerva submit, for example, that Treacher-Collins syndrome (TCS), which affects 1 in 10,000 newborns, is often undetected in the womb because of the expense of the testing. Yet the condition can produce not only unsightly facial deformities (the celebrated 2017 movie “Wonder” depicts the life of a young boy with TCS) but in more extreme cases can also cause life-threatening respiratory complications, etc.
Down’s Syndrome and other abnormalities go undetected from time to time and are only revealed after birth. The argument goes like this: had it been detected, the baby would likely have been aborted. Since it wasn’t detected, what is the moral difference between an in-utero abortion and allowing this child to pass away or even be humanely euthanized?
“The infant would be delivered; the infant would be kept comfortable; the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desire, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,”
-Va. Governor Ralph Northam, January 30, 2019
The comments made last week by Gov. Northam—himself a physician—reveal that “post-birth abortion” (or legal infanticide) is not as unthinkable as most of us would want to believe. It should be noted that Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill to ease restrictions on uber-late-term abortions, discussion of which was the context of Northam’s interview comments, was struck down (but only by a 5-3 margin, not 8-0!).
Key to understanding the looming reality of legalized infanticide is awakening to the fact that we have been a hair’s breadth from this for forty years. The principles in play are as old as Roe v. Wade itself.
The Roe decision to federally legalize abortion was accompanied by Doe v. Bolton, another Supreme Court decision handed down the same day. Many of us think of Roe as “the case that legalized abortion.” Fewer understand the combined power of Roe and Doe.
Roe v. Wade essentially found abortion to be a “constitutional right,” but only up until the age of viability outside the womb. Doe v. Bolton opened the possibility that a woman could obtain an abortion after the age of viability, provided it could be deemed in the best interest of maternal health.
Doe broadened the permissibility of abortion to include protection of the health of the mother up to any gestational age. Leaving the criteria for maternal health ambiguously defined, it has been federally legal since 1973 to have an abortion at any point in a pregnancy if physicians determine that having a baby poses any health risk to mom, including but not limited to physical, emotional, psychological, and familial health.
Roe and Doe together delivered a powerful one-two punch. All definitions of “health risk” can be manipulated into grounds for abortion all the way to birth.
On Tuesday evening, NBC News fact-checked President Trump’s State of the Union claim that “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” NBC’s response? “This is false.”
NBC went on to clarify that
The state recently passed a law loosening restrictions on abortions in the state, allowing abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when it’s necessary to protect the life of the mother (italics mine). The president paints the picture of a healthy mother and child, but an abortion would not be legal in that scenario after 24 weeks in New York state.
NBC is being deceptive. Look again at the paragraph above and compare it to the text of the NY law which reads that abortions are permitted when “the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health (italics mine).” Innocent case of mistaken omission? I think not. NBC continues
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed back at critics, noting that it is “just a mirror of the federal law” — the abortion rights enshrined by the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
Ah, but this is precisely the point. Cuomo has in reality proposed nothing new, as his legislation simply mirrors in New York law what Roe already allowed at the federal level. Late-term abortion has been legal for decades. The news here is that restrictions making it difficult and rare are being systematically challenged.
Once America is desensitized to the horrors of late-term abortion, it will be well-situated to reconsider the levelheadedness of Giubilini and Minerva’s “post-birth abortion” proposal. As I posited earlier, what, after all, is the significant moral difference between a newborn and a pre-born fetus?
The battleground after late-term abortion is legalized infanticide. Indeed, the question is already upon us.
Feeling somewhat vindicated for having confided that I thought legalized infanticide was on deck (though I would much rather have been proven wrong), I’ll take this opportunity to go a step further and stress that what lurks in the heart of man is the desire to kill for any reason at any age (James 4:2).
A University of Tennessee (Knoxville) student went confidently on video record last year saying that abortion of two year-olds seemed like a good idea, since the child is too young to communicate. His logic follows in the vein of other prominent professors, writers, philosophers, politicians, feminists and pro-choice advocates (for an example, see Mary Anne Warren’s On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion). For this student, inability to communicate was sufficient reason dismiss all protections for the toddler.
Let’s explore where this goes: This baby can be killed because it was born with undetected TCS. This baby can be killed because I lost my job and can no longer endure the emotional trauma of providing for it. This baby can be killed because it cannot communicate. This baby can be killed because it is Jewish.
Utilitarian ethics gave us the holocaust. It produced the Trail of Tears, the Rape of Nanjing, the Hamidian Massacres, the gassing of the Kurds, the Ku Klux Klan, and the storyline for Hotel Rwanda. “In those days…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
Late-term abortion is yesterday’s news. Post-birth abortion is trending. #infanticide.
I agree with Giubilini and Minerva on one thing: there is no significant moral difference between a gestating baby and one with TCS that is gasping for air in a hospital incubator. Both are human. Both bear the image of a holy God. Both have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Both deserve equal protection under the law.
Mark Nicholson is the Executive Director of PassionLife, where he trains missionaries and indigenous Christian leaders in biblical bioethics and crisis pregnancy intervention in countries suffering the highest concentrations of abortion worldwide.