Thursday, March 1, 2012

After-Birth Abortions

Yes, "after-birth" abortions. It's catchy with none of the emotional baggage of "infanticide." Wait, no, it still has the baggage.

Pro-lifers have argued for years that there is no substantial difference in a child the day before and the day after his birth. The idea is to argue that if infanticide is abhorrent to you, abortion should be also.

Then here comes another batch of "ethicists" arguing "what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Why is our society — one that permits the killing of unborn humans — so scandalized when some young woman drops her newborn infant into a dumpster? Why are people upset when she could have killed the child the day before he was born with no consequence? It's because there is something inside us that recognizes that behavior as sick and wrong. It's a moral intuition that has managed to hang on despite years of preaching that the needs of the woman trump every other concern. And we should be equally scandalized by this.

What about adoption? Unfortunately "adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people." Yes, "actual people" is actually a quote.

Pro-choicers have to acknowledge that this is the natural evolution of their beliefs. If a human being is not a "person" at 8 months and 29 days gestation in the womb, 24 hours and 8 inches does not change anything substantive.

If they are horrified by this, then perhaps they need to reverse the equation: If a human being is a person the moment after birth, then it was a person 24 hours and 8 inches earlier and well before that.

Photo by Jon Ovington


Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, many pro-choicers actually do believe a baby is a being 24 hours before birth. It's just that many of us do not view an organism without a brain as anything akin to a sentient being. Early fetuses do not have brains, so clearly they are not sentient beings at conception. It takes time for brain development to come to the point where they could be said to be an actual being-- and that brain in most people's opinions has to not only be larger than microscopic pin-prick, but larger than a rooster's or any other animal we eat for meat. You see, most of us pro-life pro-choicers(they are not mutually exclusive terms) believe that it's the brain that makes us a human being, and a tumor or liver grown in solution is not a human even though it has the same genes. Without a developed nervous system, a being cannot feel, so just like I would feel no guilt spraying pesticide on a plant, I wouldn't feel much guilt about getting rid of a baby who's appearance is indistinguishable from a frog embryo (seriously, they even have tails!).

I agree, personally, that late term abortions are hideous and should not be done. When a baby is old enough to be born even if prematurely and survive without the mother, it counts.

If the argument is that souls are made at the moment of cell divide, well, I'm afraid that the country I live in believes in the power of free belief and being able to practice your own religion and to have it separate from the state, and my religion does not believe in magic souls, only electromagnetic observable ones.

Arguing that pro-choicers in general should want to kill born babies is arguing against a straw man. Certainly I have never met any like that.

Vinny said...


You may not be aware that at the time of Roe v. Wade, the position described by Anonymous was the position that many Evangelical Christians held as well. It had actually been the position of Catholic thinkers until the time that the Pope put on his infallibility hat and declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The view that life begins at conception is the product of the culture wars rather than the result of science or theology.

mandyc said...

I read this, too. It made my heart shatter. It's nothing short of horrifying.

ChrisB said...

Anonymous, I didn't argue "pro-choicers in general should want to kill born babies", but it is a natural result of the arguments offered in this country.

I'm glad you at least have a cutoff. Many want abortion legal until the moment the baby's head clears the birth canal. So I welcome you to work with us to set reasonable limits.

However, I have to point out that size is not complexity. A human brain is different from a rooster's even when it is smaller. But more, I wonder what happens if someone's brain stops functioning better than a rooster's.

You don't have to believe that humans have souls to believe it is best for all of us to treat human beings as special. In any such argument, I believe it's best to err to the side of caution -- of over protecting children -- than to find that we've set a precedent we can't live with.


"The view that life begins at conception is the product of the culture wars rather than the result of science or theology."

Uh, no. Science is very clear on the definition of life. You can't kill something that's not alive. Unborn humans used to be regarded as "alive" when they started to move, but we now know 1) that's wrong and 2) they move far earlier than the mother can feel.

I am never surprised to find out that people used to hold bad views. I am happy to find they now have better ones.

Vinny said...


Science has long known, and hence theology has long known, that a fertilized embryo was alive and that the mass of cells forming in the womb were alive, but science has never been able to determine the moment at which those cells acquired the moral status of an independent human being and it doesn't tell us now. The idea that science has changed our understanding in some way that warrants the rejection of the view that theologians held for centuries is false. That view was not based solely on movement.

Jonathan Cariveau said...

Great article, OP, and having read the comments, I just had to offer some sort of a response to:


I, too, am glad that you have reasonable moral limits, and I do believe that people in all areas of the spectrum can agree that late term abortions and infanticide are hideous and must be fought. However.. Some things that I was thinking as I read through your post:

Your argument is a very classic one for someone in our modern age of desensitized conscience. It poses a lot of problems to society at large. Even if you don't believe in quote "a magic soul," it is in the best interest of humanity to base our actions on the presupposition that there is intangible worth in any human being at any age or stage of development, regardless of "practical" or "scientific" value, function, or likeness. Why? Because what you're essentially saying is that human value and worth is determined by some exterior action or nature that 1) must be 'observed' in order to be 'recognized' by other human beings, and 2) completely denies any intrinsic value in the human being. Now, this order of thinking may not show its bad consequences for humanity at large right away, but all you have to do is contemplate the consequences for humanity and you begin to see how problematic it is. Once you fail to recognize intrinsic worth of the human being as a person interiorly, without recourse to "scientific observation," any human person of any age can be judged to be a "potential person" simply due to disability, mental illness, or any other real or contrived outward justification of observable humanity. This is 1) where the rubber meets the road, the sacred meets the scientific, and where the God concept (ie Supreme Value) meets man, 2) is a radical departure from the most noble and necessary basic spiritual moors of all cultures and all human beings regardless of religion, and 3) represents a callousness of conscience that could be the very ruin of humanity.

Jonathan Cariveau said...

Think this through for a moment. Humanity is continually moving into more and more knowledge and more and more technological capability. The Scientific revolution has, in about three or four hundred years, completely revolutionized how human beings interact with the physical world. These things like recognition of inherent humanity are absolutely vital to all human society because they set the precedent of whether mankind is going to preserve his sanity, his view of inherent spiritual dignity not based on any outside observance or approval, and his understanding of himself. I completely agree with Chris B in what he said about erring on the side of caution- to be so callous regarding inherent and intrinsic worth in humanity so as to support the destruction of fetuses because 'we know better now, we're scientific, educated, advanced, progressive people living in a progressive age, we observe that there is no physical worth about this genetic tissue and equate it to a frog embryo,' is in my opinion an inexcusable and dangerous playing of God; it's the sort of lack of conscience that will lead humanity, with all of its vast array of tools and technological abilities, into a very dark place where we will no longer recognize ourselves five hundred or a thousand years hence. It is basically saying that just because we have the ability to scientifically understand the physical plane of existence of the mystery of human conception, therefore that means we have the right and privilege to assign the inherent and intrinsic worth of that developing human being.

I don't consider it a religiously exclusive thing to see this development and attitude as bad, I think that any rational man or woman who takes the time to meditate on what this callous, conscience-free, "modern, scientific, and progressive" attitude of spurning every sacred thing until it is reduced to mere physicality, and of implicitly declaring that human value is something agreed on by other humans (a concept that I think most reasonable and moral people will abhor if they think it through) and not recognized as an intrinsic dignity that is transcendent and inherent, will come to realize that the consequences of those beliefs endanger all humanity, and our own societal and cultural development, into the future of the Earth. I think that free exercise of religion and spirituality simply cannot be used to justify this, at some point human civilization is going to have to make a stand as to whether or not it is going to accept the consequences of this radical freedom, or whether it will act in the best interests of humanity and "provide new guard for our future security" as mankind.


ChrisB said...

Vinny, science has never had to role of determining the moral status of anything. But we know it is a human being with a unique genetic code, distinct in every way from its mother, at conception.

Arguing that this human being has fewer rights than any other human being requires the burden of proof to be on those who want to limit its rights.

Vinny said...


It has been estimated that more than half of fertilized embryos never implant in the uterine wall, but nobody worries about it because nobody thinks that they have the qualities that make someone a unique human being. What you "assert" and what we "know" are two different things.

ChrisB said...

"nobody worries about it because nobody thinks that they have the qualities that make someone a unique human being."

No, nobody worries about it because 1) it's a natural process, 2) you don't know when it's happening, 3) most assume there was something wrong with the embryo (possibly because they want to).

People die every day of natural causes. That doesn't make murder less wrong.

As usual, I'll let you have the last word on the issue ...

Vinny said...

Babies die of natural causes, too, but we still judge the quality of a society's health care by infant mortality rates. If everybody knows that fertilized embryos are morally equivalent to babies, why are spontaneous miscarriage not given any attention?

John Myste said...

Pro-lifers have argued for years that there is no substantial difference in a child the day before and the day after his birth.

There is no way around this fact. It is a human baby both before and after.

but science has never been able to determine the moment at which those cells acquired the moral status of an independent human being and it doesn't tell us now.

Morality is not a scientific question.

Arguing that this human being has fewer rights than any other human being requires the burden of proof to be on those who want to limit its rights.

This is absolutely true. I support abortion in the early embryonic stages, because I think we all agree that the mass of cells is not sentient. However, I do not argue that we are not killing a human when we do it, we are.

I make the argument that aborting a one day old fertilized egg is tantamount to using a condom.

Aborting a four month old child may be tantamount to murdering a three year old for all we know.

I am very strongly against the woman’s right to choose. However, I do support the law that says a woman may choose very early on. I think the first trimester idea may be cutting it close, though.

I hope I have not offended anyone here. If I have, I will hush now.