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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Crossed Lines


I am not, by any stretch, the first pro-lifer to draw parallels between abortion and infanticide.  Many before me have tried to explain our concern that society could adapt the pro-choice mentality to apply to newborns.

Pro-choicers usually respond with flat denial, and sometimes disgust.  Killing newborns, after all, cannot be justified by bodily integrity. This is a crucial difference between abortion and infanticide. Is it the only difference?

Some people seem to think so. On February 23, 2012, ethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva published a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”  The abstract:
“Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that 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.”
The paper has been met with outrage. The authors have received death threats. People are reacting to the rationalization of homicide as you’d expect society to react. Amongst the vehement rejection, though, some are giving this suggestion a hard look. William Saletan of Slate.com writes,
“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.”
I’m glad Saletan, like most pro-choicers I know, thinks infanticide is something worth worrying about. It’s good for society to be on the same page when it comes to killing babies. The options seem to be:

1) See the parallel between abortion and infanticide and deplore both practices.
2) See no parallel between abortion and infanticide, and defend abortion while condemning infanticide.
3) See the parallel between abortion and infanticide and accept both practices.

I believe the great majority of society sticks with Options 1 and 2. Still, I feel a weary horror every time someone chooses Option 3.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seeing how you read the Slate article, you should easily see the 4th option: See the parallel between abortion and infanticide AND see the LIMITS of that parallel and THEREFORE defend abortion while condemning infanticide.

As Saletan puts it, "I don’t buy this argument, in part because I agree with Furedi that something profound changes at birth: The woman’s bodily autonomy is no longer at stake."

One doesn't have to "not see" the parallel to reject it as flawed. It's easy to see the merits and limits of a comparison, and understand where the comparison is coming from, and still reject it as faulty.

M said...

I think you may be reading more into my Option 2 than I meant to imply. If you reject a parallel as faulty then you "don't see" that parallel, in the sense that you disagree with it. I'm not trying to say you have no idea why the comparison is brought up in the first place.

I acknowledge the crucial difference bodily autonomy plays in my 2nd paragraph.

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

Regarding Slatean’s position while not strictly a philosophy article he raises philosophical accounts but doesn’t go into detail. Yes there is an account that thinks birth a defining moment and also raises an account that says they grow in moral value as they develop. But as that largely relies on an arbitrary growing relationship between the mother and the wanted offspring it doesn’t hold any water.
One could reject the comparison but you had better come up with something stronger than birth or arbitrary interpersonal moral valuing.