After-birth Abortion: An Evaluation and Critique

This post is my evaluation and critique of the following work:

Giubilini, Alberto and Francesca Minerva. “After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” Journal of Medical Ethics, February 23, 2012.

Context and Purpose

          With Roe v. Wade nearly four decades old, the Journal of Medical Ethics, in February of 2012, decided to publish a controversial article entitled, “After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” After more than thirty five years of legalized abortions, this article probably did not create the type of national stir that it should have. Furthermore, its arguments were not entirely novel. Men like Peter Singer from Princeton University, and Michael Tooley (who earned his PhD from Princeton) have made similar arguments in the past. Yet, because it did appear in the Journal of Medical Ethics, it was substantive in that, it gave us a look into the potential future of bioethics.

Both authors hail from Australia. Alberto Giubilini was with Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva served at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. At the outset, the authors of the article established the fact that, “Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health.” Upon establishing the reality that abortions are legal in many Western nations, the authors then proposed the legalization of infanticide. The aim of their paper was to persuade the scientific community that infanticide ought to be legal on three primary grounds. First, the authors claim that, “Both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons.” Second, the authors believe that, “The fact that both [newborns and fetuses] are potential persons is morally irrelevant.” And third, the authors attempt to persuade readers that, “Adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people” and 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.” For all of the reasons why abortion is legal, the authors propose that infanticide ought to also be legalized.

Evaluation and Critique

          “Satanic, but logically consistent.” Although those words might not be the most suitable words for an academic paper, nevertheless, those are the words that continued to course through my mind during the reading of this paper. It was satanic because proposing the legalization of infanticide stems only from the mind of Satan, the ultimate murderer (Jn 8:44). Perhaps nothing could be more satanic than the murders of those that are most tender, young, and vulnerable within our society. Yet, as satanic as the proposal for infanticide is, the authors are sadly, highly logically consistent. Politicians and women who support abortion, but recoil with horror at the thought of killing a newborn, ought to carefully consider their own logical inconsistencies. A newborn child and a fetus within the mother’s womb are essentially of the same value in every way. As heinous as the proposal within this article is, it is nevertheless, logically consistent to allow for infanticide if the nation already permits abortion. My hope is that the authors of this article will awaken some into action against legalized abortion as they begin to see the harsh reality that abortion is really tantamount to infanticide.

Reasons for Abortion

          The authors begin their piece by giving us two frequently offered reasons for abortion: “Severe abnormalities of the fetus and risks for the physical and/or psychological health of the woman are often cited as valid reasons for abortion.” As a result of living in a culture that accepts those reasons as valid reasons for abortion, the authors begin by using those reasons as foundations for creating ethically strange situations where a newborn should be killed. Regarding the psychological health of the woman, the authors put forth a case where, “… a woman who loses her partner after she finds out that she is pregnant and therefore feels she will not be able to take care of the possible child by herself.” According to the authors (and the general public) unforeseen economic duress is a good reason for abortion. If this is indeed a valid reason for abortion, then the authors would argue that likewise, if a spouse unexpectedly dies shortly after childbirth, or perhaps even during childbirth, then the remaining spouse ought to have the right to kill the newborn. They would argue that being out of the womb is of no real substantive difference when considering the life of the child.

The authors also see that many women choose to have an abortion if severe abnormalities are detected in the fetus during their pregnancies. Many within our society do believe that the presence of such abnormalities is a justified reason for killing a child in the womb. Yet, the authors of this article push us to think further. They write, “A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.” The authors conclude that the same arguments do apply to killing a newborn human. The authors give us various abortion-like scenarios that might justify the killing of a newborn; scenarios such as complications during childbirth, or undetected genetic disorders that escape prenatal screening. The authors write, “Perinatal asphyxia, for instance, may cause severe brain damage and result in severe mental and/or physical impairments comparable with those for which a woman could request an abortion. Moreover, abnormalities are not always, or cannot always be, diagnosed through prenatal screening even if they have a genetic origin.” Essentially, the authors make the case that the reasons given to validate abortions also exist for newborns. Therefore, they would argue that if the reasons are valid, then infanticide, like abortion, should also be legalized.

Logically, of course, the authors are consistent. If indeed, those are valid reasons for abortion, then they are also valid reasons for infanticide. A baby is a baby no matter where he is situated. However, underneath a biblical perspective, those two reasons are not valid reasons for murder. Human beings are made in the image of God, and Scripture does not give individuals the right to arbitrarily take the life of another human being. A handicap or a deformity should not cause a parent to eliminate her child. On the contrary, the genetic deformity or physical handicap requires greater love and care—not the elimination of the individual! We are not the ones to decide that life is not worth living if a person possesses a certain deformity. The fact is, we are all deformed—it is only a matter of degrees. Even the authors of the article reported that, “It might be maintained that ‘even allowing for the more optimistic assessments of the potential of Down’s syndrome children, this potential cannot be said to be equal to that of a normal child’. But, in fact, people with Down’s syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy.”

Furthermore, the psychological health of the woman is certainly not a valid reason for abortion (or infanticide). If this was ever to become a valid reason, then every teacher, pastor, or police officer would have the right to kill the very individuals they are called to serve. We are all (to some degree) a psychological drain on someone else—especially on those who care for us. It is, after all, part of being a fallen human. Yet, this interdependence calls for virtues such as patience and love. Murder should never be a valid coping strategy for stress caused by caring for someone. Finally, although rearing a child is stressful at times, the woman who opts to kill her child painfully ignores the fact that the joys of parenthood far outweigh its tolls.

Terminology

          Very often, the devil is in the details. Words matter, and when it comes to ethical issues, words often matter heavily. On this heated issue, the authors argue that, “In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.” Yet, the authors fail to realize that changing the term does not alter the sinfulness of the act. The authors keenly observe that the term “after-birth abortion” is indeed an oxymoron (killing someone outside the womb is not an abortion), yet for the sake of consumer palatability, they coin it as such.

What is truly sick in all this is the virtually “given” perspective that it is okay to kill a fetus. If we follow the natural flow of arguments, then, a fetus is not a child; a newborn is not a child; and soon, a child will no longer be a child. Why the fuddling with terminology? Evidently, because it is still wrong to kill a child. Biblically speaking however, a child is a child at conception (Ps 51:5). Yet, for a society that does not believe that a child in the womb is truly a child, the conclusion made by the authors of this article will soon begin making sense. It is only a matter time before, they too, like the authors of this article, will begin to say: “Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.” On that day, heads will simply nod along in agreement because of logical consistency that is based on a terribly flawed premise.

Personhood

The crux of this entire paper resides in the argument that a fetus (and by extension, a newborn) is not a “person.” The authors of this article argue that, “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.” Throughout the article, the authors identify the newborn and fetus as “potential” persons, but not “actual” persons. The authors write, “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean 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.”

This differentiation between “person” and “potential person” is key for their argumentation. Due to the fact that the authors do not view the newborn and fetus as having personhood, they therefore, believe that it is perfectly fine to kill them. In fact, they believe that there is no real “harm” inflicted upon newborns when they are killed by their mothers. The authors write, “The reason is that, by virtue of our definition of the concept of ‘harm’ in the previous section, in order for a harm to occur, it is necessary that someone is in the condition of experiencing that harm.” In other words, the authors are arguing that actual harm is only something that could be inflicted on actual persons. However, the authors do not believe that the newborn nor the fetus is an actual person. Hence, they write, “If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all.”

What is tragic about this sort of argumentation is that it actually makes sense to some. Rather than cogent argumentation, this is merely the rationalization of sin. It is also as nonsensical as it is unscriptural. For the authors, animals are categorized as “persons” deserving the right to life, whereas infants and newborns are not. They write, “This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.” The height of nonsense is found in that quote. When we begin differentiating between “human” and “person,” then we are certainly headed for imbecilic self-destruction as a society.

The Bible informs us that humans are “persons” at conception. Scripture states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5).[1] Thus, the sacred text reveals a harsh reality within a blessed truth. The blessed truth is that we are human “persons” at conception. The harsh reality is that we are, therefore, also sinners at conception. At conception, the child is truly a person, and because the child is a person, the psalmist reveals that God holds the him accountable for sin. All human persons are inherently sinners due to Adam’s sin. Scripture reveals that we are held accountable for this inherited sin at the moment of conception. This of course, is the doctrine of “original sin.” Although bioethicists may argue about when “personhood” actually begins for the human being, the Christian on the other hand, is clearly informed by Scripture that personhood begins at conception. Non-persons cannot sin. Authentic human persons, on the other hand, are sinners. The Bible informs us that we are sinners at the moment of conception. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the freshly conceived child is indeed a “person.” The child in the womb is a sinful person, but nevertheless, he is a real person. In fact, he is a sinful person because he is a real person. The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

Conclusions

          Although the authors of this article attempt to make a distinction between terms such as “human” and “person,” the Bible incontrovertibly states that all humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and therefore, all humans are inherently valuable. Thus, all humans have the right to life. This is not a right given to humanity by the United States Constitution, but rather, the right comes from Almighty God Himself. “Personhood” and life begins at conception and therefore, both abortion and infanticide are sins against God. More specifically, they are the sins of murder. The terms we use make a difference. There is no such thing as “after-birth abortion.” Instead, it is really the murder of an infant child. There is no such thing as “the abortion of a fetus.” Instead, it is really the murder of a child within the womb. Both the fetus and the newborn are children made in the image of God and are therefore, no one but God has the right to take their lives.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New American Standard Bible.

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About Dr. Stephen Kim

Dr. Stephen Kim is the senior pastor of Mustard Seed Church in New York City. He has also served as Associate Director of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, NYC Extension Center. Pastor Stephen is the happy husband of one beautiful woman and the joyous father of four beautiful children. As a pastor and writer, he is passionate about accurately feeding Christians the Word of God: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?" (Matthew 24:45).
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