A Defense of After-Birth Abortions.

Above: What happens to assholes who follow a twisted, corrupt, ignorant worldview when they are confronted with the obvious truth that sometimes child suffering should be ended.

Perhaps the most counter-intuitive conclusion from the pro-abortion position is its defense of after-birth abortions. I was a little too wary to address it because, after all, it wasn’t relevant to defining the pro-abortion position. I knew people would howl about it and that it would distract from the really important arguments. But given that my introduction for a new position has faded into obscurity, I can address the issue fully without fear of getting in anyone else’s way (yes, I did at some point think that my pro-abortion series would catch on; a delusively optimistic expectation in retrospect, especially given my confrontative attitude at the start of it).

An excellent starting point on the after-birth abortion issue is the paper After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?, by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva (they use the term “after-birth abortion,” and I follow them in this usage, because it is a form of abortion and should be labeled as such). Giubilini and Minerva argue a number of points:

(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

Much of their energies are devoted to showing that the “potential person” argument applies equally to fetuses and to newborns. Everyone knows this, but no one is allowed to say it because it goes against the two major factions in the abortion debate. Giubilini and Minerva’s paper attracted death threats because they basically said something that is still a taboo in our society: that there is no magical difference between a fetus and a newborn, that they are only two stages in a progression of development.

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…

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 is the crux of the issue: both pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates implicitly or explicitly believe there is a moment before birth or at birth when a non-person becomes a person and is entitled to protection by law (I have analyzed the arguments presented to me by anti-abortion readers). Now, I know most pro-choice advocates would argue that they don’t really believe in such a moment. But all the scientific evidence tells us that personhood keeps developing throughout childhood; given that the pro-choice advocates must select some cut-off date (it could hardly be a viable political position if they didn’t), whether it is birth or some point before that, such a cut-off date must be arbitrary.

The only position compatible with the belief that there is no defining moment is the pro-abortion position. As the paper discusses, it cannot be proven by any logical means that a 9-month old fetus and a newborn are significantly different from the standpoint of personhood. Giubilini and Minerva use the presence of conscious values as their measure, but any other definition of personhood used will give you the same result.

I expect that pro-choice advocates will reply that pro-abortion advocates must also have some arbitrary cut-off point in mind, and that without such a cut-off point legislation is impossible. First of all, I don’t see why I should be particularly concerned about legislation, especially since I am an anarchist. But that objection aside, I see no particular reason why an arbitrary cut-off point must be chosen. If personhood can be roughly determined in any single individual, then we can judge every after-birth abortion on a case-by-case basis. Cut-off points may be convenient, but we see how well that works out for the age of majority.

In response to all this, our opponents argue that the conclusion of after-birth abortion is so horrible that we should reject using ethical principles in this instance. But this is merely a special pleading fallacy. If we could just ignore reality and reject ethical principles whether we feel bad about them, we should allow anyone to murder, steal and cheat in the name of their feelings. This is philosophy for sociopaths, not moral human beings.

Another defense is that we consider some newborns “unworthy of life” and that this is pure misopedia. Furthermore, according to us, Stephen Hawking shouldn’t have lived, and yet he’s done so much. We just need to look beyond our hatred and accept that life is precious, and so on and so forth.

I have to say I find the Hawking argument so contemptible that it’s hardly worth a reply. How dare anyone use the fact that Stephen Hawkins suffers every day from Lou Gehrig’s disease to trivialize his suffering and declare that it was good that he was forced to live a life of constant muscular atrophy, unable to move or speak on his own. It requires quite a callous person, insensitive to the pain of others, to even start such an argument. Besides, Lou Gehrig’s disease cannot be diagnosed in the womb or in a newborn, so the point is entirely moot. Therefore the Hawking ploy is a lie, nothing more, akin to the anti-abortion advocates who complain that an abortion could kill the next Einstein. It could also kill the next Dahmer, so what? An argument from ignorance is still an argument from ignorance.

As for the more general argument, it is not true that we hate newborns; we don’t hate them any more than we hate fetuses. But we hate parents who keep a compromised child alive despite the suffering we expect the child to encur throughout eir life. For these parents I have no pity whatsoever, none at all. They deserve the worse fate their society has to offer. But it is no more hateful to kill a newborn to counter their future suffering than it is to perform an assisted suicide.

Pro-life advocates should be cheering this intellectual development (sadly, that would require intellectual subtlety far beyond the meager means of even the best theologian). If one admits that fetuses and newborns have a similar personhood status, and one believes it’s taboo-level unacceptable to abort newborns, then all forms of abortion must be just as unacceptable. Of course I think the latter premise is stupid beyond recognition, although it is popular.

Which brings the question, why even bother taking on such an unpopular position? I know I have to repeat this often, but people keep asking me this. The answer, of course, is that a truth is a truth regardless of its popularity. I welcome counter-arguments from my pro-choice and anti-abortion opponents, but I don’t expect any. I do expect a lot of insults, though.

15 thoughts on “A Defense of After-Birth Abortions.

  1. Chris August 27, 2013 at 23:30 Reply

    Thanks for writing this. I have been thinking it for a while but haven’t been as open about it as I should because I know people will say I’m disgusting.

  2. Brad Reddekopp August 28, 2013 at 01:00 Reply

    Ever since the topic of abortion first came up on GOTG, I’ve been saying that we protect newborns as a convention, not because they can be said to be persons (at that time, I phrased it as “have rights”) in any meaningful way.

  3. capltan August 28, 2013 at 03:01 Reply

    Excellent post. I’ve never quite understood why pro-choice people don’t also follow this line of reasoning; even if you’re not an antinatalist, if you try to justify abortion on the basis of personhood existing after a certain point then I’ve never understood why it wouldn’t also be acceptable in post-birth situations. It’s a logical consequence of that line of reasoning.

  4. Black Sheep August 28, 2013 at 19:24 Reply

    It is tantalizing that you keep hammering about children not being treated with respect given to adults, but now, “personhood keeps developing throughout childhood”.

    It cannot be stressed enough that abortion is a lesser-of-two-evils choice to make; NO evil requires stopping PIV altogether.

  5. sbt42 August 29, 2013 at 04:24 Reply

    So sorry we didn’t have a chance to hear from the doctor of the “Christian Medical Fellowship” in that clip…NOT.

  6. rae September 3, 2013 at 23:19 Reply

    One of the worst things society does is keep helpless people like myself half-alive for decades. Corpses with functioning brains. I have to think of my body as a thing wholly separate from ‘me’ because I feel that my mind is the only part of me that lives. Surely I should have been given mercy and helped to die; helped to escape this body that entombs me alive. I always wished bodies came with zippers so I could just unzip myself and “get out.”

    As a side note- is antinatalism gaining any ground with the broader public? I get depressed thinking the movement isn’t growing.

    • Francois Tremblay September 3, 2013 at 23:52 Reply

      While the childfree movement is growing, I know of no such growth in antinatalism. It will take a long time.

    • Francois Tremblay December 27, 2013 at 16:01 Reply

      Thank you. :)

  7. cyanidecupcake April 28, 2014 at 04:32 Reply

    I see your point that basically newborns are still dependent on the mother as fetuses are. Some women don’t even know they are pregnant or if their fetuses have abnormalities until it’s too late for an in-utero abortion, either. However: What if mothers who kill their infant daughters (femicide) were doing so not because THEY hate females, but because the life of a female really sucks in their countries (their societies hate them)? Like a mercy killing, even if the baby is physically healthy.

    • Francois Tremblay April 28, 2014 at 04:36 Reply

      Well I guess my first question would be: why was an abortion not performed as soon as the sex of the fetus was known?

      • cyanidecupcake April 28, 2014 at 04:48 Reply

        Too poor for an abortion? Or they changed their minds? I’m reading that in India “Girls that are not killed often suffer malnutrition and medical neglect as sons are favoured when shelter, medicine and food are scarce.” (Speaking of the ‘might is right’ philosophy).

        • Francois Tremblay April 28, 2014 at 04:51 Reply

          I’d say the woman-hating is the more pressing issue in that situation. But yes, I would not get in the way of that happening. If a parent honestly believes that the world they live in is not good enough to bring a child into, then I would say they have a DUTY to abort.

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