What the 'After-Birth Abortion' and 'Personhood' Debates Have in Common
An article published in February in the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics is making headlines around the world. In the article, former Cambridge and Oxford University researchers Dr. Alberto Giubilini and Dr. Francesca Minerva argue the very point pro-life advocates have said all along: There is no essential difference between a fetus and a newborn, and their moral status is the same.
Pro-life supporters should be elated.
But we're not.
In claiming that unborn children and newborn children are morally equivalent, Giubilini and Minerva are not arguing for the right to life. To the contrary, the article advocates what the authors term "after-birth abortion." The British tabloid The Sun put it a bit more starkly in a headline last week: "Slaughter Newborn Kids, Say Academics." The Telegraph's headline sums it up this way: "Killing Babies Is No Different From Abortion."
If a newborn will place an "unbearable burden" on the family or society (such as in the case of disability), the researchers argue, the infant should be subject to an after-birth abortion. "Merely being human," they claim, "is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life."
Not surprisingly (and thankfully), the article has garnered vehement backlash from across the globe, particularly in the blogosphere. (Sadly, some of those claiming to defend life have resorted to less-than-ethical responses to the article, even to the point of death threats.)
The journal's editor has defended the decision to publish the article, but not merely on the usual grounds of academic freedom. Instead, noting that infanticide is legal in the Netherlands, the editor argues that publishing the article reflects the journal's support of "sound rational argument and freedom of ethical expression." The editor explains, "The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject."
It's hard to dispute such sound logic, as a blog at the British newspaper The Telegraphpoints out. The article is so extremely logical, in fact, that it's reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's famous 18th-century satire, A Modest Proposal. The "proposal" offers an utterly rational appeal to the Irish to alleviate their poverty by raising and selling their children to the English for food. Like the journal article under discussion, the reasoning is impeccable. However, chief among the satire's many objects of correction (for correction is the purpose of true satire) is rationalism, a worldview that depends entirely—like the journal article—on human reason at the expense of human emotion, human spirit, and human love—let alone eternal principles that transcend even these.