The Logical Conclusion to Being Pro-ChoicePosted: March 4, 2012
An essay was published this week in Journal of Medical Ethics titled After-birth Abortion: why should the baby live?. The abstract sums it up as follows:
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.
Wow. My initial reaction was that of moral outrage, as should be most anyone’s reaction upon reading the essay. However, upon further reflection I have realized something – this conclusion should be the main argument for all who consider themselves pro-life.
The authors argue that the moral status of a fetus and a newborn infant is the same because they “lack the properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual”. So what are those properties? The explanation can be found in their distinction between an ‘actual person’ and a ‘potential person’. An actual person is “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value”. Their definition of an actual person is based on the idea that a person must have “aims” and reach at least a basic level of self-awareness. Once you reach this extremely vague and arbitrary level of existence, you are then “subject to a moral right to life”. So while “both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons… neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.” In other words, since we do not exist as ‘actual persons’ until we have aims and a level of self-awareness, no harm would be done to us if we were killed as a fetus or as an infant because we do not exist as a person. If no ‘person’ exists, no harm is done, and therefore no moral violation has been perpetrated.
They also argue that only the self-interest of ‘actual persons’ should be considered when determining the moral question:
The alleged right of individuals (such as fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality… is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence. Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of. Sometimes this situation can be prevented through an abortion, but in other cases this is not possible. In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions.
Other than the righteous anger and moral outrage at this conclusion, what we should take away from this paper is that their position is absolutely correct in the sense that it is the logically consistent conclusion to being pro-abortion. I will give them that. As congressman Ron Paul, an OB/GYN medical doctor who has delivered thousands of babies, has always argued – there is no difference morally, ethically, legally, or logically between a child one minute before birth and one minute after birth. Whereas Paul takes the complete pro-life position, this paper is obviously arguing in favor of the opposing position. The logical outcome reached is that infanticide is morally permissible and should be legally permissible for basically any reason upon the discretion of basically anyone who could be directly or loosely affected. If you believe that I may be exaggerating the conclusion, just go read the Conclusion section of the essay.
The pro-life movement should be welcoming this paper because it gives pro-lifers the chance to put the pro-choice movement in an indefensible position. They now have to defend the logical conclusion to being pro-choice. If a woman should have the “right” to choose whether they want to have the baby she is pregnant with or not, how does that change once the baby is born? Why would you ‘force’ a woman to be responsible for a burden they do not want? A baby is just as dependent on the mother before birth and inside the womb as they are dependent after birth. The location of the baby, whether in the womb or out of the womb, really makes no logical difference. This paper realizes that, so they try to come up with an ethical argument in favor of infanticide.
The pro-life position is almost always put on the defensive by having to determine the gray area of conception. This argument gives pro-lifers the opportunity to flip that discussion and force the other side to determine this gray area of when a ‘potential person’ becomes an ‘actual person’ who is subject to a moral right to life. If you accept all the other premises of the pro-choice argument, as this paper does, you must apply those premises and principles consistently. If the idea of a “right to choose” is to be accepted by society, what is to stop it from reaching its obvious conclusion?