The PJ Tatler

Abortion and the Slippery Slope of Moral Decay

If you haven’t heard about this yet, you will.  The most recent development in the abortion debate deals with “after-birth abortions”.  That’s when a mother wants to end the life of her child with impunity after it is born.  The illegality of this procedure is being challenged right now in reputable scientific journals by intelligent people.  In due course, it will make its way to our courts:

“Just when you thought the religious right couldn’t get any crazier, with its personhood amendments and its attacks on contraception, here comes the academic left with an even crazier idea: after-birth abortion.

No, I didn’t make this up. ‘Partial-birth abortion’ is a term invented by pro-lifers. But ‘after-birth abortion’ is a term invented by two philosophers, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. In the Journal of Medical Ethics, they propose:

[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.”

Partial-birth abortion is legal in the United States and has been for many years.  You may not like this description of the procedure, but it’s accurate:

  1. When the baby’s head is about to leave the birth canal, the doctor forces the head back in and manipulates the baby’s body so that the feet come out first.  In effect, he manufactures a breech birth.
  2. The doctor allows the baby’s feet and body to exit the birth canal until the base of the baby’s head appears.
  3. The doctor punches a hole at the base of the baby’s skull, inserts a vacuum tube, and sucks out the baby’s brain.
  4. The baby is “born dead,” and the partial birth abortion is complete.

The critical factor in the partial-birth abortion procedure is that the baby hasn’t completely exited the birth canal since its head is still inside.  The child is literally inches and seconds away from personhood and the full protection of our laws, so the doctor imposes his will and stops the birth process.  If the head exits the birth canal, the doctor is committing first-degree murder, and the mother is guilty as well since she’s an accomplice.

Our laws condone this horrific procedure, but if you are normal, you can’t deny that it is repulsive and morally and ethically wrong.  As bizarre as this may seem, we are drifting toward an even more grisly “abortion procedure”.  Will we permit a doctor to take the life of a child if he and the mother believe that the “well-being of the family” is at risk?  If you are normal, your kneejerk response is probably “no,” but don’t be so sure.  Before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, normal people would have said that the procedure called “partial-birth abortion” would never be legal—not in the United States, but it certainly is.

Where protecting innocent lives is concerned, we’re on a slippery slope, and we’ve been on it for a very long time.  Where it will end is anybody’s guess, but this much is certain: the worst possible outcome can happen and probably will happen unless we do something to stop it.

Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.  His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.