Ideas Have Consequences

Eugene C. Tarne  

The horrors revealed at the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell have put abortion advocates in a defensive pose.

 

Among the charges Gosnell faces are murder in the death of a woman undergoing an abortion, murder in the deaths of four newborns, and performing late-term abortions beyond Pennsylvania’s legal limit for such procedures.

 

According to testimony, should an infant be born alive during an abortion, Gosnell would “snip” its spine, thus killing the newborn, a grisly variation to get around the federal ban on the equally grisly partial-birth abortion procedure, which calls for puncturing the skull of a born-alive infant and suctioning out his or her brain.

 

All this explains why one Pennsylvania newspaper has characterized the Gosnell case as “the abortion industry’s worst nightmare.”

 

To shake themselves out of this nightmare, the abortion industry and its allies are dismissing Gosnell as an “outlier” and “aberration” and in no way reflective of most abortionists and their clinics.

 

Whether one accepts that assertion or notarguments justifying what Gosnell was practicing – late-term abortions and infanticide – are not outliers among abortion advocates.   Indeed, over the past 40 years, at least, such arguments have been made in numerous books, articles and academic journals.

 

In 1972, one year before the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, Michael Tooley published “Abortion and Infanticide” in the Princeton University publication, Philosophy & Public Affairs.   In it, Tooley offered an ethical rationale for both.  He expanded on this in a 1983 book by the same name, published by the Oxford University Press.

 

In his books Practical Ethics (1979 Cambridge University Press) and Rethinking Life and  Death (1994) Princeton University Professor Peter Singer offers an argument similar, though somewhat different from, Tooley’s in defense of abortion and infanticide. “If we can put aside these emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects of the killing of a baby we can see that the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants.”  (Practical Ethics)

 

Singer also asserts that if there is such a thing as an inherent right to life, or a right not to be killed, then certain animals have a greater claim to it than a newborn human does: “If the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either, and the life of a newborn baby is of less value to it than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee is to the nonhuman animal.” (Practical Ethics)

 

In a 2010 article for the online magazine Slate, William Saletan argued that pro-choice advocates, such as himself, should at least consider imposing limits on abortion from the second trimester on.

 

This was greeted by a stern rejoinder (among others) from Ann Furedi, the Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which describes itself as the “UK’s leading abortion specialist.”

 

Those like Saletan who would have no qualms about early abortions, but question the morality of abortion as the child develops into the second trimester are “shallow” and “fickle.”  Calling such individuals “ethical straddlers,” Furedi asks them: “[I]s there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even 8 weeks?”  In her eyes there is not, but rather than seeing this as a reason to protect that life throughout the pregnancy, she takes that as reason to permit abortion, for any reason, throughout the pregnancy.  For Furedi, “the principle of moral autonomy in respect of reproductive decisions” is absolute and demands that women be free to choose abortion for any reason and at any time during the pregnancy.  To deny a woman the ability to do so would be “to strip away her humanity.”

 

Sex-selection abortion is also justifiable on grounds similar to Ferudi’s.  On a blog post for BMJ (formerly, the British Medical Journal) Marge Berer, editor of Reproductive Health Matters, writes: “I believe health professionals and everyone who is pro-choice on abortion should support pro-choice doctors and women seeking abortions, whatever their reasons, even when sex selection may be involved.”

 

In “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?,” (previously discussed on a posting on this website) published in 2011 in the British Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors, Profs. Alberto Guibilini and Francesca Minerva, answer it shouldn’t.   Just as Ferudi justifies abortion at any stage in a pregnancy by ascribing the same moral status to a 28- week-old fetus to one that is eight weeks or younger, so Guibilini and Minerva ascribe the same moral status to a newborn as to an unborn child.  Thus, they conclude, because an unborn child can be aborted, it is therefore also permissible to kill a newborn in what they call an “after-birth abortion.”

 

The Guibilini/Minerva paper is moreover a focus of the current (May, 2013) issue of BMJ; indeed the entire May issue is devoted to the subject of infanticide, for and against, and Tooley is among the contributors.

 

By the time Profs. Guibilini and Minerva published their article, justifications for infanticide had become so commonplace among those academics who provide the intellectual heft for abortion advocacy that one observer seemed puzzled by the furor the article sparked.

 

“…This argument is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around at least since the well-known philosopher Michael Tooley published a paper making essentially the same claims way back in 1972.  …[O]ne presumes the public was outraged because they were hearing for the first time the old news that liberal ‘bioethicists’ support infanticide.  But that just raises the question all over again: What’s so special about this paper?”

 

In covering the Gosnell trial, ABC cited Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, which claims to set “standards” for abortion clinics.  The problem with Gosnell, according to her, was that he “wasn’t providing care later and wasn’t ensuring fetal demise and not operating under any established standards of care…”

 

In other words, Ms. Saporta had no problem with late-term, post-viability abortions – only that Gosnell was performing them in an insufficiently lethal manner.

 

In light of the gruesome revelations from the Gosnell trial, Saletan again weighed in on the question of late-term and post-viability abortions.  “Is it ok to abort a viable fetus?” Saletan asked.

 

Absolutely, responded Pema Levy, at The American Prospect.  “For the purposes of Saletan’s question, I think we’re referring to late-term abortions as post-viability abortions, which means that women would be required to continue their pregnancy for 3-4 months.  For me, the answer is yes, late-term abortions should be legal, even if medical complications are out of the picture.”

 

Abortion advocates may now feign shock to discover there is gambling going on in the casino.

 

But as Richard Weaver famously wrote, “Ideas have consequences.”

 

Given all the justifications for late-term and post-viability abortions and for infanticide from pro-abortion academics, public policy advocates and others over several decades now, is it any wonder that the horrors uncovered in Kermit Gosnell’s abortion abattoir happened?

 

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