Aided by Rick Santorum’s over-heated rhetoric, the concept of infanticide (I’m against it, by the way) has been hot in the marketplace of ideas lately.
A group of medical ethicists at Oxford made headlines by arguing that parents ought to have the option of killing their newborns because they are “morally irrelevant” and thus ending their lives is no different from abortion. After some recent examples of the press mangling the real message of scholarly papers, I was dubious about the news reports, but son of a gun, that’s what these ethicists wrote.
The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was authored by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, who argue,
“The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons,”and thus “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.” It is “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense,” so
what the ethicists call “after-birth abortion” ( a.k.a. “killing a newborn infant” ) “should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”
This argument is not entirely new, and it is actually a logical, if disturbing, extension of other pro-abortion arguments. I have a bioethics book in front of me that has an entire chapter exploring various arguments that newborns are less-than-human lives. American ethicist Peter Singer made himself both famous and infamous several years ago by pointing out that the distinction between late-term abortions and “after birth” killings was artificial. He’s right. Most would agree, however, that this just seals the argument against late-term abortions. Nonetheless, the opinion of the Oxford ethicists contributes to the debate by getting to the core of the issue. Apparently they are now getting death threats…for doing their jobs.
The interesting question is, does Barack Obama agree with them? During the Arizona GOP candidates debate, Newt Gingrich claimed that in 2008 “not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.” This is Newt talking, so hyperbole is to be assumed, but he’s not as wrong as you might think….or hope. CNN did a “fact check” on Newt, and unlike most such exercises, it fairly checked the facts rather than try to rebut a politician’ s statement that the journalist happens to disagree with, which is the usual practice. CNN:
“… born alive” bills …were brought up in the Illinois Legislature in 2001, 2002, and 2003 when Obama was a state senator. The intent of the legislation was to protect any infant who survived a botched abortion by requiring the doctor to give life-saving care. In part, the bill said “a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.”
Then-state Sen. Obama opposed the legislation because he said it would undermine the legal protections given to abortions under Roe v. Wade.
On the state Senate floor, Obama said he believed courts would eventually overturn the legislation since it would “essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child.” He added that Illinois already had a 1975 state law that protected the life of an infant that survived a botched abortion, if doctors determined the infant could survive. When the legislation came up for a vote in 2001 and 2002, Obama once voted “present” — essentially a non-vote — and once voted against it.
In 2002, Congress was also writing a “Born Alive” bill. Obama said several times he would support that version of the bill because it contained a clause that would protect the legal standing of Roe v. Wade. Opponents of abortion rights, such as the National Right to Life Committee, challenged his explanation, saying the 2003 version of the Illinois law contained language virtually identical to the federal law, so by his own logic he should have supported it. He didn’t.
You can reach your own conclusions. Mine: Obama did in fact vote against a measure making it illegal to kill or allow a newborn to die if it was delivered alive due to a botched abortion. That’s not voting to legalize infanticide; it was a vote against a measure to make a particular type of infanticide (that does occur) specifically illegal. Personally, I find Obama’s reasoning disingenuous: legislatures often make specific acts illegal that could be covered by existing legislation in order to make a moral and ethical statement. His vote could be interpreted as choosing to protect Roe v. Wade from a (far-fetched) slippery slope demise rather than protect newborns, and I agree with Newt that this was an issue that the news media should have pressed in the 2008 campaign. The vote is troubling, and as the CNN writer suggests, inconsistent with his position as U.S. Senator.
But Barack Obama never voted to legalize infanticide.
[Thanks to Blameblakeart for the tip]