In February I presented a paper at an ethics conference in which I critiqued a Journal of Medical Ethics article that defended infanticide. The thesis of the article is that so-called “’after-birth abortion’” (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” Upon its on-line publication a year ago, the article generated so much controversy that it was temporarily taken off-line. The authors and editors had apparently underestimated the severity of outrage that a serious defense of infanticide would generate.
However, the authors of the article, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, are far from the first moral philosophers to defend infanticide. In recent decades the practice has been advocated by such prominent scholars as Mary Ann Warren and Peter Singer. And in ancient Greece Plato notoriously defended the practice in his classic work The Republic.
However, it is one thing for a practice to be embraced by a small minority of scholars. It is quite another for it to be accepted by the most prominent reproductive health organization in the country. In a recent hearing in the Florida state legislature, a Planned Parenthood official, Alisa LaPolt Snow, essentially defended the right of abortion providers to kill newborn babies—in particular, those which are born alive after a failed abortion. Snow was pummeled with questions from several legislators, inviting her to acknowledge that such newborn babies have a right to life. But Snow coolly demurred, insisting that “any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.” Of course, “any decision” would include the decision to kill the baby. You can see an excerpt of the discussion here. As you watch, bear in mind that Planned Parenthood is an organization that our tax dollars support.
This is a vivid and disturbing example of how yesterday’s most implausible academic theories become today’s horrific practices. But given the demise in our culture of a Judeo-Christian ethic and its core notion of the sanctity of human life (as opposed to a quality of life ethic), we shouldn’t be surprised. Ideas have consequences. And when a society reject an idea that is crucial to the preservation of basic morality, extreme evil will follow. Infanticide is such an evil.