After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?


One of the problems with our western society is that every time we make a decision about something, subsequent generations keep pushing the envelope. It used to be only prostitutes who wore makeup to mark themselves as prostitutes. Now we have a society where singers dress like hookers and so do 20-year-old girls. Quite seriously, I don’t know how to tell the difference between a hooker and a fashionable young thing these days.

If someone had told the prostitutes back then that it was likely their use of makeup would eventually be embraced by women all over the world, and eventually young women would also wear much more revealing clothing than prostitutes, they would not have believed it.

Subjects such as abortion, when debated before being made into law, involved  the slippery slope argument. If we allow it in the early weeks they argued, it will get pushed out eventually to months. Eventually babies at full term will be aborted. Supporters of abortion at the time pooh-poohed the slippery slope argument. That will never happen they said; this is about women’s rights and to stop backstreet abortions that often kill women. It will never lead to abortions at full term; that’s crazy talk.

Today I read an article that showed that both the pro-abortionists and the pro-lifers were wrong. The slippery slope is more slippery than either of them could ever have imagined in their wildest dreams.

picture of baby

This baby is only a potential person according Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article’s authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.

The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.

They argued: “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”. They explained: “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.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

The authors therefore concluded 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”.

They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that “only the 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing.

Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.

“To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.

They have a valid point there. Once we said it was okay to kill an innocent human being, the only thing stopping us from killing whoever we wanted to was arbitrary man-made rules. When abortion first became legal if a woman was one day pregnant more than the arbitrary rule allowed for abortion she couldn’t have one.

They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.

…Defending the decision to publish in a British Medical Journal blog, Prof Savulescu, said that arguments in favour of killing newborns were “largely not new”.

What Minerva and Giubilini did was apply these arguments “in consideration of maternal and family interests”.

While accepting that many people would disagree with their arguments, he wrote: “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he added: “This “debate” has been an example of “witch ethics” – a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”

This from a guy who is morally comfortable with infanticide. He thinks the sort of society we should live in is one where we kill newborn babies. The only person here with dangerous human tendencies that makes me disgusted to live in this society is him.

He said the journal would consider publishing an article positing that, if there was no moral difference between abortion and killing newborns, then abortion too should be illegal.

Dr Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St Mary’s University College, said: “If a mother does smother her child with a blanket, we say ‘it’s doesn’t matter, she can get another one,’ is that what we want to happen?

“What these young colleagues are spelling out is what we would be the inevitable end point of a road that ethical philosophers in the States and Australia have all been treading for a long time and there is certainly nothing new.”

Referring to the term “after-birth abortion”, Dr Stammers added: “This is just verbal manipulation that is not philosophy. I might refer to abortion henceforth as antenatal infanticide.”

In another few decades will we be looking at after-birth abortion of five-year-olds? I know it sounds extreme and unlikely but in the 1960s they never could have imagined that we would be talking about killing newborn babies and talking about them as “potential persons”.


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  • Justme

    Technically we are already there. Can it not be said that assisted suicide is coming at it from the other end?

  • phronesis

    I thought the JME paper was a brilliant article in a satirical / reductio ad absurdum kind of way. I was actually surprised to discover that the authors hadn’t written it with that intention.

    I do agree with the authors that there is nothing morally interesting about being born. Why is it OK for a woman to drink a bottle of vodka the day before giving berth but not OK to share that bottle of vodka with the baby a day after giving birth? From the perspective of the child it is the same thing. Sure in the first case the mothers choices are limited by what’s in the best interests of the child but then that is true of all parents, pretty much all the time.

    • Seriously?

      The anti-abortion crowd have rounded in on these people like they are the devil, when it might be argued that their work actually bolsters the anti-abortion stance for much the reasons you point out.

      Despite that, they have been in need of police protection because of death treats from “pro-lifers”… ironic much.

      • spanishbride

        I understand that their reasoning in some ways supports a pro life view as it shows obvious flaws in a pro-abortion argument.However when I took Social and Moral philosophy at Waikato University I discovered that using reasoning to prove abortion kills a human being( not a cluster of cells belonging to the mother) did not win the argument.

        I debated pro-abortionists who did not give a flying fig about the reality of the child’s humanity and personhood. They saw it like the following analogy. A baby has its hand on the trigger of a rifle aimed at the mother. To save her life or to prevent harm to herself she must kill the baby. They acknowledged that the baby was innocent but saw it as self defence from a life that the Mother did not want.

        Proving that the baby is a person does not prove that abortion is wrong. Pro-abortionists put the Mother’s right to not continue with the pregnancy above the right to life of the child. They see the child as a slave that is the property of the mother to dispose of as she sees fit.They see it as part of her body because it relies on her body for food and shelter ( a tenant in other words )

        • kereru

          Excellent analogy SB. An unwanted tenant can always be evicted.

        • Seriously?

          It seems to me that both absolutes are problematic. I have no stomach for late term abortions at will. Likewise I think it ought to be a crime for a woman to gets drunk knowing she is pregnant (endangerment of the would be child).

          Having said that, I have no time for the other extreme that expects a woman to carry a baby from early term that is the result of a rape.

          For me the hard bit is where in between we should draw the legal line, and how to draw it. And I mean the legal line, others can be more restrictive if their personal morals are that way, but no one can be more permissive.

          Papers like the one from these philosophers may have an interest around the margins, and I think its usefulness in that debate is being complete misunderstood, but for me they don’t get near to the interesting question in the middle.

          • kereru

            ‘Having said that, I have no time for the other extreme that expects a woman to carry a baby from early term that is the result of a rape.’

            I understand that rape victims are routinely offered the morning-after pill which would cause a miscarriage.

          • Keyser Soze

            The fact that it is so hard to draw that legal line in the middle means that we really shouldn’t try to do so – the law should enable medical practice then stay out of what is a health issue between a woman and her doctors. Doctors on the whole are extremely smart, intelligent and ethical individuals who we trust with our lives. Let’s give them some guidelines and trust them to do their jobs.

        • phronesis

          As you’ve probably already concluded yourself SB, Waikato makes a mockery of the title of University. I’m sure you pointed out that there are plenty of adults in this country that are reliant on others for their food and shelter…

          • spanishbride

            Waikato University taught me to regurgitate what my Lecturer said if I wanted to pass the course. I went there expecting a bastion of free speech and respect for both sides of the argument. I found instead lecturers and tutors who wanted me to think the way they did. One actually told us to try drugs ( I am not kidding )

  • oldmanNZ

    humanity is kind of screwed up. At one end we have Islam were women cannot even show skin, and the other end, being topless is quite normal.

    Is Mylie a prostitute? well a prostitue sell its body for money. basically that is what Mylie doing, using sex appeal to sell more records, as with Madonna and the rest so I cannot see the different, only she advertise it more openly.
    Like doing a playboy spread for money.
    If you buy it, you support it.

    with assisted suicide for the terminally ill, that person is making the decision (weather mentally capable to do that is another matter)

    Then a child born with severe defects, someone is making a decision.
    The infant may survive and grow up ok, some may not.

    If it was a wild animal, nature decides. Hence, are we playing god in who decides who lives? (in some religion yes, like Islam who kill people who do not obey some guidelines)

    Man created God, now man is playing God.

    • kereru

      Man created a god in his own image, so ‘playing god’ is the natural outcome. Cloning animals could lead to cloning babies while aborting others? Why not? It’s a free world. There are no ethical or moral rules to bother about.
      This man-made god can shape-shift to represent any formerly abhorrent viewpoint thus justifying it – in the interests of science of course. Human beings have a need to ‘worship’ (give worth to) something or someone, be it science, sport, fame, money – or themselves.

  • Hesaidwhat?

    Am I the only one who felt a little sick on reading this guys argument?
    However if we take his statement and expand it further ““We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence”. By that definition a whole lot of beneficiaries in this country probably don’t qualify. Do we round them up for after birth abortions too? Not much of a step to get to Third Reich or ISIS philosophies is it?

  • Dan

    As stated, the authors do not qualify who can be aborted port-natally. Neither do they fix a period on this. Taking SBs point about 5 year olds, I guess the argument would be that once a child started school or kindy, then it would be possible to determine if the child is a good learner and therefore an asset to society or a potential burden on society or the family. It sounds implausible now, but so did the idea of post natal infanticide. Surely they would have exterminated Einstein given the chance, or Hawking, Keller, Lincoln and wife, Turing, Franklin, Ford, Newton, Beethoven, Mozart, Beckham.

    Seems that Moloch still needs satiating.

  • Mrs_R

    So their ‘well reasoned argument’ is that a fetus or new born human is not entitled to a ‘moral right of life’ because they are not capable of attributing to their own existence a basic value that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to ‘her’. Interesting that they have genderized this hypothetical throw-away baby as female, as if this perhaps made it more palatable. I wonder at what age do they perceive the murder of a child as being unacceptable? Does a 5 year old give value to their own existence? Or do they in fact believe that any age is acceptable if a human is mentally incapable of rationalizing the value of their existence. Interesting these guys have got themselves all upset at the thought that someone might want to end their existence (death threats), yet they fail to see that a child has just as much right to life, (and arguably has more value), than these two misguided, evil individuals. Also interesting they refer to anyone wishing them harm as ‘fanatics’, yet they view their desire to kill babies as nothing more than a ‘well reasoned argument’. Delusional and evil.

  • KatB

    Surely if you’re of the opinion it’s a woman’s body and her choice, then that choice must extend right up to 40 weeks. If you believe it’s her body, her right to chose, then it must be her right to abort right up to 40 weeks. Now to go beyond the womb, why stop at birth? Why not up to 6 weeks? Six months? Those first few months can be pretty tough, especially your first child, when you start to realise what it’s really all about. People don’t even realise that abortion on demand is still illegal in NZ. Of course you could be forgiven for not realising that, as most of our abortions are granted purely on demand. Yes it is a very slippery slope, “oh but it will never happen”, it’s what we’re always told. Just as we were told initially that abortion will only be for the extreme cases.

  • Seriously?

    The authors have tried to explain their purely theoretical work:

    If anything, the work has an anti-abortion implication. Plainly we would never have “abortions” for new-born babies. So if the justification for abortions is that the fetus is not a “person” at that point, then maybe that is not a valid justification.

    If the anti-abortionists cannot understand the difference between an academic works on ethic and a suggestion to action then they ought to stick to reading the bible.

    • Keyser Soze

      “If the anti-abortionists cannot understand the difference between an academic works on ethic and a suggestion to action then they ought to stick to reading the bible.” SLAP!

      It never ceases to amaze me that religious types generally ridicule science when they clearly don’t understand it… unless of course its medical science that’s going to save their lives or in this case is mistakenly interpreted as supporting their ’cause’.

      • Seriously?

        To be fair, it is not just the religious types.

        It is shameful to say be over the past 40 years or so we have shown academia in general but science in particular a lack of respect. The internet has made that worse. It lets every Tom Dick and Heather with access to google think that are an expert in everything, be it research of ethics, GMOs, vaccination, fluoridation… the list is long and dare I say it probably includes anthropocentric climate change.

        It is like we are determined to devolve. As if you cannot have a worthwhile opinion unless you have over 40,000 Facebook followers.

        Thank goodness that people like Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson are starting to turn that around.

  • Usaywot

    Slippery slopes, eh? What about euthanasia then? Another slippery slope, I reckon.

    • spanishbride

      Yes I agree. As much as I want the right to end my life I know that once we give doctors the power to end it, eventually it will slide into people killing off inconvenient old people.

  • cows4me

    I guess these are similar ethics Islamic radicals could claim when killing infidels. If the infidel is seen as not an “actual person” then it’s all on. If we in the west can justify the killing of an innocence child then what right do we have to claim Islam is barbaric, with these evil laws we create rods for our own backs and certainly can’t claim some moral high ground when it comes to the sanctity of human life.

    • BR

      Yes. There is very little difference to the argument that Hitler used to justify the extermination of the Jews.


    • kereru

      If a foetus can be described as a ‘product of conception’ then it follows that a full term baby can be described is a potential person.

      As Dr Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St Mary’s University College, said: “This is just verbal manipulation that is not philosophy. I might refer to abortion henceforth as antenatal infanticide.”

      • Seriously?

        If their work has any relevance to the abortion debate, I thought that the quote from Stammers embraces it (perhaps unintentionally): plainly it is morally wrong to kill a healthy newborn baby, but what is the real difference between a newborn and a late term pregnancy? The work suggests there is no difference of moment, that it may just be verbal manipulation. If so why is killing a healthy newborn is morally wrong, and late term abortion morally okay?

        It seems to me to be an argument that the ant-abortion crowd should embrace rather than send the philosophers death threats.

  • metalnwood

    Personally I think the abortion posts go to show how no one is immune from holding a position that they might not like the other side of the argument holding.

    I am not pro-abortion. I don’t want people running around having abortion parties and having abortions on a whim but I support the right of women to have them. The term pro-abortionist could be viewed as the kind of term you give the other side to make them seem bad, adding a connotation. If that is not true then why is it referred to as pro choice otherwise? So there is one tactic we employ we dont like others doing.

    We loathe how the left turn our academic institutions in to one where you cannot have debate for fear of offending people yet chide the authors for having the debate and the publisher for publishing something while they say they take no moral view when publishing an article like this.

    I wouldnt like so see what they say happen and I think like other articles before it, it is an academic/hypothetical paper. Morals do change though, they are not what they have been in the past and no doubt will be different in the future. Religious or not, everyones morals have changed over time and while I dont support that paper I also don’t support any argument that says we can’t allow A because Z might then happen.

    Edit, I have to add that as has been pointed out, there are no real christian terrorists like islam. There is no denying there are islam terrorists. There is no denying there are a lot of ferrel pro-lifers out there. There are not on the pro-choice side. There is very much a parallel there.

    • spanishbride

      Fair point but at least I call them pro-abortion not anti-life which is the opposite of what we call ourselves :) They call us anti-abortion not pro-life yet we have never called them the Pro-death or Anti-life movement to my knowledge. Then again I haven’t been called Anti-choice either :)

  • Shane Ponting