Post-Birth Abortions? Who Are We Kidding?

Mark Beuving —  April 9, 2012

The Journal of Medical Ethics recently published an article advocating “post-birth abortions.” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, who wrote the article, argue that there are many cases where women have abortions because having a child would be physically, psychologically, or economically difficult for them. But what if these hardships are not realized until after the baby is born? What if the child’s father leaves, for example, or the child is born with an unforeseen disability? Should the mother have to bear the burden of raising a child in non-ideal circumstances? Or what if the financial and organizational burden of caring for the child falls to the state?

Though Giubilini and Minerva acknowledge that people with severe disabilities are often “reported to be happy,” they argue:

“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. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified an abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.” (emphasis original)

Medicine is one of those front lines where the specific definition of key words such as “person,” “fetus,” “justified,” “burden” and so on have huge implications. For example, why call the active murder of a baby (some advocate killing children up to a year old) “post-birth abortion”? Giubilini and Minerva explain:

“In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we 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 (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) 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.”

There is much here that should concern us as Christians. Rather than offering my own thoughts on this, I will share some insights that I gleaned from reading Francis Schaeffer’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (co-authored by C. Everett Koop, M.D.). Schaeffer wrote this book in 1979 to call attention to the issues at stake in the growing popularity of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Relevant as his words were in his day, they proved to be prophet of our time as well.

Though many were shocked that the Journal of Medical Ethics would publish such an article, this is merely the logical conclusion of people operating within a Darwinian mentality. If survival of the fittest really is the driving force behind life, then humanity has no inherent value. What value he has must be derived from his ability to survive. And if a young child stands in the way of another evolutionary being (i.e., a mother) of surviving in the way she wants to, why shouldn’t she practice survival of the fittest with her infant?

As soon as we leave behind an absolute standard of right and wrong, the inherent value of human life gets reworked, even discarded. We are left only with prevailing notions of what humanity is and ought to be. Looking at the push for abortion in the late 70s, Schaeffer says, “It all started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.”

He insightfully explains the degenerating logic that unfolds once we abandon an absolute standard of morality:

“At first we hear much talk of compassion for the unwanted. The discussion moves on to ‘rights,’ then to ‘my’ rights and soon to pure ‘economics.’ The discussion of life must be brought back to where it belongs—not to emotional, extreme examples, not to selfish questions of rights, not to expedience, and certainly not to economics. The matter should be discussed in terms of right and wrong.”

With regard to the use of language in these types of debates, do we really think we’re kidding anyone by calling the murder of young children “post-birth abortions”? Does the softened title make the act itself any less reprehensible? Yet this simple decision to not call it “baby-slaughtering” will likely go a long way towards its being perceived in a more understandable light. Schaeffer warned: “Language has power. The language we use actually forms the concepts we have and the results these concepts produce.”

I will explore some of the issues presented in Giubilini and Minvera’s article in the next two posts as well. But before I close this post, Schaeffer gives us another warning that we should take to heart:

“One wonders what the chances are for someone who becomes a burden in a society that practices the concept of the survival of the fittest and has begun this practice by starting to eliminate its children.”

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.
  • Michelle Foreman

    Mark,

    Great article Mark, one I wish never had to be written. That is really really scary. I just recently heard a quote from the man leading my bible study to remember, for this very reason, that no matter who you meet in life, you are never meeting a mere mortal. Each person is an eternal soul. If we think of each person we meet like this, it might just change how we speak to them and hopefully remind us to share our faith with more zeal. We miss you all down there, keep the articles coming! :)

  • Justin

    I remember reading about this a few months ago when it started popping up on news sites. I still wonder if the authors were just trying for shock value, to bring attention to the hypocrisy of abortion. I mean, if you defend the act of traditional abortion, why SHOULDN’T we allow it after birth? Or hey, how about up to age 3 or 4? After all, there are a number of emotional/psychological disorders that can’t be identified until a child is a few years old. Their logic is clear to me. That baby’s life (or fetus – remember it’s not a person yet) is not it’s own, as long as it is still dependent on something else for life (it’s mother in the womb, parents after birth, possibly the government/public later on in life). Since it is the caregiver’s responsibility to keep the fetus alive, then the caregiver has the right to part with that responsibility if they so choose, based on how much of a burden it will be on them. Or, more specifically, how much of a burden that life has the POTENTIAL to be. Since it’s impossible to know what effect that baby WILL have on society, we have to base it on what COULD happen.

    I really, really hope the authors were not seriously advocating this practice but I fear that I am wrong.

  • David S.

    This is a concept that has no room within the social Darwinism paradigm. We must only state the tenants and propositions of ‘survival of the fittest’ and social Darwinism ways of living out our lives to break down this particular way of thinking (post-birth abortion). If at our core we desire to be at the ‘top of the food chain’ (as they say); to be the fittest; to be the best, strongest, smartest and most ‘evolutionized’ and that this truth is met with a strong desire to procreate; to continue on our genes for generations to come (which are the most evolved and/or optimized for life in the current atmosphere) then we cannot ever feel the need to destroy our genes simply because carrying the baby through life would be “difficult”. Social Darwinism (and Darwinism as a whole), which I believe to be an incorrect way of seeing human life, *can* be used to see rape as a proper way of continuing a line and gene, but to use it to say that children can be killed simply because “having a child would be physically, psychologically, or economically difficult for them.” is, simply put, stupid. even within *their* own worldview and *especially* within the only TRUE worldview as well: a Biblical one. A worldview that can prove both the ‘need’ for rape *and* the ‘need’ for abortion (for the same reasons) is talking out of an unrealistic and blind view of real human interaction; they’re speaking without the illumination of how humans feel and perceive life.

  • Candis

    Pretty sure this article has been pulled from their site.

    • Mark Beuving

      Candis, as of this evening (April 9, 10pm), the article is still posted on their site (http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/recent). It’s listed under the heading “2 March 2012.” They also have a few articles linked from their home page (http://jme.bmj.com/) defending their decision to post the article. Understandably, the article itself and their decision to post it have been highly controversial in many circles.

  • Yvonne Wilber

    The article is here