Friday, April 12, 2013 | 16 comments

Socially Acceptable Infanticide: Abortionists Who Oppose the Right to Life

By Connor Boyack

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It should be no surprise that an organization interested in individual liberty and private property is more fundamentally concerned with life. The three are inseparably and inherently connected; a person cannot fully enjoy one without the others.

We are shocked and appalled to read some of the details from the grand jury report of the case against Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a 72 year old doctor who ran two lucrative abortion practices. He is accused of seven counts of first-degree murder, and is standing trial in a courtroom with very little media attention.

The gruesome details contained in that report bring to light years of alleged abuse, late-term abortions, and the killing of babies who were born alive and healthy, contrary to the wishes of their mothers. We will spare our readers the explicit content contained in the report. Suffice it to say that the alleged actions are heinous beyond any sense of human decency. If the accusations are proven accurate in court, then we do not hesitate to consider Gosnell a monster and murderer.

For all the brewing outrage in this case, it should be noted that the issues in play have more application than Gosnell alone. Indeed, the entire abortion system and its cheerleaders are implicated by Gosnell’s abortion scheme.

Consider the following question: if it is morally wrong to kill an infant two minutes after it is born, does doing so two minutes before it is born change anything? Though late term abortions are rare and outlawed in many places, the arguments used by the “pro-choice” side to justify their support of abortion must necessarily justify any pre-birth abortion, regardless of how far into the pregnancy mother and baby are. If it’s a woman’s right to choose whether or not her child lives, then there exists no natural threshold which changes that, other than (for whatever reason) birth.

And yet that threshold is not enough for some. Last year, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a paper whose author carried the abortion arguments to their full conclusion, namely, that a mother’s (supposed) “right to choose” is not diminished by the act of birth. The paper’s abstract highlights this horrendous position:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue 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.

The journal’s editor published a response afterwards, observing that the arguments used in this paper “are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world…” As if that’s supposed to reassure us.

Lest people think that these are fringe ideas held by demonic doctors and random ethicists, more evidence can be offered. Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States of America (and receives significant taxpayer subsidies for its activities). In Florida, a woman named Alisa LaPolt Snow, representing the organization in that state, testified against a bill that would require abortionists to provide medical care to babies who survive attempted abortions. The following interaction occurred between a legislator and Ms. Snow:

Legislator: “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”

Snow: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.”

A minute later she reaffirmed that the decision about whether or not to end the life of an individual (a baby who survived a botched abortion) “should be between the patient and the health-care provider.” Put in plain English, she publicly stated that in the view of abortionists at Planned Parenthood, a mother should be able to kill her child after he or she is born alive.

A radical notion to be sure. But if it’s okay to kill a developing child five months before its birth, then why not three? Or one? And if these pre-birth abortions are somehow morally justified, then why does the simple act of passing through the mother’s birth canal somehow change the circumstances enough to completely reverse the morality of the act? It cannot be held true that a child has no right to life one minute prior to birth, and that suddenly we must protect a human being at all costs who only seconds ago was able to be put to death with little concern or outcry.

Of course, because birth alone does not grant a baby its individual rights, the abortionists are beginning to recognize that their arguments must logically apply to babies who survive a botched abortion, or who are welcomed with open arms by their mother who may change her mind weeks or months later and want to dispose of the dependent she no longer wishes to care for.

While they are correct that birth does not reverse the morality of the act, they are wrong to assert that the act of abortion itself is at all moral. A child has the right to life as much before its birth than it does after, and only in certain circumstances can that right be justifiably violated, just as it is acceptable to end an aggressor’s life in the course of defending your own.

In the end, Americans must come to terms with their culture of death, whether it be drones dropping bombs on innocent people half a world away, militarized police officers killing people over a plant they grew, or mothers turning their wombs into tombs. We cannot have a serious conversation about increasing liberty in our own lives without first demanding, at a very minimum, that the lives of these innocents be protected as much as our own.

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About the Author

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute. He is the author of several books on politics and religion, including the Tuttle Twins series for children.


Touchy issue, people will never agree on this issue because of there different values.  Anyone who has had a child and condones abortions is messed up.  


Sometimes I think of the citizens of the third reich and think, surely *I* would have physically done something if genocide on that scale was happening, even risk my own life.  But here I am and we all are doing nothing to stop the slaughter the of over a million innocents a year.


@JessieAMorris I struggled with this moral standing for a while myself. I've come to a realization that has made it relatively easy for me to draw a line in the abortion debate. As with all of my libertarian stands on issues, I base whether or not abortion is OK or n on property rights first, but rather I base it entirely on agency (this is closely associated to the Non-Aggression Principle). The LDS Church for example has the policy that abortions should not be performed unless in cases of rape or incest. This is because the value of agency trumps the value of life (1Nephi 4:13). A mother's freedom to choose to procreate or not trumps the life of the child. This doesn't mean that late term abortions or infancide could ever be OK. It means that as soon as a decision is made after rape, the abortion must immediately take place or the child will be allowed to live a potentially full life. The legal hair-splitting would take place over whether or not a decision has been made not over right to life. Decisions can be made by inaction and thus reasonable people could agree on an amount of time after the rape that a decision would have to have been made by proactively allowing the child to progress in the womb or by passively allowing the child to remain there. This is also based on the idea that when a woman choose to have sexual intercourse she is deciding to potentially have a child. This also negates the argument that a parent can passively starve a small child without violating that child's rights or the Non-Agression Principle; because it will fly in the face of the decision, already made well before, to have the child and bring the child to adulthood. The decision can be seen as a contract between the mother (and father) and the potential/ eventual child.


In order to defend this position, I do believe that you have to defend at which point things get rights. Why is it okay for us to consume and kill animals or plants? Some argue that consciousness is what makes that okay, in which case I cannot argue that it is immoral to kill an thing that has no consciousness. This makes it okay to kill babies even up to 8 years old, potentially.


As a libertarian, I am still not certain where I stand, however, I do believe that I do not have the moral right to use violence against those who wish to have an abortion. Do I support it or condone it? Not in any way. Does that make it moral for me to point a gun at a person? Most certainly not.



tl;dr It depends on where you argue "rights" come from.


 @dcorton  Choosing to have sexual intercourse is most definitely not deciding to potentially have a child. Having sex, like any other activity, comes with potential results with varying probabilities, like pregnancy. That in no way obligates anyone to donate their body and give up their autonomy in order to sustain the life of another. Driving down the street also comes with a non-zero probability that you will accidentally hit someone with your car and that person will need some type of organ or tissue donation, of which you are the only match. Still doesn't obligate you to give up any part of your body to save that person's life.


And all that is even presupposing that the zygote, embryo, or fetus is actually a person entitled to a right to life. In the earlier stages of pregnancy, when the vast majority of abortions occur, it is most certainly not. Connor suggests that there can be no argument made for an abortion several minutes before birth that cannot also be extended to killing an infant several minutes after birth. Sure, a difficult philosophical and moral question for those who support abortion rights. However, that kind of situation amounts to hundredths of a percent of the abortions that happen in this country, if that. The vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester, with a huge chunk of those being done before 6 weeks. There is absolutely no reasonable argument to be made to support the idea that a several week old embryo is a person. So if there's any moral inconsistency or gaps in logic within the abortion debate, the bulk of it rests with the "pro-life" crowd.


 @JessieAMorris "I do not have the moral right to use violence against those who wish to have an abortion."


Do you have the moral right to use force against somebody who is killing somebody else ever?


If so, why or why not?  You've done nothing to answer Connors question:  "If it is morally wrong to kill an infant two minutes after it is born, does doing so two minutes before it is born change anything?"


Consciousness is a ridiculous standard as that makes it okay for me to off you next time you go to sleep.


 @chrisUT  I can admit that this comes down to the definition of "a person." That might be the better discussion.


In reference to your use of the word "potentially," I went to the Free Dictionary by Farlex where the following definitions of the word "potential" are listed.


1. Capable of being but not yet in existence; latent: a potential problem.

2. Having possibility, capability, or power.


1. The inherent ability or capacity for growth, development, or coming into being.

2. Something possessing the capacity for growth or development."

I included this to show that deciding to act is a decision to have potential consequences, including pregnancy.


I'm not referring to a decision that is always made with full knowledge of its consequences. Decisions are not always (and in reality they are rarely) made with the consequences in mind. Most of the time, we NEVER know all the possible consequences of our actions. Still, pregnancy is an obviously possible, many times likely consequence to sexual intercourse that if ignored is just plain irresponsible (this is not part of this discussion) and wrong.


Of course I agree that sex comes with many potential results with varying probabilities. The decision to have sex though comes with a commitment to live with the consequences of that act, just as any choice does. If it was a shortsighted choice, why should someone else have to suffer because the actor wants to mitigate their consequences? If I want to mitigate my own bad choices by making you suffer, where do you get to mitigate your sufferings as a child, fetus, embryo, or zygote?

*This does hinge on the assumption that children, fetuses, embryos, and zygotes are "persons."*


Moving on, if you make a choice that affects someone's agency or present and/or future choices then, yes, you are obligated by natural law to do what is required to "make it right" including hitting someone with your car.


I disagree with your conclusion if you were negligent in hitting the person with your car. As part of the legal remedy for your negligence you might easily be expected by reasonable people "to give up [a] part of your body to save that person's life." This is the life that you would otherwise be taking in your negligent act, right? If there were a family member that was a better match, you would easily be expected to pay for the transplant and any pain, suffering, and loss suffered because of your negligent act.

. . .

My questions is, how would anyone know you were a "match"? Maybe you naively volunteered? Maybe the private court you went to required the testing of your potential match? It's an interesting idea.

. . .

If the negligence belonged to the person that was hit, the story would be dramatically different and therefore would not apply.

Another example: if someone was to shoot a gun into the air for effect (with no intent to injure anyone) and someone was injured by the bullet, the shooter would be required to provide the injured with the care needed to return them to health. The probability is tiny, but this doesn't matter. Your action took away the present and/or future choices of another.


It is negligence for a woman (and/or a man) to not consider how her (and/or his) actions could take away another person's present and/or future choices. This is wrong. Common law has shown the obvious ethical standard of the natural law in this way.


The following use of the term "zygote" gives no reason to use embryo, fetus or child afterward.

If a zygote is a person, so are the rest. I feel that there are plenty of reasonable arguments that support the idea that an "immediately existing zygote" is a person as much as you are? You just prefer to base your judgment on looks, abilities, and (maybe) maturity. Yours is the same argument that someone that stops feeding their 95 year old grandmother because she can't talk, feed herself, use the bathroom on her own, and/or looks much less like the average person than those of us who can do the above list of things. This doesn't make her less of a person (just like the zygote). The senior in this example couldn't even be considered a "potential person" in the same way a zygote could because there is no chance for growth, development, etc. into a the person defined as an entity that looks like the average human and can talk, feed itself, and use the bathroom on its own.If a person has to make decisions, then the caretaker of the senior (and zygote) makes the decisions for that person since at the time the senior (and zygote) cannot. The adult child can easily be held in abusive negligence (there's that word again) for not feeding their senior parent. It's no wonder why.


So then I ask, in your opinion, what makes "a person" or at the very least "a person with rights"?


The reason I began discussing all of this was, because if agreed to, it takes away any reason to argue over whether or not one can kill a newborn or an embryo at all.


 @jpv No, but I never claimed that it was morally wrong to kill a baby two minutes after its born.


Yes, I do have the moral right to defend myself or others from harm. However, what I'm saying, is that I'm not sure that babies *are* people. What makes them have rights? They have no ability to fend for themselves, etc. They are literally incapable of living on their own. Defend your case that babies are humans.


While you're at it, are mentally retarded humans people as well? Do they also have rights?


Regarding consciousness, if it isn't that, then where is it that property rights come from? And the use of force in self defense? Where do those come from?


Not saying I agree with any of this, but I do wish for others to defend their position and perhaps convince me one way or another.


 @chrisUT (cont.)


I feel I have made it clear that if you don't choose to have sex (rape or incest) that you should be able to choose to end the pregnancy. I'm on your side here.


If we compare making the decision to become pregnant to buying a car, when you buy a car and then find that you don't want to finish paying for it or feel it's best if you don't continue owning it, you might be able to cover it with a combustible material and end it's existence, but you can also resell it to someone else. The difference in the comparison is pregnancy entails a life (or potential life) that now has potential choices and the responsibility to create that life is much greater than purchasing a car that has no ability to choose on it's own (or at all).


If your assessment that the possible poor lives of the potential children of those that get pregnant and then have abortions is correct, then why would you not feel justified in going downtown to where the local homeless camp is and lighting them up. Their lives are better not lived than lived poorly according to your assessment. That is wrong too.


 @chrisUT Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Part of the delay was the pondering that needed to be done on it and part was my schedule becoming increasingly busy this time of year. I appreciate your thoughts concerning this. I do believe that this is important, no matter what conclusion we come to. I am grateful for a discussion with someone that has put a lot of thought into the subject even if you have differing feelings/beliefs.I define natural law similar to the Mises wiki: "Natural law is a view that there exists an absolute and eternal standard of value.


I don't know if this is possible for me to prove. Natural rights that come from natural law include the right to self preservation, to own property, and to choose to do with that property what you like as long as you do not inhibit someone else to do the same. Simply put they are Life, Property, and Liberty. That's it.


Self ownership or ownership of our body is the foremost property we own. The next property we can own is the labor we perform with our body as long as we adhere to the second property right of doing what we like with our bodies as long as we do not inhibit someone else to have the same freedom. This includes the physical property we create from the labor we perform (e.g. the boat your carve out of the log is yours unless you contracted with someone to sell that upon creation and then you own what you traded for the canoe that you created).


I am a super-active LDS. This discussion, though, asks for more than religious direction and needs a bit of actual empirical evidence. An example of natural rights found in "nature" was given in an example that David Friedman (he does not claim to believe in natural rights) used in a lecture. He said that an animal will come to a piece of land that is basically uninhabited by other animals. A switch of some kind is flipped in the animal's mind and when other animals cross the boundary set by the original animal, the original animal becomes defensively violent, sometimes to the death over that territory.


I'm not sure it is possible for anyone to prove that natural laws exist, but the alternative to the natural right of private property is where everyone owns the property communally. This means that those that own it need to be asked permission to use it. Each person would have to ask permission for every breath (assuming a communal ownership of each person's body). There wasn't a implicit contract that discussed this use of each person's body and therefore we are all stealing use of other's property or that is a silly idea.


In your more specific hypothetical situation, you owe them nothing. You would not be obligated to donate something that is your property (in this case your body part) that you did not tortuously obligate yourself to give them.


So it sounds like I agree with you about not having to give up your bodily autonomy. The only reason the person in the original (not as specific) hypothetical situation had to do this was because they gave it up of their own free will based on their negligence in not acting with a reasonable amount of responsibility.


I gave you a reasonable argument to support the idea that an "immediately existing zygote" is a person in my last response, but I admit that I don't have any more handy. I haven't had anytime to research any more and this response should've been posted ages ago already. My bad.


So let's assume I'm wrong. There are no more reasonable arguments (logical arguments) to support the idea that an immediately existing zygote is a person. I feel one is enough. If it's not enough for you, then that's that for now. If I find anything else, I'll let you know.


"[C]onsider that if the fertilized egg is destroyed, there IS no potential or future person." That's like saying that if you destroy the child and his body, there is no child or his future adult. It gives us no rational excuse for abortion. That's for sure.


The difference between not having sex and killing a zygote is that in the first situation (not having sex) you have made a choice to not cause a potential person to ever exist. In killing the zygote you are trying to destroy the consequences of your actions. This is wrong if it takes away another person's freedom to choose. This is the same argument for not killing another fully adult person today. If you do kill that fully adult person, you are taking away any the chance for that fully adult person's ability to be free to choose in the future.


Part of making a choice is dealing with the consequences. It is not OK to deal with those consequences by taking someone else's future choices away, even if the choice we are mitigating consequences of is to have made a potential adult.


Something that becomes apparent to me as we discuss this is the need to establish the difference there is between "a zygote" and "a sperm cell and an egg cell that are separate" (hereafter "the two"). We can't say that a zygote is the same as the two - anymore than we can say that two people fighting on the street is the same as two people (that detest each other) passing by one another on that same street. The difference is a choice was made by both to enter into a different course of action. That mutual choice in that particular circumstance makes all the difference.


I'm not sure exactly how to define a "person" either.


You say, "[o]f course, humans are at the very top of that list." By "human," I have to assume you are referring to -"humans" meaning "homo sapiens"- and -"not human" meaning "not homo sapiens"-? Correct me if I am wrong. A zygote has the DNA to qualify himself as a human. Maybe you meant "adult human." And if that was the case, when do human's become adults? When are they beyond adulthood (i.e. senior citizens, or "mentally unaware" adults)?


I agree that the assignment of rights is difficult to distinguish from one individual life form to another.


Again the zygote's DNA is the same as an adult's.


The human and potential adult is being harmed.


If this is true then shouldn't we default at "never" killing a possible potential adult human? I don't agree, but if I believed that  no one  can " point to a definitive developmental point in time where a second ago there was a non-person and now there is a person. [And that life] isn't that simple; most things are a continuum."


The murders like in this Texas case will stretch the line of birth to include "an umbilical cord connection means that birth has completed" or any other arbitrary ridiculousness to get rid of the consequences of their actions. That isn't OK either.


When you say, "Many people make decisions (say, choosing to text while driving) that may or may not have a bad outcome, but they aren't making a commitment to deal with a bad outcome. Ultimately if that outcome arises they may be forced to deal with it," you are referring to living with the consequences of my actions AND others' bad choices combined with my actions. That is not the same thing as living with the consequences of my actions. Your rationalization would allow you to get away with anything without held responsible for your actions. Others will always react to your actions. The is a world filled with immature reactionary people.



Thanks for your thoughtful response. A couple questions for you. How do you define "natural law"? And how can you prove that it's true, i.e. is the code of ethics that we ought to follow?


I should have been more clear with my example of hitting someone with your car. In my hypothetical scenario, neither person is negligent. You didn't do anything negligent by driving (speeding, running red lights, etc) and the other person didn't do anything negligent either (like running out into the road). There are plenty of situations in which this could be the case. Maybe they were stung by a bee in a crosswalk and stumbled, maybe a tree fell on a wire somewhere and caused a traffic light to malfunction, maybe someone was riding a bike safely on the side of the road and suddenly got a flat tire and swerved into traffic. Regardless, you were doing a normal, everyday activity, and now someone will die without your bodily donation, through neither fault of your own. It's a hypothetical thought experiment, so it's really not relevant how it's known that you are the only match (whether you were tested or whatever). My argument is that no person is required to donate their body to sustain someone else's life. To be forced to give up your bodily autonomy is surely one of the greatest infringements of liberty. No one has the right to demand your body to save their life, even if they are an innocent party. *Especially* when doing so will certainly result in permanent changes to your body as well as an enormous amount of pain, discomfort, and inconvenience, likely result in a myriad of health issues, and possibly cause permanent health problems, disfigurement, and even death.


You say there are plenty of reasonable arguments to support the idea that an "immediately existing zygote", or a fertilized egg, is a person. I wonder if you could mention what some of those arguments would be. You may find it interesting that I used to be wholeheartedly against abortion. I spent much time and energy arguing and working in opposition to it. My opposition slowly ended, as I realized that I could NOT justify any reason why harming a zygote or fertilized egg could possibly be immoral. There are arguments made about "potential" and "future persons". But those arguments cannot hold water when you consider that if the fertilized egg is destroyed, there IS no potential or future person. No more than you are harming "potential persons" by refraining from having sex.


Honestly, I cannot define exactly for you what a "person" is. I believe there are categories of beings to which we assign varying degrees of rights, depending on qualities of those beings. Of course, humans are at the very top of that list. But think on the fact that we also think that even lower animals, which we do not believe have even close to the amount of rights we do, still have some. I believe a dog has more rights than an ant, and a chimp more rights than a dog. I think most animals have a right not to be tortured. What it is that makes us think that a being has some rights? Things like ability to feel pain, ability to reason and think, self-awareness, ability to act as a moral agent, etc. Of course, humans as a group exhibit all of these qualities. This is a totally different discussion, but for various reasons we assign pretty much the same rights to all humans, regardless of their specific abilities at the time (e.g. your example of the grandmother, or a mentally retarded individual, etc). So even though a 1-year-old certainly can't make moral decisions, we still assign them the same rights as an adult person.


So you will say -- of course, so even though a zygote/embryo/fetus doesn't exhibit all the qualities that we think are characteristic of a "person", we cannot discriminate against them based on their current state! But a zygote doesn't exhibit ANY of the properties of a person, nor will it ever if its growth is stopped. So who exactly is being harmed? I can't point to a definitive developmental point in time where a second ago there was a non-person and now there is a person. Life isn't that simple; most things are a continuum. We have plenty of arbitrary numbers that society works off of in everyday life (speed limits, age restrictions, etc). Is there any reason to think that a person one minute before their 18th birthday is substantially different than one minute afterwards. Of course not. So no, I can't point to "6 months and 3 weeks" or any other point within pregnancy in which a fetus "becomes" a person. But as a fetus grows and develops, it exhibits a stronger moral claim on us -- an 8-month fetus certainly has more rights than an 8-week embryo to say, be free from unnecessary pain. But we have to draw a line somewhere, and for the bodily autonomy reasons stated above, that line needs to be at birth.


And to respond to some of your earlier comments:

"The decision to have sex though comes with a commitment to live with the consequences of that act, just as any choice does."


I don't think I'd agree with your idea that any decision "comes with a commitment" to live with the consequences. Maybe you mean that it *should* come with a commitment? Many people make decisions (say, choosing to text while driving) that may or may not have a bad outcome, but they aren't making a commitment to deal with a bad outcome. Ultimately if that outcome arises they may be forced to deal with it. But no one thinks "by typing this text I'm committing to accept the consequences of possibly causing a crash". Anyway, maybe that's just a minor semantic thing. But I need to point out something associated with that statement and others around it. You'd be surprised how often pregnancy is not even close to an "obvious consequence" of having sex. Education, socio-economic status, and a host of other factors all play a role in how informed people are about the possibilities resulting from sex. (Check out for just one example). Not to mention the not uncommon situations in which the pregnant individual was not a willing participant, whether that be from outright coercion or force -- i.e. rape, or through social or emotional pressure (which may amount to rape). How can you say to that person that she needs to "accept the consequences"?


Incidentally, I'm not sure why continuing a pregnancy to term, versus ending it, is considered to be "taking responsibility". In many situations, continuing the pregnancy and raising the child can result in some of the following: losing one's job, dropping out of school, relationship problems with one's partner, falling into poverty, not being able to provide for existing children, risking health problems, having to go on public assistance, etc. With such consequences, it seems having an abortion would be far more responsible.