Kermit Gosnell has been accused of "snipping" the spinal cords of babies born alive in his Philadelphia abortion clinic. Is such behavior crazy, or does it simply follow the logic of an industry that believes the mother's choice overrides any right to protection that the baby has?
Now I'm not saying Gosnell, if found guilty, shouldn't be held accountable for the eight murders he is charged with. But I am suggesting that a certain set of presumptions has been created by our public policies on abortion and the arguments made to justify these policies. If we are horrified by what happened at Gosnell's clinic, we have to examine what that connection might be.
Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute show that, in the United States, about 18,000 abortions occur annually - and legally - at 21 weeks of pregnancy and beyond. These are babies the size of a large banana.
One of the most memorable conversations I ever had was with Dr. Martin Haskell of Ohio, who performs abortions in the latest stages of pregnancy. I asked how he justified doing such a thing. "I don't know when the child receives a soul," he said.
Dr. James McMahon, a late-term abortionist, said in an interview with American Medical News: "After 20 weeks, where it frankly is a child to me, I really agonize over it. ... On the other hand, I have another position, which I think is superior in the hierarchy of questions, and that is: 'Who owns the child?' It's got to be the mother."
Notice the lack of an argument here denying that these children are living human babies. Instead, we're hearing that these are babies who do not deserve the protection of the law. This dichotomy starts with Roe v. Wade. On the one hand, the Supreme Court ruling states, "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." But it also states, "The word person, as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn."
Thus, some humans don't have to be considered persons. The difficulty, of course, is drawing a clear line and having a clear rationale for that line. However, we have all kinds of evidence of how dangerously flexible that line can be.
Florida is working to pass a bill that would protect babies born after a failed abortion attempt. We already have this law on the federal level - the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. During a March hearing on the Florida bill, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist named Alisa LaPolt Snow was asked: "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?"
She responded, "We believe that any decision that's made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician."
In February 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva titled, "After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" The authors state, "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."
As the authors admit, the assertion is not new. The controversial ethicist Peter Singer said long ago: "The location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference" and, to be consistent, there are "only two possibilities," namely, "oppose abortion, or allow infanticide."
In the last decade, federal legislation has attempted to put the brakes on the endorsement of infanticide. The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act was signed into law in 2002, and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was enacted the next year. The ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.
But such laws are not sufficient to resolve the dangerous tension created by allowing children to be killed at certain stages of their development for rationales that don't apply at later stages.