Topic: Professions & Institutions

A Messy Abortion, or Something Else?

The ethics debate over abortion has been stunted and warped by the distraction of the Roy v. Wade decision, which turns the argument toward law, rights and public policy rather than where it belongs: when is the life of unborn child, if ever, worthy of the same respect as the life of the mother? Should the power of the mother over her unborn child be limited, conditional, subject to balancing, or absolute? Or is any power, other than nurturing care, an abuse of power?

Finally, does the government’s permitting unrestricted access to abortion procedures undermine the culture’s reverence and respect for life generally?

A horrific botched abortion in Florida only provides insight into the last question, but may spark a genuine examination of the others. For in this “abortion,” the baby was born alive. But those running the abortion clinic apparently regarded this as just a technicality. And based on the reaction of some people to the incident, maybe it was.

Under the law, the mother, an 18 year-old girl, did nothing wrong except to choose the abortion clinic equivalent of the volunteer fire department that burns your house to the ground. She arrived on time for her procedure (for which she paid $1200), but her doctor, a real life version of “The Simpson’s” cheerily incompetent “Dr. Nick” named Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique, did not. She was given medication to dilate her cervix, then went into labor and delivered a baby, severely premature (23 weeks), but by all accounts, alive. Then, according to the Health Department, one of the clinic's owners who has no medical license cut the infant's umbilical cord, placed the baby in a plastic biohazard bag and threw it, and her (she was named Shanice), out to die.

And die she did. Would she have died anyway? Perhaps. But babies that premature have survived.

Christine Amario, the Associated Press writer who reported the story, wrote, “The case has riled the anti-abortion community, which contends the clinic's actions constitute murder.”

Boy, those whack-jobs in the Pro-Life movement are something, huh? Talk about off the charts! A stranger grabs a woman’s newborn baby, bags her and throws her into the trash to die, and they call it murder!

Excuse me, Christine, but what do you call it? Negligent garbage disposal? Funky child care gone wrong? Does the pro-abortion movement really take the position that if the mother wanted to abort the child, the abortion can continue after the child has been born alive? Well, maybe its does. Armario interviewed Joanne Sterner, president of the Broward County chapter of the National Organization for Women, who pronounced herself “disturbed” by the story. "I know that there are clinics out there like this,” she said. “And I hope that we can keep (women) from going to these types of clinics."

Right: the issue is bad clinics, and protecting women from them. Does anyone out there care about the dead baby? NOW is so concerned about undermining its absolutist arguments in the abortion wars that it can’t bring itself to acknowledge that a child died. And indeed, this is calculated. Increasingly, the abortion movement is adopting the ethical reasoning of controversial Princeton ethicist Peter Singer.

Singer, in his books, argues for the justification of abortion to be based on a utilitarian balancing of the preferences (needs, desires, anything that is sought to be avoided or obtained, including pleasure and pain) of a mother against the preferences of her child. Singer regards the ability to experience suffering or satisfaction as a necessary qualification for having any preferences to balance, and because a fetus has no capacity to suffer or feel satisfaction (Singer asserts), it is not possible for fetuses to have sufficient preferences to offset a mother’s preference for an abortion. This makes abortion ethical.

And because, Singer argues, very young infants also lack "rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness," killing an infant is never equivalent to killing a person.

Some suspect that Singer may have has formulated this analysis to force pro-abortion advocates to face the fact that their argument that a fetus is not a living human being, and thus does not have the rights of a human being, is intellectually dishonest. His approach admits that the humanity of a fetus may be indistinguishable from the humanity of an infant, but then uses this conclusion to justify the killing of an infant if it suits the preferences of the mother. Like most philosophers, Singer is dealing in theory rather than reality: he isn’t advocating baby-killing, but simply pointing out that consistent reasoning yields no clear division between the born and the unborn.

That some abortion clinic employees, journalists, and pro-abortion advocates respond to this dilemma by regarding the murder of a newborn as if it were just an especially untidy abortion procedure should trouble us all.

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