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A dangerous idea

The argument that ‘after-birth abortions’ are justifiable should concern us all

22 September 2012

6:00 AM

22 September 2012

6:00 AM

On the weekend of 28-30 September, the Festival of Dangerous ideas returns to Sydney. Last year, in these pages, I lampooned the event as ‘The Festival Of Well-Worn Lefty Ideas That The Chattering Classes Already Agree With But Still Attend So They Can Pretend That They Themselves Are Dangerous’. An accurate gibe, given the fest’s predominant programming choices: speakers extolling the virtues of Marxism, feminism, environmentalism and homosexuality while decrying capitalism, colonialism, America, Israel, religion, the West, the military, anthropogenic global warming, Aboriginal deaths in custody and the treatment of boat people and other illegal immigrants. A veritable checklist of lefty crusades and boogiemen; the type of ideas the festival’s group-thinking inner-city audience like to back-pat each other for sharing. (The occasional token libertarian or conservative is thrown into the politically correct brew for flavour: Chris Leithner from Liberty Australia will be addressing why we should ‘Let Banks Fail’, a point with which I agree.)

But this year, buried among the well-worn yawn-inducers, there is indeed a dangerous idea. ‘A Foetus is Not a Person’ is to be delivered by the bio-ethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. ‘Ho hum,’ you might think, ‘just another screed for abortion. Are the Left still ranting about that? Well, it’s taking place at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so probably yes…’ Fair call. But you would be wrong. The idea in question is camouflaged by the talk’s disingenuous title. The speakers are elucidating upon a controversial paper they published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. A more accurate title for their presentation would be ‘A Baby is Not  a Person’. The ethicists argue that ‘after-birth abortion’ — their euphemism for infanticide — is ethically acceptable, just like in utero abortion already is to many. In their paper, they argue that newborn babies, like foet­uses, are not ‘actual people’, only ‘potential people’. Therefore, the ‘alleged rights’ of a healthy baby are inconsequential when measured against any potential upset to the mother. Better, they suggest, that the mother slaughter her child than ‘be damaged by giving it up for adoption’. I kid you not. Their journal article is called: ‘After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?’ Google it. Read it. Madness.

Of course, the essence of Giubilini and Minerva’s argument is that after-birth abortion is just an extension of the already widely accepted practice of abortion, often justified when giving birth to a baby might jeopardise a mother’s mental health. That the acceptance of abortion leads to the slippery slope of the devaluation of life outside the womb is of course something that pro-lifers have been arguing for years. But we were told to just ignore those crazy fundamentalists, remember? Indeed, the slightest questioning of abortion in polite conversation is met with gasps of disbelief and a barrage of questions from those indoctrinated by the pro-abortion line: you don’t think a woman should have to give birth to the baby if she is raped, do you? What if the baby is deformed? What if the baby is the result of incest? What if giving birth would endanger the mother’s life?

Yet how many of the abortions carried out each year in Australia (and estimates put the figures between 75,000 and 100,000) are actually in response to any of the above factors? A small percentage, I would think. Most of us know women who have ‘terminated’ an unwanted pregnancy. Those that I personally know, including three past girlfriends (no, none of the aborted babies were mine) fell pregnant due to practising consensual, unsafe sex. Too often abortion has become just another birth control option, and the abortion industry pushes it as such.

The website for one Australian clinic reassures women about the normalcy of terminating the life inside them: ‘Now, well and truly into the 21st century, on average every woman alive, during her fertile years, will have an induced abortion.’ Another clinic’s website quotes more modest statistics, but with the same reassuring and normalising tone: ‘Current figures indicate that in Australia, one in every three women will have an abortion sometime in their lives. The procedure is possibly the most commonly performed operation and one of the safest.’ Both sites are replete with photos of attractive, smiling women, intended, like any advertising campaign, to demonstrate the happiness that comes from purchasing a product or service. In this case that service is an abortion.

Tony Abbott was lambasted for once suggesting that Australia’s high abortion figures were a ‘national tragedy’. However, when one includes the millions of foetuses aborted around the world each year, perhaps the term holocaust (used by some US pro-lifers) is more accurate.

This piece wasn’t begun as a pro-life tirade. But reading the above, that might well be what it has become. Perhaps the upcoming festival has made me rethink my own on-the-fence position about abortion (in which case, kudos to the fest). For me, as a libertarian, the issue has always been a prickly conundrum. But self- examination aside, maybe we should all rethink our stance on abortion. Because the mindset that once caused folks to scoff at the rights of foetuses is now extending to scoffing at the rights of newborns as well.

Feminists share a loud and articulate voice, asserting an absolute right over their bodies, including the right over any inarticulate life they might carry inside. But, like foetuses, newborn babies can’t articulate their right to exist. Neither for that matter can children. Nor the mentally handicapped. Nor often the geriatric. And all too often, minorities of all stripes have had their voices removed from public discourse. Maybe it’s time more of us stood up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Maybe it’s time we remembered what happens when life qua life is no longer held sacred. Maybe we need to glance into the temporal rear-view mirror, where the darkest roads of the 20th century are littered with millions of voiceless corpses whose rights were similarly dismissed.

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