William Saletan appears to be a bit dismayed to find that some abortion rights advocates follow the “pro-choice” position to its logical conclusion :

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, goes further. “Is there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks?” she asks. “Why should we assume later abortions are ‘bad’—or, at least, ‘more wrong’ than early ones?” Furedi rejects this assumption and concludes that “in later pregnancy, too, I believe that the decision, and the responsibility that comes with it, should rest with the pregnant woman. . . . We either support women’s moral agency or we do not. . . . There is no middle ground to straddle.”

Among other things, this means no time limits. Furedi argues that “women should have access to abortion as early as possible and as late as necessary.” In her current essay, she writes: “To argue that a woman should no longer be able to make a moral decision about the future of her pregnancy, because 20 or 18 or 16 weeks have passed, assaults [moral autonomy] and, in doing so, assaults the tradition of freedom of conscience . . . ” In fact, “the delivery of an abortion procedure in the second (and even third) trimester is preferable to its denial.”

Furedi has a point. If like most abortion advocates, you base the moral status of a fetus on functional criteria such as consciousness or rationality, then it makes no sense to change that status based solely on the calendar.

These essays vary, but together, they capture the absolutist worldview. There’s no moral difference between eight, 18, and 28 weeks. No one has the right to judge another person’s abortion decision, regardless of her stage of pregnancy. Each woman is entitled to decide not only whether to have an abortion, but how long she can wait to make that choice.

It’s one thing to preach these ideas in the lefty blogosphere. It’s quite another to see them in practice. That’s where Kermit Gosnell, the doctor at the center of the Philadelphia scandal, comes in. According to the newly released grand jury report, Gosnell accepted abortion patients without regard to gestational age. “Gosnell catered to the women who couldn’t get abortions elsewhere—because they were too pregnant,” the report explains. “More and more of his patients came from out of state and were late second-trimester patients. Many of them were well beyond 24 weeks. Gosnell was known as a doctor who would perform abortions at any stage, without regard for legal limits.”

This meant killing viable babies. “We were able to document seven specific incidents in which Gosnell or one of his employees severed the spine of a viable baby born alive,” the grand jury concludes. One victim was killed at 26 weeks. Another was killed at 28. A third was killed at 32. Some of the dead were 12 to 18 inches long. One had been moving and breathing outside the womb for 20 minutes. The report alleges hundreds of such atrocities. One employee admitted to severing the spinal cords of 100 babies, each one beyond 24 weeks.

Having read his column for years, I find it hard not to feel sympathy for Saletan. Although he describes himself as a “pro-choice moderate,” he often shows signs of conscience that are almost wholly lacking in the abortion absolutists. Still, he makes an error that is common among pro-choice advocates: he assumes that the abortion limits he is comfortable with are logically and morally defensible. They are not, as Ann Furedi rightly points out. Kermit Gosnell and the other abortion absolutists may engaging in evil, but at least they can’t be accused of being inconsistent with the logic of the pro-abortion position.

(HT: Rod Dreher)

Articles by Joe Carter

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