The “after-birth abortion” article continues reverberate, this time in a column by Telegraph columnist Jenny McCartney, who takes issue with the bioethicists’ claim that a newborn and a fetus are equally killable because of their supposed mutual lack of personhood. But McCartney’s argument all comes down to feelings—which is a real problem in our society—that is, infanticide is wrong and abortion isn’t becuase a mother will feel the death of a newborn more grievously than a miscarriage of a fetus. From “The First Breath of a Person:”
I don’t know whether, at any point while the authors refined this somewhat tortuous argument, they were actually viscerally repelled by the notion of killing newborn babies. Perhaps they told themselves that repulsion was a lowly sensation which they must suppress, and that they were honour-bound to follow the higher path of logic all the way to infanticide. Of course, if logic is flawed or divorced from compassion, it can lead one to a very bad place indeed.
This gets us into Leon Kass’s “wisdom of repugnance” territory, which is a valid starting point, but not the sole criteria for determining morality and certainly not the end game (as he wrote). But note that there was once widespread repugnance over abortion. It can be taught out of us. Back to McCartney:
It would be a moral and intellectual relief to cling to a clean line of logic all the way from conception to birth, and argue that a fertilised human egg should be every bit as valuable to humanity as a newborn baby. But I don’t think it is, and not just because I cannot bring myself to condemn a woman who undergoes an early abortion for serious reasons, despite the lurch of sadness such news triggers.
A woman’s sense of loss at miscarrying after a few weeks an event about which she might even be unaware is quite different in scale from her grief at miscarrying at five months, and further again from the trauma of stillbirth. A foetus tends to accrue value from the moment of its conception, in line with the mother’s physical and emotional investment in its existence.
That’s expresses so much of what has gone wrong with modern society, doesn’t it? We have lost the ability to think critically. Indeed, too often, we don’t think. We feel. If it feels good to us today, it is right today. If it feels bad tomorrow, it is wrong tomorrow. More:
I had feelings for both of my children before they were born. I was protective of the very notion of them, and I examined their scans with pleasure. But something extraordinary happens at the moment of birth, when babies suddenly appear in the world in all their naked, elemental glory. At that moment, they assert themselves as human beings separate from their mother.
But what if a mother had a different feeling? What if she saw the baby and was repulsed? Or is the morality of the thing—which is different from the legality—a matter of majority feelings?
By the way, I have seen such arguments made in bioethics. But basing morality on feelings is the core of relativism, allowing us to do what we want and, as Oprah tells us we should, feel good about ourselves. But feelings are ephemeral. They justify expedience. They are the house built of straw and can’t provide any real basis for determining morality or ethics. Indeed, the process of desensitizing us—that is, changing our feelings—about killing—abortion, now euthanasia—is the current modos operandi for shattering Western morality and liberty.
Someday we may see a future Jenny McCartney writing that sure, she took pleasure when she saw her baby emerge from her body, but nothing compared to when her child took her first step, or said her first word. That meant she was really an independent person seeking her own way in the world. Thus, who is she to condemn an unfortunate mother who felt that her baby ill served her future plans and who couldn’t bear the emotions of another family raising the infant, for deciding to have her newborn painlessly killed?