A lot of attention has been paid to Lisa Snow, testifying on behalf of Planned Parenthood at a hearing in Florida regarding a bill that would require medical care for babies born after a botched abortion. To the surprise of many, and to the chagrin of Planned Parenthood, she couldn’t say what Planned Parenthood would do in a case where a baby on the table was struggling for life. Later Planned Parenthood clarified its position. Dismissing the exchange as having occurred only when “state legislators demanded speculation about a vague set of extremely unlikely and highly unusual medical circumstances,” Planned Parenthood acted as though it was no big deal. Should such a circumstance arise, “of course Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that someone representing Planned Parenthood forgot about that boundary line between a baby on that side of the birth canal and a baby on this side. It has always been an artificial distinction. At one time there were clear distinctions between babies who wouldn’t be able to survive outside the womb and those who could. If you artificially expelled a baby from the womb, in virtually all cases there was no realistic chance of survival. But now that babies are surviving at earlier and earlier gestational ages, it is harder to justify why the deliberate killing of one baby is a decision solely “between the woman and her physician,” while the deliberate killing of the other (or the deliberate failure to provide medical care, by placing the child in a closet, for example) is murder.
It isn’t just pro-life advocates, or even fringe commentators like Peter Singer, who reject the talismanic distinction between a baby on that side of the birth canal and one who is on the table, struggling for life. (Peter Singer would go so far as to permit euthanizing any seriously ill or disabled infant, on the assumption that infants are neither “rational nor self-conscious.”) In 2006 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (RCOG) issued a report that called for reexamining the issue. After all, they pointed out, we might actually be able to save more lives that way. Instead of forcing women to make a choice about whether to “terminate a pregnancy” with the limited and often unreliable information that is available prenatally, why not wait until the baby is born, and if the news turns out to be as bad as was feared, make the decision then?
After all, it is already part of standard medical practice to withhold “heroic measures” to save infants who are judged too ill to justify such measures. Why not extend that permission to infants who were slated for abortion, but who were given a chance to prove their diagnosis wrong? By relaxing the bright line between what can be done to “terminate a pregnancy” and what must be done for an infant born alive, wouldn’t we get better medical care for all concerned? The RCOG report caused at the time to conclude that “the push to permit infanticide has entered the mainstream.”
Legislation that would protect a baby born alive from deliberate efforts to end that child’s life are based upon the assertion that, whatever rights a mother may have with regard to a child in her womb, once the child is born alive (especially if it managed to survive the efforts to prevent that), he or she deserves legal protection. President Obama voted against such legislation when he was a state senator in Illinois. A similar bill is now under consideration in Florida. Such bills may result in saving some innocent lives, but in our efforts to protect infants born alive, we must continue to critique the absurd belief that an eighteen-inch journey through the birth canal marks the dividing line between a “choice” and murder. In her very public blunder, Lisa Snow helped us to see that.