There has been much righteous criticism of the forty-four Democratic senators who thwarted a bill that would have protected babies who survive abortion from death-by-neglect and infanticide. In a nutshell, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would have required simply that all born babies—whether wanted or not—be treated equally, by requiring any healthcare practitioners present when a baby survives abortion to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” as they would “render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” It would also have required abortionists to ensure that surviving babies be transported immediately to a hospital for care, and would have outlawed “an overt act” meant to kill “a child born alive,” i.e., infanticide.
That most senate Democrats—including six presidential candidates—thwarted the bill’s passage moves abortion advocacy beyond “choice” to establishing a concomitant right to a dead fetus or baby (as the case might be). The bill’s defeat also reflects a growing bigotry against the moral value of babies with disabilities, a stunning repudiation of the sanctity/equality of human life ethic.
The senate bill’s defeat coincided with the enactment of a New York law that allows post-viability abortion, and which also repealed a statute that required proper medical care for babies who survive abortion. Vermont is very close to enacting the most extreme abortion license in the world, creating a “fundamental right to an abortion,” without any limitations as to viability, time of gestation, method of termination, or reason—no “health of the mother” pretense in the Green Mountain State!
The excuses given by pro-abortion/infanticide advocates for refusing to pass the federal law—and justifying passage of the new late-term abortion licenses—generally reflect profound biases against babies with disabilities. Thus, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam—a pediatric neurologist—infamously endorsed a (failed) late-term abortion legalization bill on the (false) claim that such terminations only involve babies with serious health difficulties and disabilities, in his words, “cases where there may be severe deformities” or when “there may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”
How is Northam’s death-by-neglect prescription any different morally than the old Roman practice of exposing disabled babies to the elements? The only difference I can see is that Northam would keep doomed babies “comfortable” in bassinettes. The ultimate outcome would be the same.
Killing disabled babies is not just an ancient practice. During World War II, German doctors committed infanticide, which was considered a “healing treatment” that prevented suffering. “Baby Knauer”—the first disabled baby to be killed under color of law in Germany—was born with serious disabilities, including blindness. His parents wrote Hitler a letter asking that doctors be permitted to put their child “to sleep.” Hitler sent his personal physician, Karl Rudolph Brandt, to verify the facts and assure the infant’s doctors that they could kill the child without legal consequence, which they did. In 1973, Baby Knauer’s father was quoted by Robert Jay Lifton in The Nazi Doctors, as recalling appreciatively that “the Führer had granted us the mercy killing of our son. Later, we could have other children, handsome and healthy, of whom the Reich could be proud.”
Hitler’s infanticide policy was kept a secret from the German people, and unlike Baby Knauer, most infanticides took place without parental consent. After the end of the war, infanticide of disabled babies was universally condemned a crime against humanity. Some German doctors who participated in the pogrom were hanged.
That moral opprobrium is dissipating. Disabled babies are again being killed by doctors—this time in the Netherlands. Only rather than occurring furtively in the shadows, baby killing is practiced openly under a bureaucratic infanticide guideline known as the Groningen Protocol (after the Groningen University Medical Center).
The Protocol establishes three categories of killable babies:
- The baby has no chance of survival.
- The baby “may survive after a period of intensive treatment but the expectations for the future are very grim.”
- The baby does “not depend on technology for physiological stability” but has “suffering [that] is severe, sustained, and cannot be alleviated.”
In other words, Dutch doctors lethally inject babies with serious disabilities who do not need intensive care—those denigrated as having an “unlivable life” by Dutch infanticide apologists.
The various late-term abortion/infanticide legalization proposals and policies introduced this year—and the concomitant refusal to ban infanticide by Democrats in the senate—bring us to a crucial time of choosing. Will we embrace the sanctity/equality of life values of the (let us hope temporarily) defeated Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act? Or instead, will we careen down the anti-life path blazed by New York and Vermont’s late-term abortion laws, Governor Northam’s advocacy for a “discussion” after a baby survives abortion, and ultimately—why not, if the above are accepted—active infanticide of unwanted babies as practiced in the Netherlands?
In all of this, I am reminded of the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats,” with a contemporary addendum: “When did we abort you, Lord? When did we neglect you to death when you survived your abortion? When did we commit infanticide upon you when you were born disabled?”
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.”
Become a fan of First Things on Facebook, subscribe to First Things via RSS, and follow First Things on Twitter.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. His latest book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine.