Legitimizing the Killing of Innocent Life

Many commentators have perceived that the New York State law that legalizes infanticide when a child has survived a late-term abortion is a watershed. This was certainly buttressed by both the State’s celebratory lighting up of the Freedom Tower building after its passage and the subsequent public justification of infanticide by Virginia’s governor (a pediatrician, no less) as well as the quick moves in certain other states to following the Empire State’s lead. The irony could not have been starker: a building erected to show the country’s resolve to stand against terrorists who killed so many innocent people on 9/11 became the showcase of the new era heralding the legitimizing of killing a new class of innocent people.

In a certain sense, the New York law isn’t as great a departure from the post-1973 status quo as some think. For a long time after the Supreme Court decisions holding effectively that there is a constitutional right to abortion—wrapped in the softer-sounding language of a right of privacy—much public discussion claimed that the right extended only through the first trimester. This is why I’ve always referred not just to Roe v. Wade but at the same time to its companion case Doe v. Bolton, which said that the right extended throughout pregnancy if the woman’s health necessitated it—with “health” defined by the Court so broadly that virtually anything could fit into it. What the Court did, for all practical purposes, was to legalize abortion up to the moment of birth. Then, some years ago, we began to hear of “partial-birth” abortion—seemingly the latest of late-term abortions—where the child who is part of the way out of the birth canal is killed. As we have heard increasingly about babies surviving attempted abortions—“abortion survivors”—the push has been on to legalize post-partum killing, at least—so far—by absolving the abortionist from the responsibility to do the least thing to save the child’s life.

The New York law also allows non-physicians to perform abortions, and this has become the new demand of the pro-abortion movement. So much for the rallying cry of their predecessors from the 1960s, who clamored for eliminating the restrictive abortion laws because women were “forced” to resort to dangerous “back-alley” abortions. Even then, most of those back-alley abortionists were actually physicians; now, that won’t even be the case. Even the Supreme Court only went so far as to say that abortion should be a choice between a woman and her physician. Of course, that hardly made abortion safe for the woman, as witnessed by the repeated reports of serious physical consequences and even deaths of women undergoing the procedure. The pro-abortion movement purports to be concerned about the safety of the women, but they oppose even legal requirements that abortionists have hospital admitting privileges.

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Don’t think that the killing will stop here, or won’t extend beyond failed abortions. Remember the cases of the seriously disabled newborns in Britain whose parents wanted surgery that might have saved them, but the healthcare practitioners and institutions refused and even stopped them from taking them elsewhere for treatment? Peter Singer, the apostle of death at Princeton University, has said that children should not be considered persons until thirty days after birth and don’t have full “moral status” until age two. Thus it’s morally acceptable to kill a baby born with a disability. This would be a way of insuring that they not have what he considers to be an inevitably miserable life. Then, there’s the ever-expanding practice of euthanasia in places like Belgium and Holland, where we witness legal euthanasia for disabled young children at parental request, older minors without regard to their parents’ wishes, and adults who are having psychological but no other health troubles and no possibility of imminent death. There are also many reports of involuntary euthanasia.

The pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia crowd don’t like comparisons with Nazi Germany and some in their ranks try to score rhetorical points by claiming that any comparison of abortion to the Holocaust is somehow anti-Semitic. A quick check of history, however, shows that euthanasia and advocacy of eliminating “undesirables”—the disabled and those with mental problems—began in the Weimar Republic, a supposedly “liberal” regime, before the Nazis took control. Can anyone seriously claim that this didn’t provide a backdrop that made it easier for the Nazis to move on to eliminate different groups of “undesirables”? So much for the positivist legal philosopher H.L.A. Hart’s suggestion that natural law thinking can be pushed aside because liberal regimes will hardly go the way of Nazi Germany. Once the principle is admitted that innocent life is expendable at someone else’s preference or whim, it is difficult to stop the slide.

In fact, the onward movement has progressed steadily since the pro-abortionists began to rack up their legal triumphs in the 1960s. Except for those who followed it closely, it has moved along unobtrusively until now. What’s happening now is that it’s out in the open and more celebrated. No more do we hear about abortion needing to be legally available but rare. Now it’s called a positive good, some advocates boast about their abortions, and legalized infanticide is celebrated as in New York. The pro-abortionists hardly even debate now about when life begins, probably because it’s no longer relevant now that they have endorsed legalized infanticide. It is clearly killing for convenience, and the pro-abortion movement hardly bothers to deny it.

The extent to which one of our two major political parties—the Democrats—has embraced the anti-life, pro-killing ethic is breathtaking. Not only are the Democrats in the House of Representatives so sweepingly pro-abortion that it’s said that on any given vote one can count on only Congressman Dan Lipinski of Chicago and perhaps one or two others in that party to be on the pro-life side. We have just seen a Democratic filibuster in the Senate of a bill to protect babies born alive after failed abortions—in effect, a filibuster to protect infanticide. At the same time in the House, the controlling Democrats have refused a permit a vote on a similar bill. It was not so many years ago that such a thing would have been almost unimaginable.

While some say that the Democratic Party’s shift to the hard left is the cause of all this, it is troublingly consistent with the party’s history regarding human rights. I recall a lecture by a noted scholar—not identified as a hard-core conservative—in which he said that the Democrats were the party of the American Indian removal (and the Trail of Tears), slavery, Jim Crow (there was a virtual Democratic monopoly in Southern politics before the 1960s), the greatest wartime suppression of civil liberties in our history (by Wilson during World War I), and the Japanese internment on the West Coast during World War II (even while it was urged on by liberal Republican California Governor Earl Warren). In the 1970s, they became the party of abortion and now are the party of infanticide. The party that claims to have historically been the watchdog of human rights has a selective notion of them and in recent decades has promoted ersatz rights in place of true ones.

What should be the response to the Democratic Party-based left’s expansion of the anti-life frontier to include infanticide? They should be called out for what they have become: a killing movement and a killing party. Don’t think it will stop here. It will stealthily—and maybe after a while not so stealthily—move in the direction of Singer by legitimizing infanticide not just after failed abortions but for infants with physical defects and serious health problems. Don’t think it will stop with infants. It may soon become a mainstream Democratic position to legalize hastening the death of the infirm at whatever age. Remember the Terri Schiavo case. And remember Colorado Democratic Governor Richard Lamm saying in the 1980s that those burdening the healthcare system have “a duty to die.” Indeed, is it possible it might even go beyond the infirm? Isn’t the Lamm and Singer perspective only a step or two away from saying that it’s alright to eliminate “useless eaters”? Didn’t we see a destructive paternalism in the medical profession backed up by the state in the cases of the seriously disabled newborns in Britain? Someone in a position of power coercively decided that someone else did not deserve, for whatever reason, to live. In truth, isn’t that what the Nazis were doing?

With the Democrats now the avowedly anti-life party, digging in their heels even for infanticide, it’s time for the Republicans in Congress to find the moxie—to use the Depression-era term—to not only vigorously, unremittingly oppose them, but to explain to—in other words, to educate—an oftentimes inattentive public where all this is going.


  • Stephen M. Krason

    Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

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